March 26 will mark the fourth year of the genocidal war against the people of Yemen led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In addition to blockading the country and preventing basic necessities from entering, the Saudi-led coalition targets food and water infrastructure, fishing boats, and even small farms in airstrikes, directly threatening Yemen’s survival. As a result, 80 percent of the population requires humanitarian aid to survive, and one-third of the country is in “pre-famine” conditions according to a recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Schools, hospitals, weddings, and funerals are among the other targets of coalition pilots—all war crimes under international law. Despite this, and despite the rapidly worsening situation for Yemenis, the United States continues to support the coalition. This support takes many forms, from direct military assistance, to companies such as Raytheon—headquartered in Massachusetts—selling arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and to universities such as MIT and Boston University maintaining war ties with the regimes and companies responsible.
In recent months, students and anti-war activists protested at universities across Boston, including Northeastern, MIT, and Boston University, protesting the participation of Raytheon and similar companies at career fairs for their role in Yemen. The invitation of these war profiteers onto campus is but one aspect of how our universities are deeply invested—politically and financially—in war, corporate profits, and anti-democratic, anti-people regimes. For example, BU ran a branch of its dental school in Dubai from 2008-2012 and last October invited the consulate general of the UAE onto campus. These ties are especially clear between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and MIT and Harvard. Last spring these two universities hosted the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, on campus. Despite mounting public criticism, MIT plans to maintain its ties with the Saudi government. On top of all this, these schools make millions of dollars from investments and gifts from Saudi and Emirati companies and weapons manufacturers like Raytheon—an exact figure not known as the financial relationships of the universities are not public knowledge. This runs counter to the universities’ stated missions to “serve the world,” “benefit society,” or “work for the betterment of humankind.” Instead, it reflects their agreement with Wall Street and the whole US war machine that American empire must be preserved.
Before the Yemeni people forced the corrupt dictator Saleh—who embezzled an estimated $62 billion during his reign—from office in 2012, foreign companies and banks had near-total control over the country’s economy. For example, U.S. Hunt Oil and French Total were the primary shareholders in Yemen LNG (liquified natural gas), the largest industrial project in Yemen. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has major control of Yemen’s port cities, allegedly even attempting to build a new oil port in al-Mahra while the war still rages on. Now, the US is scrambling to maintain its power there. Because 10 percent of the world’s seaborne oil passes through Bab-el-Mandeb strait, and due to growing Chinese economic and military rivalry in the region, the US is keen on keeping Yemen under its thumb. It is no wonder then that Yemen has been a hotspot of the so-called war on terror, victim to US drone strikes since 2002. And it is no wonder why the US has poured so much money and support into the Saudi-led war from the very start.
The US is the single largest backer of this war. It provides the coalition with jets, missiles, targeting assistance, logistical support, and much more. A Congressional Research Service report in 2016 found that under Obama, weapons sales to Saudi Arabia from 2008-2015 totaled $94 billion. And from 2016-2017, weapons sales increased 38 percent. While more recently, the devastation of this war has led to some criticism in Congress, it has amounted to only symbolic action. Ro Khanna’s recent bill for example, although it passed in the House, was gutted by both Democrats and Republicans, who added an amendment allowing “intelligence sharing” (i.e., sharing information with the coalition to decide which targets to bomb) if deemed necessary by the president. All the while, weapons designed and made in America flood into Saudi-UAE arsenals, and universities invite the producers of these weapons onto campus to recruit students to design the next tools of destruction.
The recent campus protests help to show that the war in Yemen is not as far away as one may think. Demands were made not only to kick Raytheon and the other war profiteers off campus, but for the universities to cut their many ties with the Saudi and UAE regimes and for an end to the war in Yemen. By standing with the people of Yemen as our brothers and sisters, exposing and calling for an end to all US support for this war, we build up opposition to the war in Yemen and help revitalize the anti-war movement. Time is running out for the people of Yemen, and only by standing up and fighting back can we force the US government to end its sponsorship of this genocide.
Chance Charley is a student at Boston University and a member of the Coalition to Stop the Genocide in Yemen. Readers interested in supporting the coalition’s work can email [email protected] for more information, or go to facebook.com/nogenocideinyemen.