Can we talk about the fact that no one is talking about Yemen? This silence is far more deafening for me than most. I shouldn’t be surprised but forgive me if I can’t hide my disappointment. In a world where children of Aleppo can burn and the only people to bat an eyelash are the ones forcing themselves to pay attention, this shouldn’t be a surprise. In a world where Arab blood is cheaper than most, where our futures don’t matter as much as yours because of where we were born, the colour of our skin or the name of our God. Can we talk about how no one sane knows what to do? Can we talk about the fact that we can’t even talk about what to do in Yemen because no one is talking about it in the first place?

Yemen: a country now embroiled in a divisive war fought primarily between Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia claiming to have intervened on behalf of the government. Can we talk about how foreign interventions just don’t work? Yemen: a country now consistently on the brink of famine. Can we talk about what it is like to watch your children starve while your stomach eats itself? Yemen: a country now being bombed by America after years of enduring Obama’s drones. Can we talk about the fact that most Western people can’t even find Yemen on a map and that it used to be the name of a hilariously far-away place we used in childhood like Timbuktu or Siberia?

Can we talk about the fact that this far-away place is home to millions of innocent people – men, women and children – who have literally no idea why their country erupted into war and why no one is paying attention to them? Can we imagine for a second that we are them – trying to live in our lives in a hellish prison with no way out, a world gaslighting you into believing that you’re not their problem? Can we talk about how there are only so many times you can ask for help before you just stop asking? Can we talk about how every time desperate people take matters into their own hands, the idle West accuses them of extremism? What would you do?

Can we talk about the fact that we aren’t even hearing about Yemeni refugees because their country is bordered by the sea on one side and their oppressor on the other? That their displacement is internal?  Can we talk about the fact that Europe can’t even refuse them because they don’t even have a way out?

Can we talk about Trudeau’s weapons sales to the Saudi regime? How Canadian manufactured guns are ripping holes in the bodies of Yemeni children? How Canadian manufactured bombs are tearing apart halls where families celebrate weddings? How they wait for half an hour between bombings so they can not only kill civilians but the ones who come to search for survivors too? Can we talk about how violence is being normalized there? How trauma is a way of life? How, for every brick that crumbles into dust, a memory is transferred through DNA of unspeakable fear and unfathomable pain? How no one is talking about these generations that have been shattered and destroyed, about how it is only getting worse?

Why has the world forgotten Yemen? The origin-place of the Arab tribes? A place with more claims to the Hijaz than the impostors that reign over our Holy Places? Can we talk about this global silence about Saudi Arabia? About their reification of Shi’a phantoms in the name of political control?  About the silence that spells H Y P O C R I S Y in the stars over our Prophet’s mosque, over the Haram in Mecca? Can we talk about the blood that covers Saudi hands, never to be washed away in ablutions? Can we talk about how countries like Morocco and Algeria will boycott the Hajj because of an uncalled-for Saudi tax but not because the regime is killing their southern brothers?

Can we recognize that call-outs aren’t working on Western governments? Can we recognize that we don’t have any other options until enough of us are talking about it, until enough of us are sounding the alarm? Only with collective voices can the siren calls of war and death be drowned out by those who call for peace.

Can we talk about Yemen, please?

 Image Credit: Ovadia Alkara

nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

saudi-oilOil in the Middle East is always a contentious issue with some seeing it as the primary motive for foreign involvement and diplomacy in the region and others seeing it as a crucial tool not only in controlling world economics but also power balancing in geopolitics. Still other categorize oil as a side-factor in ideological wars on the international stage – secondary to conflicts over economic strategy, and religious or socio-cultural paradigms. The recent drop in oil prices has lead to concern over the power wielded by Saudi Arabia as the main producer and exporter of oil in the region. Are the Saudis trying to cripple American fracking as part of a competitive market strategy? Is it a Saudi retaliatory effort against Russia and Iran for their political betrayals in upholding the criminal governments of Syria and Iraq? Or is it irrelevant in the long-term as it not only benefits the economy by putting more money in the hands of consumers rather than producers, or because the industry’s days are numbered regardless with the advent of alternative methods of energy production and less demand overall? In this paper, I will briefly cover some of the theories surrounding the recent drop in oil prices, how this involves Saudi Arabia and what it might mean for the future.

Among opinions that the issue of oil prices is entirely economic is the article “Sheikhs v shale” from the December 6, 2014 issue of The Economist. The article cites the reasons for a drop in oil prices as due to “a sluggish world economy”, the overproduction of oil from OPEC countries, and fracking the US which has “boosted America’s oil production by a third.” While the article concludes with this being a positive thing, as it will put more money into the hands of consumers who will, in turn, reinject it back into the economy, it will also mean a concentration of the market into the hands of key producers. This is because high-cost producers will not be able to compete, crimping the supply and causing oil prices to rise again. Concluding that the economics of oil have changed and can now generally withstand most political shifts outside of major catastrophes, the article seems to downplay the effect of politics on the oil prices and sees the recent dip as something almost organic to the market, from which it will benefit in the long-term.

