Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Whilst Libya Burns, Yemen Bleeds

One of the great injustices of the developing situation in Libya over recent days is that it has now wholly transfixed our attention away from everything else. Admittedly it would now seem that the nuclear concerns in Japan are beginning to recede but there are nevertheless some 10,000 missing people in that devastated country that is seeking to rebuild itself after nature wreaked its awful magic there less some 10 days ago. But in recent days, it gets little coverage.

But closer to the Libyan home in neighbouring Arabic states, there is much happening that should be receiving far more media scrutiny but which, because of the Libyan intervention, is falling off the news cycle. There's the Saudi Arabian support of the Bahranian crackdown on its protests. There's also the increasing discontent in Syria where crowds have set fire to the ruling Ba'ath Party's HQ as the country's elite face the biggest challenge to its control since they took control almost half a century ago.

Yemen Bleeds
Then there's Yemen. Yes, Yemen. The discontent has been apparent there over the past month as the successful protests in Tunisia and Egypt gave protestors across the region hope that their cause could also lead to change.

It has been reported over the weekend but it was only today that I heard about the awful atrocity that befell up to 52 anti-regime protestors last Friday when snipers, loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire and shot them dead. President Saleh, who has been in office since 1978, announced last month amidst the growing discontent, that he would not stand for re-election in 2013 in the hope of calming the tension.

But it hasn't done so and indeed, the awful events of last Friday have only heightened the anger levelled at the President and his regime. Whilst the leaders of the country's two most important tribes have now turned against their President, so has some of his closest political colleagues. The Human Rights Minister Huda al-Ban resigned, calling her government's action as a "horrible, cowardly and perfidious crime". Abdullah Alsaidi, Yemen's ambassador to the UN also resigned in protest to the crackdown.

So what did President Saleh do in response last night? Typically, he attempted to pass the buck and lay the blame at his Cabinet's door by sacking them all. Like his Arabic counterparts, he is attempting to save his own skin by blaming those below him. Like his Arabic counterparts, he has been in power for decades and has lost the confidence of his people. Like his Arabic counterparts, he is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that his time is up and that he should go.

Western Hypocrisy
Yet, there is hardly any mention of the Yemen in the news at the moment. It is being totally overshadowed by the UN-mandated action in Libya. Yes, a number of MPs in Parliament spoke of the situation there in today's House of Commons Libyan debate and it is important that they did so to remind Parliament of other neighbouring nations that are being allowed to get away with doing similar deeds to what Gaddafi would have done on his own people.

Even in the British press, it's all about Libya. This is of course understandable but the protestors in Yemen are unlikely to get a look-in. Indeed, even the internationalist 'The Independent' only reported on Yemen in yesterday's edition on page 29. It's all rather depressing stuff.

But it was the ever thought-provoking Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who stated quite clearly in the same paper yesterday that the west are guilty in the outset for fostering these autocratic leaderships over the years. An example is the very fact that the US sponsors President Saleh to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, to keep al-Qaida in check. In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia have moved into Bahrain with force to help with the crackdown against their demonstrators there. But have there been calls from the western powers for the UN to come down severely on these nations as they have in Libya? Of course they haven't. This is what we call 'double standards'.

Yasmin rightly stated:

Yemenese President Saleh
"Many of the weapons Gaddafi is using were sold by us to him – thank you very much, Mr Blair. As Tunisians and Egyptians made their bid for freedom, PM Cameron was out there selling to the bastards, colluding with them with a smile on his face. The French have been just as busy. (Their excuse is jobs. If miners and other workers are dispensable, why should those making blood goods be for ever protected? So others will step in to make the devil's tools? Let them.) Now they want to be saviours. Not so fast gentlemen. Could you first apologise? And then promise no more such deals? If not, even if Gaddafi is driven out, Western involvement will be suspect. It will be seen as toxic effluence which contaminated the budding Arab Spring.

"Their (the west's) movers and shakers cannot go on cultivating hideous leaders and then turning on them when the winds change. They embrace Saudi Arabia and in the same moment shoot down Libya. Such hypocrisies will no longer be swallowed by people who are now globally connected. Realpolitik needs, I know, to prevail over idealism some of the time. However, if the West wants respect for backing democracy and humane standards, it has to put its own houses in order. The Arab revolutions have spread to our shores and are calling out for consistency and honour and for a foreign-affairs reformation. Whatever happens in Libya, our Government must listen or be damned".

This, perfectly encapsulated by Yasmin, are my foreign ethical policy concerns. The realpolitik of the situation as she admits and as was eloquently stated in the House of Commons today, means that it can not always be possible to do what is right all of the time.

But even if that be the case, the west would have a better moral vantage point to cast its opinion on the internal wrangling of failing nation states if it didn't have a sordid past of selling arms to these nations and propping up what are more often than not, autocratic and aggressive regimes, because it best suits the status quo.

It all comes into sharper focus on days like these. The Libyan intervention is indeed, as I have previously mentioned in this blog, a necessary one. But then there are also other nations such as the Yemen where the case for similar actions could arguably be made. But of course, if the west's hypocritical, double standards needs are better served by not rocking such boats, then the call for international action may well be muted in comparison.

In the meantime, whilst Libya burns for what will hopefully be a better future, the likes of Yemen are allowed to bleed to death.

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