Detroit rally protests U.S. role in Yemen civil war

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Dozens gathered Friday at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit for an anti-war demonstration aimed at highlighting the ongoing conflict in Yemen and calling on officials to end U.S. involvement. 

"Though you may not hear about this war in the news, this is the issue of our time," Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Michigan State University professor who helped organize the event, told the crowd. "This is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, and it is our time to act."

Fayzah Yahya (left) is one of many people who rallied at Campus Martius in Detroit on Friday, August 23, 2019 to raise awareness about the war in Yemen. 
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

The protest, led by the Michigan chapter of the Yemeni Alliance Committee, coincided with others across the country this month to raise awareness for a nearly five-year civil war some activists believe has been ignored by the international community.

Organizers noted August marked the first anniversary of an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels that killed dozens of people, including children.

The event also comes before lawmakers are expected to take up finalizing the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Amendments passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives address American support for the Saudi-led coalition, activists said.

"The U.S. role is vital, and if we are able to withdraw U.S. support, we can help end the war," said Hanan Yahya, a Metro Detroit resident active in the Yemeni Alliance Committee. "We have been complicit for over four years, and we must stop supporting war crimes. Yemen cannot wait."

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels who control much of the country’s north. 

The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates, is allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government and has been fighting the Houthis since 2015. 

The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has killed thousands of civilians and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.

More than 7,500 children have been killed or wounded in Yemen during the war from airstrikes, shelling, fighting, suicide attacks, mines and other incidents, according to a U.N. report released in June.

The U.N. humanitarian chief in Yemen warned Wednesday that unless significant new funding is received in the coming weeks, food rations for 12 million people in the war-torn country will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from life-saving services.

Supporters of the Yemeni Alliance Committee hold signs during a rally at Campus Martius in Detroit on Friday, August 23, 2019 to raise awareness about the devastating war in Yemen.  Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

The situation was personal for many who gathered Friday at Campus Martius carrying the Middle Eastern nation's red, black and white flags as well as signs bearing messages such as “Not in our name” and "Stop genocide in Yemen."

Mona Mawari of Dearborn, who has lived in Yemen, recently returned from a trip to visit family there. Relatives routinely brace for attacks and her uncle died in a bombing that targeted a funeral service in 2016.

Mawari said she disapproves of the U.S. providing billions of dollars of arms to the Saudi-led coalitionand wants to keep the conflict in the public eye.

"Because the media doesn’t cover what’s happening over there, they have no clue that our government is supporting this," she said. "I want them to hold their elected officials accountable."

In April, President Donald Trump vetoed a resolution passed by Congress to end U.S. military assistance in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Last month, he also vetoed a trio of congressional resolutions aimed at blocking his administration from bypassing Congress and selling billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who spoke at Friday's rally, said "so many" of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle back leaving the conflict.

Supporters of the Yemeni Alliance Committee hold signs during a rally at Campus Martius in Detroit on Friday, August 23, 2019 to raise awareness about the devastating war in Yemen.  Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

"I have never seen many issues that come about that gets both Republicans' and Democrats' support. And both Republicans and Democrats support no more aid, no more support in this Yemen war," she said to applause. "We have to really build on that. ... We need political courage right here in the United States to speak up for Yemen."

The need is immediate, said Foadeh Yahya of Detroit, whose family immigrated from Yemen more than 20 years ago.

"The more we wait, the more families are going to be dying," she said. "We have to act."

Associated Press contributed.