This semester I once again got the chance to attend several of the fascinating lectures that OU provides. I attended a talk on the situation in Yemen this spring out of an interest for the situation and how international actors are or are not responsible for the degrading situation.
The conflict in Yemen has been on going now for two years, yet personally I have found the information surrounding the war in Yemen has never had any real defining clarity in the media. Is it a proxy war, or another civil war fought by waring factions in an effort to seize power? What is the role of terrorism and the subsequent role of the United States?
These questions highlight the ugly truth behind what Dr. Mustafa Bahran called the “Yemeni Conundrum” in his lecture a couple of weeks ago. He prefaced his talk with the fact that he is Yemeni, and he does not have his doctorate in political science or regional studies, but in physics. As a student that attends many events hosted by the College of International Studies this was both a surprising and refreshing change. Dr. Bahran also had an incredibly personal back ground that offered an in-depth passionate view on the current situation in Yemen.
Dr. Bahran began his lecture discussing what kind of country Yemen was; how it broke down demographically, but also geographically which is important in order the understand the difference between the north and the south in a country that is stretches much father along an east to west parallel than a north to south one. He then moved into the topic of the evening that I was most interested in which was the answer to the question of who is who in this conflict.
As it turns out the reason this answer is so jumbled in the media, and not well understood on the international stage is because the who is who of the Yemeni conundrum is a complex conundrum in itself. Dr. Bahran breaks it down to four main actors: the legitimate government, Huthi-Saleh, Hirak Movement, and non-state actors. Dr. Bahran explained that every one of these actors is in some way in bed with another, and in his lecture he repeatedly emphasized the fact that in the end no one wins, excepts for perhaps the warlords and thieves who are making millions off of the suffering of the Yemeni people. He also explained that this conflict has several different dynamics that exist at several different levels form the very local to the global.
Understanding these different actors and how the react and interact with each other according to the differing dynamics that Dr. Bahran explained begins to provide a better picture to understanding the true complexity of the situation.
One thing I thought Dr. Bahran did that was interesting and important in order for others to understand the current conflict what he explained the history of Yemen and the region that makes the current crisis a civil war and a proxy war simultaneously. The divide between the Huthis in the north and the Hirak in the south began the conflict as a Yemeni civil war, but the greater regional powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia got involved due to their long documented strong against each other for dominance in the region. As these regional powers got involved so too did their allies which contributes to the global dynamics that I mentioned before.
In the end, Dr. Bahran makes it clear that there are no winners but those willing to profit form suffering, and that there is plenty of suffering among the Yemeni people as the conflict drags to another year. Although this war started as a Yemeni conflict it in largely agreed that the ability to determine the fate of the country has passed from Yemeni hands to the great forces of the proxy war situation we see today. I would like to end on a final note that stuck in my head from Dr. Bahran’s lecture. As a physicist, Dr. Bahran sees the world in a certain way, and I thought it was very interesting when he applied this way of thinking to the religious difference that plague his country and many others. In physics the idea of quantum mechanics says that a particle can be in two places at once, Dr. Bahran asked if perhaps this is how some Muslims see there faith, as if there were two versions of god, the chosen people, and heaven existing at the same time. I think this idea applies to more than strictly some conflicts found in certain Muslim beliefs, and perhaps new ways of thinking that come from the most unlikely of places is something that is not considered often enough.