In the early sixties Egyptians watched their loved ones head off to fight a war in Yemen. Enshrined in what seemed an ideological fallacy of Nasser’s making—to unite the Arab World—the reasons behind the war were elusive to Egyptians. They had no idea why or whom they were fighting for or against. Neither did it mean much to those partaking in the fighting itself: going off to Yemen meant a lucrative stipend and an opportunity to buy appliances and goods non existent in Nasser’s Egypt
Egypt’s involvement in the Yemen Civil War lasted until 1967 when it had to divert its combating attention to another war: the ’67 War. Named Egypt’s Vietnam, the Yemen War remained one of the thorns in Nasser’s egotistic repertoire of failures until his death in 1970.
That was then, and this is now.
Today, Saudia Arabia launches airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in North Yemen. According to Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Iran is unequivocally backing the Houthis [3% of the population] with money, weapons and advisers. So it seems that Iran is expanding its dominance from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq to Yemen further south. Though the onset of this conflict lies in Sunni and Shia allegiance, it is mainly a power game.
When asked to join the team of nations fighting the Houthis in Yemen, Egypt didn’t think twice. Saudi Arabia went all out in its support for Egypt after June 30th. That while President El Sisi promised to be there for any Arab country that needed Egypt’s assistance. It would have been highly unlikely for Egypt to turn its back on the friends who stood beside her.
So now, over 50 years later, Egypt finds itself, again, at war in Yemen, and as it did the first time round, the current Yemen war is weighing heavily on Egyptians. They had thought that the 1973 War was their last war—didn’t Sadat accomplish the unachievable by signing the Peace Treaty with Israel, which they considered their primary enemy? No, more enemies are emerging from the woodwork and from amongst the Arabs themselves: Hamas from across the north eastern border, the Islamic State in Libya, terrorists in Sinai and all across Egypt, and now the Houthis in Yemen.
Egyptians by nature are not a war-loving, bloodthirsty group. Actually Egyptians hate wars, so this one is no different. But are Egyptians more informed this time round? Do they know whom they are fighting against and what they are fighting for? Well, it’s complicated.
As usual Egyptians are divided. First, there are those who are against wars—period. They are well aware of the repercussions of any war: destruction and misery, and they are certain that all wars can be averted. Then there are those who are hailing the idea of going to war as though it is a leisurely felucca trip along the Nile, which it isn’t. Media morons egg officials on totally oblivious of the cost in terms of loss of lives and damage to property.
But others know that there was no way out of this war: a necessity. They would ward off a war at any cost and do understand the consequences, but they also realize the grave burden that has been placed on Egypt’s shoulders, so to speak.
In addition to Egypt’s necessary but absolute support of the Saudi stance, Yemen’s strategic location is another reason why Egypt must worry about where Yemen’s allegiances are. Bab El Mandab, a 70 km strait at the southern tip of the Red Sea, is in Yemeni and Djiboutian, on the African side, waters. Any political shift could affect the navigation in the Suez Canal.
Prior to all this, in February 2015, Sisi had asked the Arab World to unite against its enemies by creating a rapid deployment-type force. “A pan-Arab military force should be created to combat terrorist groups, insisting the threat of Islamist militancy requires a ‘unified’ response from countries in the region.” The Yemen War, though not against Islamist militancy, is lending Sisi’s idea some needed ground.
At the same time, Arab World leaders may have finally realized the need to reconsider their stances. They’ve watched the Arab World disintegrate, and they remained engrossed solely in their own countries’ prosperity paying little attention to those who share their borders and fates. Working on erasing the disparity between the rich and the poor and the strong and the weak may be the only way out of the crises the Arab World is facing. Fates collide.
The theory that all the Arab countries are in this together and that a unified front is what makes the Arab World a force to be reckoned with would make Nasser turn in his grave. Nasser, the father of the so-called Arab Nation and despite his power, couldn’t convince the Arab World of this need, and yet today it is about to happen.
It is a shame that the Arab countries need to resort to war when all it would have taken was to be concerned with and aware of the needs of those around them. It’s a shame that the Saudis need to fight the Iranians on the land of one the poorest countries in the region: Yemen. If the Saudis had chosen to help the Yemenis overcome their demise, the Yemenis may not have been dazzled by Iran’s lending but scheming hand.
Ironically though, today’s Yemen is no better than yesterday’s Yemen, the one Nasser fought; if anything, it is worse:
This is no country for old men, or of old men: 40% of Yemen's 24.4 million people are under age 15, and only 5% are over 60. The median age is 19. (Canada's median age is 40.6)
It's no country for young women either: the total fertility rate per woman is 4.1. Four hundred and sixty women per 100,000 die giving birth, and 125 babies out of every 1,000 are dead before age five, 18% of them from acute respiratory infections and 14% from birth asphyia. Given the health conditions of their mothers, it should be no surprise that 16% die from simply being born premature. One in four Yemeni boys will die before reaching his fifteenth birthday, and one in five Yemeni girls.
Even if those children do survive, WHO tells us, well over 40% of them are stunted by age five. http://bit.ly/1Et93jr
The hope is for this war to be swift and not long lasting. Then negotiations can begin, but more importantly, support to neglected Yemen can begin, too.
The Yemen War is not a war Egypt asked for and would rather not partake in, but “the winds do not blow as ships desire them to.”