Yemen’s uncertain path to peace

In the short term, Biden’s diplomatic approach in Yemen may not be enough to leverage peace

Earlier this month, the Biden administration took considerable steps to reverse U.S. policy on the war in Yemen, instigated under Obama and continued throughout Trump’s presidency.

It notably put a hold on its support to the Saudi-led coalition, revoked the terrorist designation of the Houthi movement, and appointed veteran diplomat, Timothy Lenderking, as special envoy to the conflict.

What began in 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthi movement overthrew president Hadi’s unpopular government, has since turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As of 2015, neighbouring Saudi Arabia has spearheaded a coalition, while mobilizing a substantial part of its GDP, to back the Hadi government and wage a war against the Houthis and their allies – so far, unsuccessfully.

According to the United Nations, 233,000 people have been killed in the war and more than 20 million are left in dire need of humanitarian aid. In a briefing to the Security Council last week, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned the country is “speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades,” adding that “something like 400,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished across the country.”

“This war has to end,” Biden said earlier this month, of the conflict that has reached a stalemate since the latest attempts at peace talks failed in 2018.

For the population, peace is long overdue. As reported by Newlines Magazine, many have welcomed efforts to reignite the peace process, but remain pessimistic about the prospect of a political solution in the near future.

The U.S.’ shift towards a diplomatic approach or even a hypothetical withdrawal of regional actors, like Saudi Arabia, would not necessarily result in the end of the civil war, warns Elena Delozier from the Washington Institute. In an interview on the Conversation Six podcast, she stressed that this conflict was and remains one mostly animated by local actors – the Houthis and the Yemeni government.

“If we had an arrangement for peace talks tomorrow, neither of them have the political will right now to go to the table,” she said. “The question for the United States is how can it get the Hadi government, the Houthis, or how can it help the U.N. get, those two parties to come to peace talks.”

In recent weeks, the Houthi movement has made advances on the government’s last stronghold of Marib – the fall of which experts say will bring about further displacement and humanitarian consequences.

Last September, a UN group of experts designated Canada as one of the countries responsible for “perpetuating the conflict” by selling arms, including sniper rifles and light armoured vehicles, to Saudi Arabia. The ongoing arms deal currently amounts to $14 billion.

The New Democratic Party reiterated this criticism earlier this month in the House of Commons. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau assured, “Human rights considerations are now at the centre of our export regime,” adding that he “will deny any permit application where there is a risk of human rights violations.”

In addition to the U.S.’ dwindling support, the declassification last Friday of a report that found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salam responsible for approving the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, puts Ryadh in an increasingly defensive position. 

But while it may reduce its military spending in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is expected to further its presence through local undercover fighters, according to Ahmed Nagi, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Institute.

Meanwhile, for the Houthis, the “priority today is to make more gains, not to engage in power-sharing deals,” said Nagi, indicating that under such conditions, a viable path to peace remains nothing but precarious.


Graphic by James Fay


Does Formula 1 really #RaceAsOne?

The new race in Saudi Arabia raises questions about the new Formula 1 initiative

Formula 1 (F1) announced their provisional calendar for the 2021 season on Nov. 10, which includes a new race in Saudi Arabia that sparked controversy.

When F1 launched their #WeRaceAsOne initiative back in June in the midst of international Black Lives Matter protests, fans were pleasantly surprised that the sport was taking a stand on the issue.

It is no surprise to long-time followers of F1 that the sport has showcased predominantly white drivers from privileged backgrounds. This new initiative was, according to F1, “aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing our sport and global communities.”

Lewis Hamilton, the first and only Black driver to race in the sport so far, fully supported the initiative and took it upon himself to use his platform to raise awareness on racial discrimination.

At a race this season in Mugello, Italy, the seven-time world champion wore a T-shirt on the podium drawing attention to the Breonna Taylor case. Taylor was shot and killed in her bed by Louisville police officers back in March. The shirt read: “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) responded to his statement with a new rule stating that, for the duration of the post-race interviews and podium ceremony, “The driver may only wear their racing suit, which is fastened to the neck and not on their waist.”

The FIA made it clear they did not want to mix politics with the sport, and Hamilton argued his statement was one of human rights and not politics.

This decision left the fans divided, as some agreed that Hamilton’s statement on the podium was of political nature and others were left confused as to where the sport situates itself regarding human rights.

With the unveiling of the 2021 provisional calendar, however, some fans had their answers.

