Topic A: Yemeni civil war
A civil war raging in Yemen for over two years has claimed more than 16,000 lives. The fighting can be traced back to the handover of power from long-time autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy and current president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in November 2011. The handover was forced in a bid to return stability to the country following the Arab Spring, a series of uprisings against long-time rulers across the Middle East. Hadi has struggled to deal with various problems afflicting the nation including al-Qaeda attacks, a separatist rising in the south, divided loyalties in the military, corruption, lack of food and unemployment. Hadi’s struggles prompted the rising of the Houthi movement, championing Yemen’s minority Shia community. They had launched a series of rebellions against the former president over the last ten years but took advantage of Hadi’s weakness by claiming control of the northern Saada province. Frustrated by the lack of reform following the removal of Saleh, many ordinary Yemenis joined the Houthis. The rebels eventually managed to take control of the capital Sanaa in January 2015 and effectively put President Hadi under house arrest until he managed to escape to Aden in the south of the country. The Houthis and forces loyal to the previous regime then tried to take the whole country. In March, Hadi fled Yemen in a boat and arrived in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. At the same time, Saudi Arabia began a brutal bombing campaign in support of Hadi’s ousted government. In September 2015, he returned to the southern city of Aden as Saudi-backed forces, supported by other Sunni-majority nations, recaptured the city. In contrast, the Houthi’s are backed by Iran, which is predominately Shia, with many describing the conflict as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia – the leading powers of the two differing interpretations of Islam. On December 20, 2017 the fighting exceeded the 1,000 day mark, with American forces also becoming involved as they target Al-Qaeda fighters operating within Yemen. In July 2017, Houthi forces fired four missiles at a Saudi Arabian air force base. The Saudi’s claimed the real target had been the holy city of Mecca and that they were able to shoot down the missiles. Recently, graphic videos have begun to surface from the Yemeni capital Sanaa where locals have gathered to witness public executions. In November 2017, missiles were fired at a major Middle Eastern airport used by thousands of Brits every year. The Saudi Arabian military shot down the missile, which was fired at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. And on December 19, 2017 a missile fired at Riyadh was shot down moments before it hit a royal palace. Saudi air defences intercepted a ballistic missile fired towards the city, Saudi-owned channel al-Arabiya reported in a news flash quoting a Saudi-led military coalition official.
Topic B: The isolation of Qatar
The tiny oil- and gas-rich Gulf state of Qatar has been cut off by some of its powerful Arab neighbours over its alleged support for terrorism. Qatar refused to comply with an initial list of 13 demands, saying it would not agree to any measures that threatened its sovereignty or violated international law. The emirate has now been told by its neighbours that they want it to accept six broad principles on combating extremism and terrorism. Qatar has long practised an ambitious foreign policy with different priorities to its neighbours but there are two key issues which have angered them in recent years. One is Qatar’s support for Islamist groups. Qatar acknowledges that it has provided assistance to some, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, but denies aiding militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or so-called Islamic State (IS). The other key issue is Qatar’s relations with Iran, with which it shares the world’s largest gas field. The Shia Muslim power is Sunni Muslim-ruled Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar on 5 June. They also gave Qatari citizens 14 days to leave their territory and banned their own citizens from travelling to or residing in Qatar. Egypt also cut diplomatic ties but did not impose restrictions on its 180,000 citizens living in Qatar. Yemen, the Maldives and Libya’s eastern-based government later followed suit. In addition, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft, and said foreign airlines would have to seek permission for overflights to and from Qatar. Qatar’s only land border was also closed by Saudi Arabia and ships flying the Qatari flag or those serving Qatar were banned from docking at many ports. Two states in the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) did not cut ties with Qatar – Kuwait and Oman. Kuwait has offered to mediate in the dispute. Qatar is dependent on imports by land and sea for the basic needs of its population of 2.7 million, and about 40% of its food came in through the land border with Saudi Arabia. Initially, supermarket shelves in Doha were emptied of basic supplies as residents rushed to stock up but the hoarding quickly ended after Turkey and Iran began sending food by air and sea. Doha’s Hamad International Airport has been far quieter than usual. Qatar Airways, the national carrier, has had to cancel flights to 18 regional cities and to reroute those to other destinations because of the airspace restrictions. Qatar’s stock market lost about 10%, or about $15bn (£12bn), in market value over the first four weeks of the crisis. However, the stock market has since recovered 6% of its pre-crisis value. Exports of liquefied natural gas have also so far not been affected and the emirate’s finance minister says Qatar has enough resources to defend its economy and currency. Companies working on new stadiums and infrastructure projects for the 2022 Football World Cup have meanwhile had to secure new sources for building materials. Shipping costs have gone up tenfold but Qatar has begun shipping cargo through Oman to get around the restrictions on access to ports in the UAE. Qatar has provided assistance to Islamist groups designated as terrorist organisations by some of its neighbours, notably the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hamas movement. And while Qatar is a member of the US-led coalition against IS, it has faced accusations from Iraqi Shia leaders that it provided financial support to jihadists. Qatar – and Saudi Arabia for that matter – has also provided money and weapons to hardline Islamist rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad in Syria. But it has stressed that it does not have links to the al-Qaeda-linked alliance, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Qatar’s neighbours also seized on a report alleging it had paid a ransom of $1bn (£770m) to Iraqi Shia militias, Iranian security officials and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as part of a deal to secure the release of royal family members kidnapped in Iraq. On 18 July, NBC News cited US intelligence officials as saying that €300m ($345m; £265m) had instead been paid to the Iraqi government, which had been in contact with the hostage-takers and subsequently confiscated the cash. Qatar said the money “was to support the authorities” in Iraq for the release of “abductees”.
- Iran (observer)*
- Saudi Arabia*
- State of Palestine
- United Arab Emirates*
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