Middle East

Will the West’s foreign policies ever recognize the reality that is the suffering and pain of innocent human beings in the Middle East?

We sit in our comfortable homes and read an article about whichever crisis is the hot topic of the moment. We may be sipping on some coffee. Our heart will break for the innocent children who have died. Tears may creep over our eyeballs as we read of a father losing his entire family to a chemical attack in Syria, the only survivor because he rushed to help casualties outside his home. It is a sad, unjust world, we tell ourselves. The crisis may take over our thoughts for the day.

And yet the world is filled with crises. They are everywhere, they are escalating, they are wiping out innocent humans like ourselves, they are humiliating and torturing human bodies that exist in a void where fear is the only constant. In every corner of the world, there is a disaster where power dynamics, both domestic and international, rule the lives, and the deaths, of civilians.

This is a reality that people in the Middle East have been forced to accept. Syrians have been living under burning skies for six years, as the Syrian government, ISIS, the U.S, Russia, and rebel groups, amongst others, delve into their interests. In Iraq, a bombing that kills tens or hundreds of people is underreported, eclipsed by the also tragic killing of five innocent humans in the major European city of London. In Egypt, innocent Copts are bombed in their place of peace and worship, because a terrorist has been radicalized into believing the terror he incites is worth more than the tears that will be shed over the loss of their lives.


Last year, on the 8th of October, there was another temporary outrage in some parts of the world, as 140 people in Yemen were killed and 525 wounded by a Saudi airstrike on a funeral. Unsurprisingly, the deaths of these humans were excused by Saudi Arabia as “collateral damage” that would be accounted for through “compensation to families of the victims”. The context is as such: for about two years, Iranian-backed Houthis and the Yemeni government (supported by Gulf states) have been fighting.

Having condemned Russia for its airstrikes in Syria, UK decided to circulate a draft resolution in response to the actions of Saudi Arabia with the aim of a ceasefire and a proposed plan for lasting peace. This was immediately vetoed by Saudi Arabia. Apparently, that is all it takes to block any road for justice. The case was closed. Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, who visited Saudi Arabia this week, has proven she does not intend to use her powerful position to exert pressure on the Saudi leaders to facilitate change in Yemen, where a humanitarian disaster has left 70% of people in need of aid, because her “May doctrine” for foreign policy entails prioritizing “British national interest”. This means that the UK’s (arms and oil) trading relationship with Saudi Arabia is not to be negotiated.

Legally speaking, a key principle in Britain requires that arms sales to foreign countries should not be allowed if there is a “clear risk” that they will be used to violate international humanitarian law. Evidently, the £3 billion worth of weapons Britain sold to Saudi Arabia since the outbreak of the conflict in Yemen is of no concern to May.

Apparently powerful states see serious weapons as a major concern only when it is convenient. Remember the WMDs Saddam Hussein was accused of possessing that never existed? They merited an intervention in Iraq that killed an estimated 500,000 and displaced much more.

But what about the civilians killed in Yemen? What about those killed elsewhere, in other areas of the world? Will the West’s foreign policies ever recognize the reality that is the suffering and pain of innocent human beings? Will they continue to claim to stand for human rights as bombs drop like rain over Syria? As refugees drown amongst the vicious waves of the sea?

Will those of us with powerful leaders representing us hold our governments accountable for their roles? Yemen is but one crisis that has been heavily underreported.

The problem is that there are many others.

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Mona Elkateb

Mona Elkateb is a Foreign Policy expert with a regional specialty in the Middle East. She is currently pursuing MSc degree in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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