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The Sana’a Center Editorial: The Urgency to Protect Yemen’s Minorities

اقرأ المحتوى باللغة العربية

Through periods of tolerance and persecution, marginalization has remained a constant in the treatment of racial and religious minorities in Yemeni society. During the ongoing conflict, however, violence and subjugation against these marginalized groups has increased dramatically, to the point that it is fundamentally reshaping Yemeni society. For Yemen as we know it to continue to exist it needs to assure the existence of its minorities, as something fundamental to the makeup of a nation dies when its minorities perish.

Yemen’s Jewish community, with a history tracing back millennia, played a foundational role in developing Yemeni culture and commerce, and creating much of the artisanal industries for which the country is known. While the community had already been dwindling in recent decades, persecution at the hands of the armed Houthi movement following its takeover of Sana’a in 2014 has driven almost all the remaining Jewish families into exile, thereby extinguishing a part of Yemen’s soul. Similarly, as a recent Sana’a Center report details, Yemen’s Baha’i community is rapidly being driven out of existence by a systematic Houthi campaign of vilification and erasure.

The Muhammasheen – an ethnic underclass in Yemen literally referred to as Al-Akhdam, meaning ‘the servants’, by many in the country – have proved more useful to the various warring parties. As another Sana’a Center report details, both the Houthis and their rivals have actively sought out Muhammasheen communities at the margins of society to recruit their young men for the frontlines. At the same time, all sides in the conflict routinely deny wounded Muhammasheen access to healthcare and compensation and remove their families from the lists of beneficiaries for international humanitarian aid.

There is a reckoning with intolerance Yemeni society must undergo. No Yemeni – regardless of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation or other difference – should be denied legal rights and social protections. The incredible and liberating acceptance of difference that was alive amongst Yemenis of all backgrounds in the streets and squares during the 2011 revolution is a proof of concept that Yemeni society is capable of so much better.

The war, however, has brought urgency to the plight of marginalized groups in the country. While almost all Yemenis are suffering from this conflict, the struggle of marginalized groups has become an existential threat to these communities. Yemenis and regional and international stakeholders must take assertive steps to protect these vulnerable groups. For a just peace to emerge from any United Nations-led mediation efforts, the new UN special envoy must also seek to integrate protections for Yemen’s marginalized communities into the peace process.

This editorial appeared in: Eye on the East – The Yemen Review, June 2021

Previous Sana’a Center Editorials:

The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies is an independent think-tank that seeks to foster change through knowledge production with a focus on Yemen and the surrounding region. The Center’s publications and programs, offered in both Arabic and English, cover diplomatic, political, social, economic, military, security, humanitarian and human rights related developments, aiming to impact policy locally, regionally, and internationally.