This next season will welcome a new Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia, the 33rd country to host a round of the world championship. The city of Jeddah will be hosting the event, which will potentially be a night race.

As stated by F1, “The final track design has not been decided, but organizers say it will feature a good flow of long straights and tight corners, with no equivalent track on the calendar.”

The hefty deal of $900 million that race organizers agreed on was the subject of controversy.

Amidst the announcement, human rights organization Amnesty International even accused Saudi Arabia of “sportswashing,” a term used to refer to the practice of hosting a sporting event as a means for a country to better their reputation.

Amnesty International said that Saudi Arabia violates its citizens’ human rights by using torture as a form of punishment; being the world’s top executioners; criminalizing public gatherings such as demonstrations; and keeping many outspoken activists behind bars, violating their rights to free speech.

F1 believes, however, that this new deal with Saudi Arabia will help cross borders in terms of sharing a common passion.

“[F1] has worked hard [to] be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits,” the release said. “Sports like [F1] are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.”

The 2021 season will start in Australia and end in Abu Dhabi with a total of 23 races, a jump from the current 17 races the revised 2020 calendar had due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s revised calendar made F1 teams stay in Europe for most of their races and revisit some old fan-favourite circuits such as Germany’s Nürburgring and Italy’s Mugello and Imola.

Contrary to fans wanting these tracks back on the permanent calendar, F1 decided to go a different route and keep the usual big budget Grand Prix races that usually appear on the calendar.

With the unfolding of the 2020 season and the many controversies it brought, many are left to wonder if F1 does #RaceAsOne.


Graphic by Laura Douglas


Education, denied

Ah, Twitter. The wonderful app that connects the universe with short bursts of 280-character tweets. Those tweets, which provide us with a way of expressing ourselves, are often funny, insightful, and inspiring. While Twitter is a great app that has been known to start careers and highlight important issues, it has also been known to end careers and relationships. And we’re not talking about relationships between people per say—unfortunately, we mean relationships between countries.

At the beginning of August, Canada’s foreign ministry tweeted: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” This spurred angry tweets by the Saudi foreign ministry.

In a series of tweets, the Saudi foreign ministry said they were expelling the Canadian ambassador from the country and suspended trade and investment transactions between the two nations. Most notably, the Saudi government decided to suspend scholarships for its foreign students studying at Canadian universities and colleges, according to Global News.

All students relying on Saudi-funded scholarships have either already been forced to leave, or are preparing to leave Canada in the coming weeks. Sept. 22 was announced as the final deadline for Saudi trainee doctors to leave the country, according to CBC News. The same source confirmed that 8,310 Saudi students were enrolled in Canadian post-secondary schools from Jan. to May 2018. Of that number, 435 were in Quebec, with 327 at McGill University, and more than 60 at Concordia.

We at The Concordian are frustrated to see innocent students affected by this diplomatic dispute. While we understand that each country has its own customs and political systems, we believe that no student’s education should be affected by international policy disputes—especially ones rooted in a request to respect human rights. In an ideal world, these students would be allowed to stay and strive for a bright future here in Canada.

We cannot imagine what these students are going through. But we know that Canada—our society, our educational system and our workforce—will be deeply affected by the departure of these students. Saudi Arabia was the sixth largest source of international students in Canada in 2015, according to a Global Affairs report. International students add approximately $15.5 billion annually to Canada’s economy, with Saudi students representing five per cent of that group.

Specifically, Saudi students’ impact on the Canadian economy is approximately $400 million per year, according to the same source. Although monetary value should be the last thing we look at when determining someone’s worth, it’s important to stress and recognize how detrimental this loss is for Canada.

In an ideal world, a tweet about human rights would not trigger such a hasty retaliation. In an ideal world, that tweet wouldn’t have been necessary to begin with. The common saying that students are our future is true; students are the force that shapes society’s future. The things we learn and what we choose to do with that knowledge is useful in developing our opinions and overall worldview. It’s a shame that a diplomatic dispute is interrupting something as important as education.

We consider those who finally felt Canada was becoming their home. For those of you who have to say goodbye to a place you only recently said hello to; for those who were almost finished with their degree and were beginning to step toward a bright career here in Canada. We’re disappointed that a nation that celebrates its diversity and inclusivity is losing cherished and valuable members of our society. The Concordian wishes you luck in all your future endeavours, and we hope something as trivial as a tweet is never again the reason for your goodbyes.

Graphic by Wednesday Laplante

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