Connecting the country back to the world: Possible reopening of Sanaa airport sparks Yemeni joy
Over the last three days, social media users in Yemen have inundated their pages with posts and photos of Sanaa International Airport and Yemenia Airlines, as millions rejoice over the news about the airport's reopening.
The airport has not received any passenger flights since August 2016, but now for countless Yemenis, hopes to travel or just being able to receive their beloved ones at the airport will soon become a reality.
Over the last six years, the airport has been exposed to dozens of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, leaving considerable damages to the facility, but sources say that the Houthi administration has begun renovating the airport this month, readying it for a possible reopening. The director of Sanaa International Airport, Khaled al-Shayef, said in a Twitter statement that he had a meeting with Yemeni airlines to discuss maintenance and equipment at the airport and also held talks with the Yemen Oil Company on fuel supplies for aircraft.
This development has left millions of Yemenis more optimistic than ever before, as the blockade has made them suffer in an open jail over the last six years of war.
Over the last six years, airports have been under the Arab coalition control, while border crossings are monitored, and seaports cannot operate uninterruptedly. Now diplomatic efforts have revived hopes that such misery will cease or at least lessen soon
Haza Abdu, 16, has been suffering from a severe spine issue over the last two years and doctors in Sanaa had told his family that he needed critical surgery in a country like India or Germany, where he could receive proper medical care. But the war and the closure of the Sanaa airport hindered his travel.
Mastoor, Abdu's relative, told The New Arab that the patient's condition "did not allow us" to move him in a car or a bus for 12 hours or more. "If Sanaa airport were open, it would be easier, safer, and faster," he said.
In February this year, Al-Shayef estimated that the airport's closure caused the death of more than 80,000 Yemeni patients who needed to receive medical treatment abroad, while around one million patients are at risk of death due to the lack of medications for incurable diseases. He added that more than 3,000 patients suffer from cardiac abnormalities based on the Ministry of Health documents, and they urgently need to travel abroad for medical care. The Ministry also said 32,000 people might have died prematurely from 2016 to 2019 because they could not travel abroad for treatment.
Over the last six years, airports have been under the Arab coalition control, while border crossings are monitored, and seaports cannot operate uninterruptedly. Now diplomatic efforts have revived hopes that such misery will cease or at least lessen soon.
Like patients, students have also suffered from being denied travel through Sanaa airport. Mohammed Ali, a university student in the capital Sanaa, told The New Arab that a flight from Sanaa to another country had been his dream over the last four years.
"It is a fundamental right, but the war has made it unattainable. With the news of the airport reopening, I feel my dream of travelling will come true, and we will be free to travel when we want," said Ali.
Although the ongoing diplomatic momentum may not silence weapons everywhere in Yemen, Yemenis will have a significant gain to have the Sanaa airport and Hodeida port function smoothly. The country will be connected to the world, and the suffering of millions will be mitigated
The recent glimmer of hope is a payoff of intensified peace efforts led by the UN, US, and Oman to pursue an end to the Yemen conflict, which began in 2015 when the Houthi group ousted the internationally recognised government and thus opening the path to strife. The complexity of the war was exacerbated following a military intervention by the Saudi-led coalition in March 2015.
Such chaos turned the lives of millions of Yemenis upside down. Travelling from Yemen or moving from one province to another became difficult and occasionally dangerous. When Ali graduated from high school in 2017, he thought about travelling abroad to study a bachelor of business administration. Yet, he preferred to stay in Sanaa and get a university degree there.
He said, "If I insisted on travelling outside of Yemen, I would have to travel to southern Yemen where the airports are operating. But honestly, I did not feel safe to travel this long distance on land."
Despite the conspicuous optimism among millions of Yemenis, some still doubt the success of peace efforts and the reopening of Sanaa airport. Amar Saleh, a school teacher in Sanaa, told The New Arab that he could not buy into the statements of the conflicting parties, and only the "actual resumption of the airport operation will make us believe."
"When I heard a series of resounding explosions in Sanaa at noon on Thursday, I felt the ongoing peace efforts would falter, and Sanaa airport will remain shuttered. The situation has always been volatile, and honouring a peace agreement is difficult," said Saleh.
"Reopening Sanaa airport will not mean defeating the Yemeni government or bringing victory to the Houthis. Reopening the airport is just a matter of prioritising human dignity over political agenda"
The Saudi-led coalition last week declared that military operations would halt in a bid to pave the way for a successful political deal. "[The de-escalation] aims to prepare the political groundwork for a peace process in Yemen," said coalition spokesperson Turki Maliki.
The days to come will reveal the actual results of the Oman-led peace efforts in Yemen. The Omani mediators arrived in Sanaa on June 5 and met with the chief of the Houthi group, Abdulmalek Al-Houthi. So far, no diplomatic success or failure has been declared.
"Oman is leading noble efforts in Yemen, and it is a great opportunity for the two sides to reach an agreement. The Omani leadership has been neutral since the start of the war, and Oman's attempts may make a difference," said Saleh.
Although the ongoing diplomatic momentum may not silence weapons everywhere in Yemen, Yemenis will have a significant gain to have the Sanaa airport and Hodeida port function smoothly. The country will be connected to the world, and the suffering of millions will be mitigated.
"The warring parties need to separate the humanitarian issues from their military goals. Reopening Sanaa airport will not mean defeating the Yemeni government or bringing victory to the Houthis. Reopening the airport is just a matter of prioritising human dignity over political agenda," said Ali.
Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Centre and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper.