The death of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh at the hands of a Houthi militia on 4 December is a sobering end to the Society’s year. Our British-Yemeni Society is apolitical, and there will be mixed views among our membership about Saleh’s legacy. But almost certainly his assassination resulted from his call for talks with the Saudis to bring an end to the military campaign conducted by them and their coalition allies for more than two and a half years, with little success. Our Co-President, Dr Yaseen Noman, the Yemeni Ambassador to the UK, has appealed in the journal Newsweek for the Houthi leadership to open the way to dialogue and democratic politics.
Most analysts and commentators are pessimistic about the near future for Yemen, and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians face hardship, hunger and disease. A quarter of the population, and perhaps more, simply do not know where their next meal will come from. What can the Society do? There are limited routes for channelling aid to Yemen. Organisations like the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières, which the B-YS is supporting through our Crisis Appeal, are active in Yemen. Other organisations, like Oxfam and various UN agencies also help, both directly or through trusted Yemeni NGOs. Political channels are limited, too – this dreadful conflict is too complex to be resolved by outside interventions unless the combatants themselves want peace and are prepared to make compromises to achieve it.
It is perhaps a relief that Yemen is no longer an unreported crisis as it reaches the front pages of the newspapers, the Economist, and the headlines in the radio and television news. But sadly external awareness and even external pressure are of limited effect. The best that we can hope is to be ready to help Yemen rebuild as soon as circumstances allow.
For the Society, this opening quarter of the 2017-18 season has been eventful, with the cultural events of the summer followed by events marking the 50th anniversary of British withdrawal from southern Yemen. On our website and Facebook page we have highlighted both B-YS events and events organised by others which will be of interest to our members. We have hosted or co-hosted events highlighting at the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. After a busy three months our programme for the new year is not yet firmed up – details of future meetings and events will appear on the web pages, the Facebook page and in newletters .