Yemen Can’t Wait, Nor Can Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Libya

Thursday 1 April 202101:57 pm

At last, the international community has awakened to the principle that only accountable states must be helped during financial crises. This applies to Lebanon – a state run by a corrupt elite that plundered its resources leading it to unprecedented financial collapse, an 85 percent currency depreciation and almost 50 percent of its population under the poverty line. We have seen unprecedented levels of unemployment, skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, shortages in much needed medicines and essential goods in a country that has been without a government for almost seven months now.

Despite all that, the international community doesn’t seem concerned to fend off this financial and economic crisis that will surely have unpleasant implications in the region for peace and stability.

A fact: Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. International donations have been scarce due to a shift in priorities for Western nations at a time of a global pandemic that has taken its toll on even the most advanced economies in the world. We have seen a significant decrease in funding even for UN-related agencies as they struggled to secure the necessary funding for their operations. The question then becomes how would a Palestine or a Syria refugee cope in a country that, first, doesn’t allow them to enter its workforce, and second, is facing its worst economic and financial decline? Given the limited resources provided to UN agencies and other local and international NGOs, how does a deteriorating economic situation translate in terms of the socioeconomic realities in and out of the camps?

At last, the international community has adopted the principle that only accountable states must be bailed out during financial crises, this applies to Lebanon – a state run by a corrupt elite that plundered its resources leading it to total collapse

In the midst of all that, you hear the international community beating the drums of accountability, calling for increased oversight and ensuring the proper mechanisms to fight corruption as donations are traced down to the last penny. While this speaks of the international community’s high standards for transparency and accountability, both to the beneficiaries and its taxpayers, it doesn't say much for the billions of dollars worth of aid that has been pledged to Lebanon over the past decades when corruption was at its best.

In 2018, Eleven billion dollars were put on hold in an international conference in Paris aimed at rallying support for investment and development projects, which was conditioned upon further commitment to uprooting corruption. Three years on, no initiative has been taken by the Lebanese government as a gesture of goodwill in terms of establishing greater transparency and fighting corruption. Why would billions of dollars be given to a country if they were to be siphoned off by a bunch of warlords and corrupt zaiims (leaders)?

Decades of foreign intervention to support the same corrupt elite, still in power today, haven’t made Western donors pause to ponder the question of conditional aid and how to support the economy while ensuring an integrated package of political, economic and social reforms. As in most Arab nations, corruption in Lebanon is endemic, and countries should not be left to make a stark choice between either following international standards overnight or be left to face their ruin. To expect the ruling class to suddenly rise to the occasion and respond to conditional aid by applying a stringent reform agenda is more like expecting the Arab revolutions to bring about democracy and peace. As if democracy can be achieved overnight, or that years of living in the dark can be erased by people chanting in one single voice: “Down With The Regime”. These sanctions go far beyond the stated intentions that are being raised by the international community. In short, the international community is fed up with propping up a system that is functioning under Hezbollah's umbrella. To lend a helping hand to an Iranian-backed Hezbollah is like pumping oxygen into Iranian lungs as they face-off via proxy wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Ultimately, it is the populations that pay the price.

To expect the ruling class to suddenly rise to the occasion is like expecting the Arab revolutions to bring about democracy and peace. As if democracy can be achieved overnight, or that years of darkness can be wiped by chanting: “Down With The Regime”

The US has been outmaneuvered by the cooperation agreement signed between Iran and China giving Iran more leverage with the US regarding the nuclear deal, where the Biden administration has clearly stated its willingness to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). So much for a maximum pressure policy that has brought nothing but starvation to the peoples of the region, but never the downfall of its totalitarian regimes. 

The stand-off between Iran and the US is very much pronounced in Yemen. The China-Iran, and before that the Russian-Iranian rapprochement, also feeds into the Middle East’s prolonged wars, such as the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition backed by the US seems eager to end the war in Yemen, as Saudi Arabia recently proposed a peace initiative that was rejected by the Houthis claiming the plan falls short of a complete lifting of the air and sea blockade. The proposal, though not the first of its kind, coincides with an increasing territorial control by the Houthis dealing a major blow to the Saudi-led efforts to push back the Houthis and reinstate Hadi’s rule.

The Iranian-backed Houthis hold the cards in Yemen, where approximately 80 percent of the population, or more than 20 million people, live in Houthi controlled areas. A sea and air blockade restricts access to aid and impedes the work of humanitarian relief agencies operating in Yemen. The saudi-led coalition has imposed a blockade on Hodeida port, arguing it is being used to smuggle arms to the Houthis. While that could be true, the blockade has created a severe humanitarian crisis by restricting access to essential items like food, medicine and fuel into Yemen - thus almost bringing to a halt the flow of humanitarian operations through the Port of Hodeida and affecting the very same 20 million living in Houthi controlled areas.

This situation has been exacerbated by a frail international coalition that has neither weakened the group nor pushed them back, as the Houthis gear up for the battle of Ma’rib - the last northern oil rich governorate under Government control. Should Ma’rib fall into Houthi hands, it will signal the failure of the international coalition, with all the intelligence, munitions, and military technology it possesses, to bring a rebel group to its knees. Who is paying the price for this US/Gulf standoff with Iran in Yemen? Once again the Yemenis - turning Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with almost 80 percent of the population in need of help, and at risk of facing the worst famine the world has seen in decades. It is only now that the arm-twisting approach has failed in Yemen that a peace process has been put forth. The traditional dichotomy between East and West has been shifting in unexpected ways. Time for the West to reckon with the Iranian backed forces in the region and end their involvement in wars, politically or economically. Lessons must be learned that the road to peace does not have to entail years of war, but a roadmap for less human suffering coupled with an action plan for post-war reconstruction. 

In Yemen, the Biden administration removed the Houthis from its list of terrorist organizations, paving the way for humanitarian assistance to enter the country as the Saudi-led coalition allows four ships into the Houthi-controlled port. It is time for international diplomacy to spring to action. Yemen Can’t Wait. Nor can Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Libya.

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