Twenty-fourth Annual General Meeting, Wednesday 24 May 2017
The situation in Yemen
It has been a dispiriting year, for Yemen and its people, and for those of us who know the country and follow events there. If my report last year was influenced by pictures of bombed hospitals, reports of increasing food insecurity and starvation, children going without education and inadequate funding from outside, this year it has been touched by pictures of small children who have lost limbs, women and children searching for scraps in rubbish bins and garbage heaps, and footage of the unspeakable atrocity of the double-tap missile attack on the funeral assembly at a meeting hall in Sanaa last October in which hundreds of civilians were killed or wounded.
The ongoing civil war in Yemen continues to be described by many as the "Forgotten War". It is true that it has to a large degree been eclipsed by events in Syria and the struggle to defeat ISIS in Iraq. It evades widespread attention in the UK because we do not have boatloads of Yemenis arriving on European or British shores. But in fact there has been a substantial amount of high quality reporting from some parts of Yemen, and there are regular workshops and seminars here and elsewhere in Europe and America considering the desperate humanitarian situation, and how best to address it. There has been less detailed examination of the political situation and ways in which a political solution to the conflict might be reached, though it has become increasingly clear that the present strategy, of military force in support of UN resolutions, is not the path to a rapid resolution of the conflict. The apparent paralysis of the UK in the UN Security Council has been a great disappointment to us all.
In Yemen, the past twelve months have witnessed a military standoff around Sanaa, continuing insecurity in Aden and ongoing conflict in Taizz. At the time of writing this, a major concern has been the prospect of an attempt by coalition forces – that is, the Saudi-led coalition trying to return Hadi as president to Sanaa – to take control of the city and port of Hodeidah. Most aid and humanitarian organisations fear that this could trigger a devastating famine in the country if the already meagre flow of food supplies to the northern part of the country is disrupted, and significant bloodshed in the city itself.
Despite all of this there is also a steady trickle of less gloomy news – local initiatives to alleviate hardship, or to create development opportunities, and to look beyond the current disastrous situation. Young Yemeni activists both inside and outside the country still believe that their country can have a better future. Sadly, though, it is difficult if not impossible for international governments and aid organisations to find ways to develop and work with what are often young and untried organisations, a point that comes up regularly in the workshops and discussions I mentioned earlier. Beyond all this is the damage to Yemen's heritage and culture, not least its traditional culture of tolerance and coexistence. Can this be restored? We must hope so.
Updates reported at the AGM
In my report I mentioned that there was widespread concern that coalition forces might start an offensive to secure control of Hodeidah. This doesn't seem to have happened yet, and indeed there are reports that Mokha, to the south and the main port for Taizz and its region which was supposedly secured by the coalition a couple of months ago is still coming under attack from forces aligned with Salih and the Houthis. There have been reports of an upsurge of violence in Taizz, with over 60 dead and injured, mostly women and children. While all this happens – or doesn't happen – there is ever growing food insecurity and a developing famine. There are reports, though, that supplies do get through, even to Sanaa. But many simply cannot afford to buy the food and goods that are apparently available. And added to this, a growing cholera epidemic spreading throughout the country, though medical supplies are getting in, and excellent work continues to be done by MSF and UNICEF.
Another recent development, the implications of which are not clear, is that the former governor of Aden sacked by Hadi in May and other southern leaders have declared the setting up of a transitional political council to govern the south. This looks like a further challenge to President Hadi's attempts to assert leadership, even in areas not under the control of Saleh and the Houthis.
I ended the report that was circulated that we must hope that Yemen will be able to return to its former culture of tolerance and coexistence. Ambassador Simon Shercliff, our Honorary co-President, has sent a message ending by saying that we must remain hopeful. Sadly, though, no-one speaks or writes that they are optimistic. Just hopeful.
There are just a few other things that I should add. After our founding member John Shipman passed away last year the committee and a number of our members said that it would be fitting to have some memorial of him. Two proposals have come to the fore – one is that our existing scholarship scheme should be named for him. The other was to raise funds for new equipment for the Ras Morbat eye clinic in Aden, which we have supported in the past, and heard talks on, in 2009 and last year. At the moment they don't seem to have any pressing requests, and seem to be getting as much support as they can use from their regular sources. However, it is something we are continuing to investigate.
The next thing I must mention – perhaps the most important thing – is my thanks to our committee members, and very particularly to Audrey Allfree once again, our invaluable secretary who does so much to keep the society in order and make arrangements for our committee and public meetings. And thanks again to John Huggins for taking on the role of Treasurer last year and keeping us in good order financially. And I should mention also Helen Lackner who has stood down from the committee, but agreed to stay on as editor of our excellent Journal. Thanos Petouris, another former member of the committee, continues to lead on the upkeep of our web site and Facebook page, two of our most accessible "shop windows".
B-YS Events and meetings
6 July 2016: Chairman’s Update on Yemen
8 September 2016: Special General Meeting to approve amendments to the Constitution and Chairman’s Update on Yemen
19 September 2016: Chairman’s Update in support of Nawal Al Maghafi’s film ‘Starving Yemen’ at Frontline Club on 26 September 2016
17 November 2016: Call for Peace Mailing to BYS members with pro forma letter circulated.
17 November 2016: Martin Jerrett: Talk “Difficult Diplomacy: The challenges of Speaking to the South” Co-hosted with MBI Al Jaber
7 December 2016: Joshua Rogers, recipient of BYS research grant, talk: “Yemen’s other Civil War: Tribes, Technocrats and Revolutionaries 1962-70”
23 December 2016: Christmas Message by Chairman
7 February 2017: Noel Brehony’s talk at the RSAA : “NLF’s successful campaign for power in South Arabia 1963-67”
26 January 2017: Yemen Civil Society event Panel Discussion , including speakers by BYS members at Institute of Engineers
28 February 2017: Annual Lecture at the House of Commons given by Andrew Mitchell MP
26 March 2017: Nawal al Maghafi’s film showing of ‘Starving Yemen’ and ‘Funeral Bombing’
25 April 2017: Hadhramaut Research Centre book launch with LMEI, SOAS, panel discussion with authors.
New Books on Yemen
Hadhramaut and its Diaspora , edited by Noel Brehony, IB Tauris, London
Ginny Hill, Yemen Endures, Hurst, London, May 2017
From Aden to Abu Dhabi: Britain and State formation in Arabia 1962-71, Middle East Studies, Vol 53.1, January 2017
Daniel Corstange, The Price of a Vote in the Middle East: Clientelism and Communal Politics in Lebanon and Yemen, Cambridge, 2016
Julian Jansen van Rensburg, The Maritime Traditions of the Fishermen of Socotra, Archaeopress, 2016
Helen Lackner, Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-liberalism and the Disintegration of a State, (October 2017)
Marieke Brandt, Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict, (October 2017)
Yemen and the Path to War: Power, Politics and Society in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Marie-Christine Heinze (I B Tauris)
Ashwaq Abdulsalam Shuja'a Addin, a student at the University of Sana'a, researching "United States Foreign Policy and Democracy Promotion after 2011 in Yemen".
Members deceased since last AGM
Mrs Merilyn Hywell-Jones 10 October 2016
Mr John G T Shipman 3 November 2016
Friends of Hadhramaut Garden Party, hosted by Yousif al-Nassar at Torquay