On Neighborly Relations on the Banks of the Red Sea [Archives:2000/25/Focus]

June 19 2000

By: Hassan Al-Haifi

Perhaps whoever called the Red Sea by that name really had foresight in knowing that bloodshed would never cease, at any time on at least one bank of the narrow divide between the Arabian Peninsula and the African Continent. But, no one can really find logic to excuse some of the calamities that have been imposed on the peoples of the western side of this divide, and for sure, no one can excuse the mayhem that is occurring in the gentle to rugged terrain of Somalia, Abyssinia and to a certain extent the jungles of the Southern Sudan. In looking at the ugly violence that is portrayed daily on satellite television coming from Eritrea, one finds great comfort in learning about the agreement reached between the Republic of Yemen and the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Though the details of the accord have yet to be known by the citizenry of both countries, one would think after seeing what is going on across the Red Sea that any accord would truly be far better than the bloody madness over a stretch of territory that surely does not justify all the blood that is paid for it, all the assets that are ravaged and all the sustained suffering brought on to hundreds of thousands of innocent people, who were already having it tough living in their squalid conditions in whatever homes they had. Perhaps it was this rationale that came to the minds of the rulers of both Yemen and Saudi Arabia to come to some agreement on the long-standing border dispute between the two brotherly states and rightly so, and we congratulate them, if their thinking was along this line.
For sure, nations are expected to protect their territorial rights at whatever cost it takes and justify such defense, and nations should no be expected to sit idly while another encroaches upon its land. Nevertheless, border disputes over strips of territory here and there, which probably are of such minor or trivial economic significance that they can never justify releasing the entire military gear of the disputants as though it were a battle for life! On the other hand, when looking at the ugliness and pitiful disregard that the leaders of the two cousin states of Ethiopia and Eritrea have for their people’s plight, one wonders if the leaderships there have lost their senses. Surely, the people of both countries find no pleasure in seeing their already over-strained resources bled just for the sake of satisfying some egotistical drives Ð or a conspiracy, to prevent the people of Eritrea from enjoying some relief after struggling 30 years for independence. The reason all out war has outdone, by far, in a few weeks, all the death, destruction and suffering that the 30-year struggle for independence caused, no one really knows and there could never be any logical explanation why the poor would insist on such masochistic drives. No matter who wins, in the Abyssinian war, for sure both countries have lost heavily and have engrained hatred between them that will take centuries to erase. For what? For a stretch of land that no one sees equals all this bloodshed, destruction and suffering. For weeks now we have seen the Ethiopian and the Eritrean leaderships disregard all the inherited traditions of neighborly coexistence as they push the last stretch of available resources to the brink and the last multitude of able bodied men to their death Ð so that there will be nobody left to rebuild the destruction and to mend the wounds.
Perhaps, it was this ugly display of neighborly conduct that prompted the other parallel neighbors on the east bank of the Red Sea to quickly sign on the dotted line of an agreement that hopefully can be a source of reassurance that, what is going on the other side has been taken out of the list of possibilities in the trend in the relations between the two brotherly Arab and Moslem states. Perhaps the thousands of bodies laid out on the arid land of Eritrea has given rise to worries in the leaderships of both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, that “God forbid that our border dispute should ever grow out of proportions like that!”
One would think that the leaders of both Eritrea and Ethiopia have enough culture in them to realize that they neither have the wealth, nor the stomach for such kind of ugliness, yet the cannons continue their hammering and the bombers continue dropping their deadly loads and the millions continue to suffer. Is it worth it? It is scary that rulers can have no sympathy for the people, the interests of whom they profess to serve. That is the consolation that comes, when we hear that the Yemeni and Saudi leaderships have signed, to end the dispute over a far greater and for more significant area of land, with high economic potential that has yet to be unearthed. We do not care who got the shorter end of the deal, for the shortest end would have been what is on display in the mountains of Eritrea and on those boats bringing in thousands of refugees, landing on our coasts telling us: “Be careful and don’t get carried away; find another way to solve your dispute. We have lost our land, our homes and our dignity Ð not just the land that we were fighting over!” This normally occurs when leaders do not weigh the outcomes of their actions with the welfare and well being of their already overburdened subjects. Ridiculous is ridiculous, no matter what is at stake on the map! So praise be to Allah that the leaders of Saudi Arabia, whose wisdom has been seen on display on several occasions, whether in war or in peace since Abdulaziz Al-Saud launched his crusade in the deserts of Najd, and of Yemen, whose leaders continue to pull surprises from time to time. Thankfully they see no value in keeping neighbors on a head on collision course, when the two neighbors have given so much to each other and have potentially much more to offer to each other in the future if all the factors of tensions between them can be obliterated. It does not take much, just some ink and paper. Ink and paper are a lot cheaper than bombs and bullets and a lot more harmless. That is what we say to our Abyssinian cousins across the Red Sea, who insist on talking with the roar of the tanks they expensively bought, to deprive their people of badly needed vaccinations and food. How can national interests be served by a war that deprives people of their basic needs of life, and in the end does not even get you what you fought for? Even if we assume that there is some economic and strategic significance to the territory under dispute, surely, the thousands of dead soldiers and civilians caught in the cross-fire will not be around to thank their leaders for their impulsive patriotic wisdom and for uplifting their national pride. Surely, the thousands who will carry on after the war, without eyes, legs or arms, will not have much to show to be proud of and will not be in a position to praise their leaders for letting them live the rest of their lives neglected after having given so much for their country’s honor, because their governments will not have resources to be able to provide them their rights of veterans’ benefits, etc. They were already deprived of the resources of the land, even before the war, when they still had their natural anatomy in order, but after the war, even those with limbs will not find the means for sustaining life, because there will be nothing to work with to till the land or to fix the water pump. The foreign exchange of the country has been booked for generations by arms dealers who provided the credit terms that tied the next three generations of Eritreans and Ethiopians!
Until a few days ago, this observer and many other conscientious Yemenis were appalled at what was going on across the Red Sea and frankly speaking, kept worrying about what a border war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen could bring. Thank God, we have leaderships on both sides who know that such kinds of horrors are not sensible and are better kept on the other side of the Red Sea.
When looking at the possibilities of any dispute, it is peace that should always prevail and a just and lasting settlement is what leaders can be proud of. That will bring the praise, not just of the subjects they now rule, but for future generations to come.