Political Analysis Uncategorized

Crises Made On Purpose: Yemen’s Oil Shortages and the Road to Illegal Wealth

National Yemen

Fakhri al-Arashi

Ahmed, a taxi driver, like hundreds of other drivers was lining up for five weeks in front of petrol stations in Sana’a and other main Yemeni cities. Ahmed says, “I was very close to filling my car with petrol, but luck was not on my side. I had no choice but to wait until the next oil track came in the few coming days. This did not happen and I had to wait longer than I could imagine,” said Ahmed.

Ahmed is a father of six daughters and two sons. He was worried about his family’s food since he was unable to generate money for them and he never joined them for lunch or dinner over the five weeks. Ahmed used to sleep in his car and eat with other taxi drivers who were waiting for the news to come so they could fill up their cars and go back home.

Over that five-week period of time, the black market of oil business activities in Yemen jumped to four times the U.S. market rate. The highest rate for a 20 litter of petrol in Sana’a was $235.

Talking to the public, people have shared their thoughts with National Yemen. They say fuel was very much available and the shortages of oil were made on purpose for many reasons, such as to push people within the country to reject Saudi involvement in Yemen’s affairs. The second reason was to generate a good source of income via hiding it to push people toward the black market to finance the war frontlines in north and south Yemen. A third reason was because oil was exclusively distributed to Houthi and military fighters loyal to Saleh, Yemen’s former president who had been accused of confiscating all petrol and diesel for military movements.

For that, war brokers wish to see an endless crisis. Zaki, a young barber, shut down his little shop that brings him $20-30 a day, and became a broker for one of the petrol station dealers who used to smuggle it for his rich customers. Zaki said, “I found myself doing it and I think it’s a good business to help people who are in need.” Zaki agreed that most of the petrol station owners in Yemen were doing the same. Each petrol station owner has a philosophy to what and why he is doing so, some hide it for the rate value, sometime they close down their stations, and sometimes they have an order from Houthi supervisors.

The two months of war in Yemen brought people within the country to the edge of serious collapse. The overall situation is scary and the community in north and south Yemen are victims of a proxy war and blackmail by all means.

The Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen agreed with international aid agencies for a five-day ceasefire after 49 days of nonstop bombardments, which ended in killing 1,600 people, 6,200 were injured and about half a million were displaced since the civil conflict started on March 26th. This statistic does not include Houthi fighters and military men loyal to Saleh who died in the battleground in South Yemen as well as al-Baida and Marib fronts in north Yemen.

In September, exiled President Hadi reached a deal with Houthi militants to return fuel subsidies after he had announced the price increase of 30%. “Houthis who stormed Sana’a for the same issue are now controlling all petrol stations through popular committees. According to a good numbers of witnesses waiting in front of the petrol station, Houthi supervisors are practicing the opposite what they say. They sell it to their loyalist at the normal rate and the rest they smuggle it to the black market and business firms who pays the highest rate,” said Abdullah Farhan.

After three nights of the Saudi-led coalition ceasefire, the oil subsidies arrived to petrol stations. The first distribution began on late Thursday night and continued until Friday morning. Cars were gathered and tens of Houthi loyalists were the only authorized personals who gave permission. “That was acceptable to all,” said Sulaiman who was lining up for more than 11 hours waiting for his turn to come. He said, “My car was very close to getting the general quantity, which was 40 litters to each, but this was not true. Houthi supervisors was allowing their friends to get as much as they want, but not for others. This is absolutely unjustified and against the ethics of the Houthi movement,” said Sulaiman.

Another car owner quarreled with them and they refused to treat him like their friends. He screamed at the supervisor who was smiling while assisting his friends. He told the car owner he had 40 litters only, take it or leave it. The said, “How about your friends?” The Houthi supervisor replied that they are fighting to protect you, their relatives are dying and you are doing nothing.

“Death could come any moment,” said Hamoud. The number of gunshots and the aggressive treatments of the Houthis make you feel like dying while waiting in the line. “The worst part is when they fight with each other and shout loudly to make people accept any quantity they propose,” continued Hamoud. “I prefer to stay home with no fuel rather than to see this unhuman behavior.”

In another part of Sana’a, the oil truck arrived but the owner rejected it because he didn’t want a headache with the people. Ahmed, who was lucky to fuel his car earlier in the day, wanted to get more from a different petrol station.  Ahmed has come to repeat this, due to his belief that Saudi Arabia will resume sanctions in Yemen and the shortages will continue. He said, “I want to keep as much as I can to ensure sustainability over the coming days.”

Of course, this is not the first oil crisis in Yemen history, but it has been classified as the worst since the Arab Spring youth revolution erupted in 2011. Yemen witnessed a remarkable shortage in 2011, 2012, and 2014.

The people of Yemen are still very disappointed to see international TV channels display Saudi warplanes bombarding the fuel subsidies stored by the Houthis and Saleh. “Houthis and Saleh store big quantities of oil and they stopped oil trucks outside the capital Sana’a,” said a neighbor of the Houthis in Sawfan city Sana’a.