Other authors do not hold the same optimistic viewpoint and look to geopolitics as a way of accounting for human agency in effecting the oil price drop. While many blame the Saudi flood of the energy market and cite it as an attack on the growing influence of the fracking industry of the US, others like Michael Moran see oil as a means to an end, not the end itself. Oil prices are being manipulated as a geopolitical weapon which, until recently, had benefited the interests of the US in the region. While the media (in which The Economist can be included) has relentlessly repeated the ‘Sheikhs vs Shale’ debate, Moran argues that the recent flood by Saudi is actually a means of reinforcing its importance as a US ally by dealing “a direct strike […] on two already hobbled geopolitical rivals, Iran and Russia,” as well as a way of “deftly reinforc[ing] Riyadh’s centrality as the only oil producer truly able to influence global oil markets on its own.” Looking at the consequences of the Saudi flood and how these have affected its rivals, while compelling, does not necessarily imply primary motivation on behalf of the Saudis to continue pumping. Additionally, by making the argument that the Saudis have little to worry about with regards to the fracking industry, Moran also makes his argument retrospectively by equating outcomes (of reduced fracking production because of its higher cost) with reasoning – which may not be the case in terms of determining Saudi motives.

Given the insights into Saudi rule offered in the historical analysis of “Shaping the Saudi State” by Steffen Hertog, it would seem that motivations on the Saudi side might be more difficult to determine than previously thought. The deeply personal organizational structure of the government in KSA has resulted in the congealment of “institutional constellations” in politics – ministries that operate largely independent of one another, with low levels of horizontal dealings, overlap or mutual consideration. This segmentation means that there is a tendency of “various institutions to be little ‘states within the state,’” operating based on the primary motivations of those at the helm and often for individualistic reasons without structural considerations of the implications of their decisions. Given this image, it might be hard to believe that tact or clear motives are behind the recent flood of the market by Saudi.

Far more consistent at making focused strategy decisions for a variety of political-economic reasons is the United States, which Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya of the Global Research Council cites as the factor with the most influence on the recent drop in oil prices and Saudi flooding. Without splitting hairs, Nazemroaya explicitly states that the drop in the price of oil is “a US strategy of economic warfare and coercive diplomacy” meant to secure both geopolitical and business considerations in favour of American interests globally. Noting that because fracking costs significantly more than other methods of production, the Americans –knowing that they cannot compete with other producers, particularly Russia- have been “fanning the flames of instability” against Russia with regards to the Ukraine crisis. This is in addition to the fact that that there are significant energy reserves in East Ukraine and Poland which the US has its eyes on. In the case of the Saudi flood, Nazemroaya views this as a continuation in the tradition of the US using the KSA to destabilize its enemies because of the ripple effect the drive down in oil prices would have on their economies and, by extension, political positions.

Whether acting on its own authority or at the behest of its close American ally, Saudi Arabia’s effect on the current global energy markets cannot be denied. However, Juan Cole, in his article “Oil Price Fall: Saudi Arabia targets US Shale Oil, Iran, Iraq and Russia”, the author reaffirms the previous economic position by arguing that the drop in oil prices is not because of a Saudi flood or fracking but because the demand for oil has decreased so much due to “cooling economies” and the shift to alternative energy resources. In this framework, geopolitical effects are largely residual to the natural shifts of the markets. Pointing to more long-term implications of this dip in the market, Cole argues that the oil price drop and secondary political effects are mainly irrelevant because , eventually, “the economic benefit of inexpensive renewable electricity [sic] will likely outweigh the loss of oil income” and become a key method of weakening the importance of oil in the world economy. Deterministic in his outlook, Cole argues that whatever successes the Saudis and their allies enjoy are temporary as the future will bring an obsoletion of their business (and political) models eventually. While not without its own problems, the Cole article might offer a different approach to understanding the current global oil prices by adopting a methodology that is less concerned with motivations and more concerned with outcomes, less concerned with conspiratorial entities and more concerned with who benefits from what has happened, albeit in likely unpredictable ways. The assumption of a predictable, closed system by which premeditated actions yield a systemic, exact response is unlikely. Additionally, the benefits of uncovering motivations –beyond the personal ones –are yet to be determined in adding to our knowledge about the global economic, geopolitical situation.

 Sources Referenced/Cited

Juan Cole, “Oil Price Fall: Saudi Arabia targets US Shale Oil, Iran, Iraq, Russia,” Informed Comments. Nov. 29, 2014.

Michael Moran, “Is Saudi Arabia Trying to Cripple American Fracking?” Foreign Policy, Dec. 23, 2014.

“The new economics of oil: Sheikhs v shale,The Economist, December 6, 2014.

M. D. Nazemroaya, “Oil Prices and Energy Wars: The US Empire of ‘Frack’ versus Russia,” Global Research, Dec. 6, 2014.

Steffen Hertog, “Shaping the Saudi State: Human Agency’s Shifting Role in Rentier-State Formation,” Int. J. Middle East Studies. 39 (2007), 539–563.