Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Yemen's Multilayered War: The Houthi Rebellion

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Anant Jani

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Yemen's Multilayered War: The Houthi Rebellion

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 4, 2020

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Houthi rebels protesting the airstrike in Sana | Source: Henry Ridgwell (VOA) via Wikimedia

This is the 3rd part of a short explainer article series on the current crisis in Yemen.

To read the 1st part of the series click on the link.

To read the 2nd part of the series click on the link.

After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1968,  Yemen existed as two countries — North Yemen and South Yemen.  These two countries united in 1990, after several years of conflict with one another.

This unity could not remain for long and the North-South divide resurfaced which led to the first civil war of unified Yemen. This civil war was short-lived and ended in 1994 after the decisive victory of the pro-unification governing faction over the Southern saperatist faction.

On the other hand a major dissatisfaction with the central government was simmering in the region dominated by a local branch of Shia Muslims known as Zaidi. They are the decendent of Prophet Muhamma and believe that Muslims should be ruled only by a descendant of Prophet Muhammad whom they call an Imam. They have ruled Yemen for more than 1,000 years which ended in 1962.

Zaidis are a minority sect in Yemen but have much ideological affinity with the Sunni Shafi'i majority. They lived together harmoniously and prayed in the same mosques for hundreds of years.

A new element was also getting added to the dangerous mix of sub-nationalism, intra religious division, and tribal loyalty in Yemen. The Yemeni veterans of Soviet-Afghan war who fought with the mujahideen were battle hardened and well versed in guerilla warfare. They started a low level insurgency and also tried to impose a hardline interpretation of Islamic religious and social practices in Yemen.

In order to counter the socio-economic and political marginalization by the central government as well as the growing influence of Salafism in their northern heartland, the Houthis formed a movement named Ansar Allah. President Saleh however accused them of attempting to overthrow the government and of seeking to revive the rule of the imamate in Yemen.

The Houthi Rebellion (also known as the Shia Insurgency):

The Houthi Movement in its current militant form began in 2004 by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, religious, political and military leader, as well as former member of the Yemeni parliament between 1993 and 1997. Though he was killed in the action of very early in his fight with the government forces, his brother who took over the movement leadership made it politically and militarily a formidable force in Yemen.

Zaidis have had historical grievances against the Wahhabi, the dominant Sunni sect in Saudi Arabia, who assisted North Yemen in the First Yemen Civil War. The Zaidi fear they still have too much say in Yemeni politics. They have also fought against the Salafis, whom they accuse of implementing the hardline interpretation of Islamic religious and social practices in Yemen. In order to counter these forces, Houthis destroyed the schools run by them in Saada, Dar al Hadith in Dammaj and its sister school in Kitaf, claiming them to be “feeder schools”, for al-Qaeda.

It was the 2011 Yemeni Uprising (or Intifada), which catapulted Hauthis to the centre of Yemen politics. They sided with the common citizens of the country in demanding the resignation of President Saleh whom they charged with corruption and for being a lackey of Saudi Arabia and the USA. A Nesweek photo-essay reported that Houthis are fighting "for things that all Yemenis crave: government accountability, the end to corruption, regular utilities, fair fuel prices, job opportunities for ordinary Yemenis and the end of Western influence."

Later in 2011, President Saleh resigned, as per the Houthi terms, letting Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi step in as the President in exchange for immunity from prosecution. However the Houthis pressed on with their power grab which started resentment among other players.

In an ironic act, ex-President Saleh who was overthrown in an Houthi led public uprising, threw his weight behind Houthis in the power struggle. In 2015 he publicly announced his formal alliance with the Houthis, and hoped for ceasefires with the Arab Coalition.

In 2015, Hadi, the President of Yemen was placed under house arrest by the Houthis and forced to resign. He managed to flee to Aden, and rescinded his resignation. He fled to Saudi Arabia, and returned in September with the Arab Coalition at his support. Ever since, he has used Aden as his governing base.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia imposed severe restrictions on import, including air and sea blockades in Yemen, resulting in the shortages of food and medicine. Given the fact that Yemen is dependent on imports for food supply and medicine, it is no surprise that the blockades have led to a famine situation, compounded by an outbreak of cholera since 2016 caused by and worsened due to the air-strike bombed healthcare infrastructure.

After aligning with Houthis for many years, Saleh once again took an about turn in 2017 by publicly ending this alliance and stated his openness to talk with the Saudi-led coalition. Al Jazeera reported this was because the Saudi Prince had decided that Saleh, rather than Hadi, would help to win the war. However, the same year, Saleh was assassinated.

In September 2019, the Houthis claimed responsibility for drone attacks on Saudi Arabia's eastern oil fields of Abqaiq and Khurais, disrupting nearly half the kingdom's oil production.

In January 2020, the Houthi Special Criminal Court found Hadi guilty and sentenced him to death, for “high treason...and looting the country’s treasury”, over other things,

It is important to note that Saudi Arabia and the USA have also seen this war as a Sunni Saudi pitted against a Shi’ite Iran. This has been shown to be inaccurate - both nations likely intending it as an excuse for using extreme military might and sanctions that Saudi has engaged in with the backing of both, the Obama and Trump administration, to use Yemen for strategic purposes.

It is this war, between Saudi-backed Hadi at Aden and the Iran-led Houthis at Sana’a, that has prolonged for 5 years and displaced millions, prompting the UN to call it the worst man-made humanitarian disaster.


To read the 4th part of the series click on the link.

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January 18, 2021 2:21 PM

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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