CommonSpace editor Ben Wray argues that there may never be a more important moment to demonstrate against the UK’s complicity in the Saudi bombing of Yemen than now
AMID the noise over the Jamal Khashoggi killing, the UN aid chief Mark Lowcock’s words to the UN Security Council on Tuesday hardly got noticed.
But they couldn’t have been more alarming.
“There is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen: much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives,” he said.
Lowcock explained that there had only been two famines in the past 20 years, one in Somalia in 2011 and one in a region of South Sudan in 2017. The situation in Yemen was therefore “shocking”.
He stated: “Beyond the sheer numbers, while millions of people have been surviving on emergency food assistance for years, the help they get is enough merely to survive. Not to thrive. The toll is unbearably high.”
“The immune systems of millions of people on survival support for years on end are now literally collapsing, making them – especially children and the elderly – more likely to succumb to malnutrition, cholera and other diseases.”
Fighting takes place between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government around the port city of Hodeidah. If the port is closed, 14 million Yemenis - one half of the entire population of the country - will be vulnerable to starvation, in a country that traditionally imports 90 per cent of its food (70 per cent of which comes from the Hodeidah port).
The UN is clear that Saudi bombing is the primary driver of what is soon-to-be famine conditions, and is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and cholera epidemic.
That Saudi bombing has the UK Government’s grubby finger prints all over it. Not just in terms of arms sales, but in terms of practical logistical support for the air strikes and training of pilots. The only thing the UK are not doing is getting in the cockpit and pushing the buttons.
It needs to stop. Millions of lives could be saved if it is stopped. And it just so happens that the Saudi regime is currently incredibly vulnerable politically after the Khashoggi murder. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is conducting a slow and painful humiliation exercise of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, revealing new details bit-by-bit to punch holes in what even Donald Trump has called “the worst cover up”.
The UK Government has been at its most pathetic during this episode. Everyday there appears to be the same routine where Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt watches for the latest line from Washington, then parrots it, but in less blunt, less cutting language against the Saudis. Hunt just wants it all to go away, so BAE Systems can get on with raking in the Billions that comes in from the despotic regime, covered in Yemenis blood.
The missing element here is mass street protest. The UK now has a fine history of mass protest against war. The People’s Vote protests last weekend were big, but not in the same league as the two million people who marched against the war in Iraq in February 2003. The anti-Iraq war movement undoubtedly shifted the politics around war in the UK for a generation.
We have never seen the same protests against the Saudi regime or the war in Yemen in terms of sheer size of numbers. This is probably nothing to do with any shortage of contempt many millions of people in the UK will hold for the Saudi regime, but that the Saudi bombing of Yemen operates at one step removed from the UK.
But surely now in light of the Khashoggi killing, where the global spotlight is on the Saudi regime, we can muster a 100,000 people across the UK in London to show Hunt and May, like we did with Blair and Straw? Like over Iraq, we must say ‘not in our name’: stop the war in Yemen; save the Yemeni people from starvation; stop the arms sales to the Saudi killers; cut ties with the Saudi regime.
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