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Yemen Famine, People trapped and starving
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Yemen Famine, People trapped and starving

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The Yemen War is not just a civil war between internal factions, such as the Houthi rebels and the forces of deposed President Hadi. It became an international conflict in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia put together a coalition of Sunni Arab countries and started bombing Yemen, with the logistical support of the USA and the UK.

Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a Middle Eastern cold war has existed between Saudi Arabia which is mostly Sunni, and Iran which is mostly Shiite. For the last 50 years or so, Saudi Arabia has been the wealthiest and most powerful Middle Eastern nation, and wants to remain so. Meanwhile, Iran has been actively funding and arming Shiite minorities across the Middle East, trying to increase its influence in the region and ultimately take Saudi's position as leader of the Middle East and the Muslim world. Likewise, Saudi Arabia has armed and supported rebel Sunni groups in countries like Syria that have a Shiite government. Consequently, Saudi Arabia views the Shiite Houthi rebels who have taken over Yemen as an Iranian proxy on its southern border. How much real support the Houthis actually receive from Iran is immaterial. The assumption is that if the Houthis were left to rule Yemen, Yemen would become a proxy of its arch-enemy, Iran.

Syria was ultimately destabilised by the 2011 Arab Spring. But Saudi Arabia's backing of Sunni rebel groups in Syria, intent on toppling the Alawi Shiite government of Bashar Al Asad, has greatly exacerbated the Syrian Crisis. It has resulted in unimaginable suffering for the Syrian people, with half the population displaced and 12 million Syrians now in need of humanitarian assistance. Without foreign interference, it is quite possible that order would have been restored long ago in Syria.

In Yemen, the Arab Spring forced long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, and in 2012 his vice-president Hadi was 'elected' (he was the only candidate) as the new President for a fixed 2 year term. At the end of 2014, as his term drew to an end, President Hadi was deposed militarily by the Houthi rebels who are Zaidi Shiites. Disturbed at the prospect of a Shiite government in Yemen, Saudi Arabia intervened in March 2015. Outwardly it is trying to restore the 'legitimate government of President Hadi' (ignoring the fact that his term had expired anyway). In reality, Saudi Arabia is 'puppeteering and playing proxy wars' - the words of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson:

Boris Johnson, December 2016

Unfortunately in April 2015, the United Nations gave its support to Saudi Arabia in the form of UN Resolution 2216. Since 28 September 2015, Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, has been saying there is no military solution to the conflict and urging all sides to cease military activities and resolve their differences through negotiations. However, Resolution 2216 has not been repealed, and has allowed Saudi to continue its relentless bombing campaign with a facade of legitimacy. It also enables Saudi Arabia's biggest allies, the USA and the UK, to justify their misguided military support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen Conflict.

The UK was intricately involved in the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, and together with the USA has always seen Saudi as its key Middle Eastern ally. As well as being an important supplier of oil, Saudi Arabia is also a hugely valuable export market for UK businesses, especially those involved in the arms trade. Saudi Arabia is now the world's largest importer of arms, with the USA and the UK being the world's largest arms exporters. But these economic interests have led us to take sides in a Middle Eastern cold war that is unleashing unimaginable misery upon millions of innocent people. In the process, the UK is contravening the Arms Trade Treaty which bans the export of arms to countries where there is a risk that they might be used to commit violations of international humanitarian law. Despite numerous such violations by Saudi Arabia, our government is putting the UK's economic interests before its moral and legal obligations.

In December 2015 when Saudi bombed my old school where I used to teach in Yemen, it was a personal wake-up call that spurred me into action. Shortly afterwards, I launched my campaign website StopArmsToSaudi.com. My goal was to see the UK government suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Thanks to Labour MP Stephen Twigg, the House of Commons debated this issue on 26 October 2016. Unfortunately it was voted down by a Conservative Party whip. Especially with the possible implications of Brexit for UK exports, Theresa May seems reluctant to upset the apple cart with Saudi Arabia and potentially lose the UK's lucrative Saudi export market.

Consequently, I decided it was time for a change of focus. In launching YemenFamine.com, my primary goals are firstly to fundraise for the aid agencies that are working in Yemen to save lives, and secondly to raise greater awareness of the Yemen Famine. But I have not abandoned my original goal of stopping the UK selling arms to Saudi Arabia, for the Yemen Famine is no accident. It is the result of a deliberate strategy by Saudi Arabia to starve the Yemeni people into surrender.

House of Commons Vote on 26 October 2016

Please watch the following speech given by Labour MP Stephen Twigg on 26 October 2016
Motion
That this House:
supports efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities and provide humanitarian relief in Yemen, and notes that the country is now on the brink of famine;
condemns the reported bombings of civilian areas that have exacerbated this crisis;
believes that a full independent UN-led investigation must be established into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict in Yemen; and
calls on the Government to suspend its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen until it has been determined whether they have been responsible for any such violations.

Result: Ayes 193, Noes 283 (so motion was defeated)

Analysis: This motion was defeated by a Conservative Party whip. Only one Conservative MP, Chris White, rebelled and voted in favour of the motion. Out of all the non-Conservative MP's who voted, all but one voted for the motion. Unfortunately a significant number of labour MP's abstained.
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Although the motion was defeated, the vote is helpful in that it reveals where individual MP's stand on the issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. To see how your local MP voted, please click here and scroll down the list until you find yours.

It is vital that momentum is maintained and that individual MP's are challenged about their position on this issue. However, parliamentary protocol demands that MP's only respond to their own constituents. There is no point is anyone sending out a mail-merge letter to lots of MP's. But there is great value in you writing to your own local MP.

The organisation championing this cause is Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). On 30 June 2016 in the High Court, they won the right to take the government’s decision to keep arming Saudi Arabia to a judicial review. The next stage of this review will be held in February 2017.

CAAT make it very easy for you to write to your MP. If you click the button below, it will bring up CAAT's page, into which you enter your postcode. It will identify your local MP for you, give you a form for entering your details, and a pre-written model letter which you are free to edit as you choose before clicking 'Continue'. It also identifies whether your MP has signed Early Day Motion 136 which you can read here. If you choose to edit the model letter, it would also be helpful to address how they voted on 26 October 2016, if present. I would also be grateful if you might mention this website, YemenFamine.com, or StopArmsToSaudi.com, which I hope they will find informative and persuasive.

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