A diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East took place last April. Under the leadership of China, arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran decided to restore ties. A major talking point for the two nations? An end to the fighting in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and Iran both support another camp in the war-torn country and can exert their influence there.
With peace talks in the Houthi rebel-controlled capital Sanaa, the largest prisoner exchange since 2020 and the reopening of embassies, there has been international optimism since the spring. The fact that Iran and Saudi Arabia are now seeking rapprochement will determine the future of Yemen. But it does not immediately mean that there is peace there now.
This can be clearly felt in the strategically located city of Taiz in the middle of Yemen. A front line runs right through the city; on the one hand, the Iranian-backed Houthis rule the roost, on the other, the internationally recognized Saudi-backed government. What used to be less than a four-minute walk is now eight hours away. To get from one side to the other, you first have to get out of the surrounded city and then take a detour to the other side.
Taiz, once the cultural center of Yemen, is central to finding a solution to the lingering war. It is a mini-cosmos of the situation in Yemen, characteristic of the dynamics in the country.
‘Ordinary citizens are the victims’
The war in recent years has torn families apart, driven people to starvation and created a massive physical and economic mess. “We are the pawns in a great chess game,” says Waleed, walking home from the front line in Taiz.
His family lives right across the street and they haven’t seen each other in years. Cousins and best friends have been fighting each other for years now. “Great powers play their political game and we are the victims. Politicians, businessmen, arms dealers, the great thieves; they are the winners and ordinary citizens are the victims.”
Although Taiz still faces major challenges, there are local mediators who are working on solutions. Ameen al-Muqaddam has managed to gain the trust of the various warring parties in recent years. At the beginning of the war, his street was suddenly full of corpses. Because he was unemployed at home as a sales manager of an international company, he decided to do something. He could no longer bear it and decided to return the bodies to the next of kin.
“Building trust in such a situation takes a lot of time, but it is possible. And we have to build on that,” says Muqaddam. It’s a glimmer of hope in a miserable situation.
Correspondent Daisy Mohr and camerawoman Edmée van Rijn visited the man who has now transported more than 700 bodies across the front line of Taiz:
Muqaddam is also one of the mentors of a group of young people in Taiz who want to become mediators. He shares his experiences with young women and men from the Youth Mediation Support Team (YMST). They have been trained since 2020 to mediate issues such as reopening roads, water access across the frontline and prisoner swaps between the warring factions. “It’s about gaining confidence, looking to the future, looking at how we can improve life here and curb violence,” says Hossam Shahab (25).
Each and every one of these young people grew up in war. Nevertheless, they are determined to stay. From local mediators they can eventually become national mediators. Shahab: “I am fighting for a better future for Taiz and my country. Taiz has been hit terribly hard, but it is also a city full of hope and possibilities. We have to make something of that.”