Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World

Arab Studies Quarterly, Winter 2019 | Go to article overview

Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World


Blumi, Isa. Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us About The World. Oakland: University of California Press, 2018. 312 pages. Paperback $29.95

Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us About The World is an eye opener. It exposes the underlying causes behind the "genocidal war' that was launched in March 2015 against Yemen by the Saudi-Anglo-American coalition forces. This in-depth study documents the deep-rooted intent to integrate the Arabian country into the political global economy, to subdue the Yemeni people by regional and global interventions. Blumi speaks of the devastation that has resulted from the military intervention against the poorest Arab country. According to UN reports, the Yemeni crisis has reached devastating levels in terms of displaced refugees and poverty, starvation and famine, water sanitation and health problems, in addition to security, poor economy, and lack of jobs. He, however, contends that despite the devastation, the Yemeni people continue to resist and demonstrate a resilience that is true to their historic legacy. The goal of the study moves away from conventional parameters of history, geography, and epistemology to identify the complexity of links between people and space as global interests interface with local forces and culture.

Blumi debunks the simplistic media reading of the war for being a civil war between the Zaidi Shľa Houthi in the North versus the "legitimate" Sunni government of 'Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in the South, beyond a proxy war between Shľa Iran and Sunni Saudis. The North-South divide should not be viewed simplistically in religious terms, according to Blumi. His elucidation of the historical context of the present and the past looks forward to the future to offer a complex but clear picture of the geographical, historical, and geological wealth of Yemen, aspects that have played into the construction of Yemeni identity and sense of history, as well as the current state of the global world.

Yemen is the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula, with geographical differences between the north and the south parts of the terrain. Yemen makes its textual entry into world history from the Biblical times onward. Blumi sheds light on how the integration of modern Yemen into the global market had begun earlier than the 1800s of the era of high colonialism when Yemeni traders from powerful families and clans had reached South East Asia and established connections, before the arrival of the British into the region. Chapters 1 and 2 clarify British interests in this important cross-road between Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean. With the rise of the British Empire and conflicts with the Ottomans and Italians, Yemen was always at the heart of Empire. To protect its trade route to India, the British East India Company colonized Aden in 1839; and in the twentieth century, the Southern provinces of Yemen became a British Protectorate. Other European countries got into the fray to advance their political and commercial interests in the country by the 1860s. The twentieth century saw a plethora of economic European interventions into Yemeni affairs not only due to the country's strategic location but also because of its rich natural resources, such as agricultural industries, natural gas, oil, gold, and other minerals. Blumi suggests that the international impact on Yeminis, which sometimes veered into violent coups, brought to the fore a resistant, resilient spirit that survived well into World War II (12).

In the last hundred years, the field was open for Yemeni families and merchants who sought alliances and treaties with Europe to consolidate their political and economic power. Some wealthy Yemenis from the South cast their lot with the elite British while others in the North looked to Italy or France. One such Northern leader was Zaydi Imam Yahya, who was able to unite north and middle Yemen into a "coherent and unified entity" (37). …

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