On Thursday, May 2, 2019, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Maggie Michael joined Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer for a conversation on her reporting in Yemen.
Michael, along with an Associated Press team consisting of fellow Pulitzer Center grantees Maad al-Zekri and Nariman el-Mofty, reported on the human costs of the Yemeni civil war, focusing in particular on the impact of the Saudi-led bombing campaign on the lives of uninvolved civilians, as well as the United States' role in the ensuing catastrophe.
"What the Saudis did to get rid of the Houthis was just bomb all of Yemen," Michael said, and "the U.S. supported Saudi Arabia from day one."
Michael was motivated, in part, by the mainstream media's inability (or unwillingness) to cover the conflict from a broader angle.
"When it comes to the media there wasn't much attention to the campaign on the country," she said. But even when there was, "we saw the story missing so many elements." Namely, the war was told almost exclusively through the eyes of the Saudi regime and rarely looked outside the rigid context of the 'Hadi government v. Houthi rebels' narrative.
She wanted to document the struggles faced by ordinary people who had no part in the violence but who were made to suffer the most. In addition to covering reports of civilian casualties, her team also examined the consequences of a famine that has killed some 85,000 children alone.
Asked about the causes, Michael was adamant. "It's not food scarcity. You have so many restrictions on the country...Yemen imports 90 percent of its needs, so if you put restrictions on the ports, then you are making it very, very expensive to import the food, so you increase the price of the food...so [people] can't actually buy the food."
Is there a way out for Yemen? Michael thinks so, but it requires moving beyond the military-oriented approach currently pursued by the United States and Saudi Arabia and adopting a political solution that gives genuine influence to all actors involved.
“The war will not end just if the U.S. backs off,” she warns, explaining that the issues initially giving rise to the civil war are independent of the U.S. intervention and will outlive its eventual end.
Michael sees power-sharing as the only viable outcome for a shared political future, a solution that would mean both the Hadi govenrment and the Houthi rebels reconciling their grievances to govern the country together.
"[The United States] must put pressure on the coalition to find a comprehensive political solution that's based on sharing power. This seems to be the only way. The Houthis are not going anywhere, and the government is there...They have to find a way to live together."
Michael is certain that this is the only way out, and if the U.S. is serious about playing a constructive role in rebuilding post-war Yemen and healing the wounds it helped open, then it must use its influence in the region to pressure the Saudi-led coalition into engaging the Houthis politically to work toward this end.
To see the full conversation with Michael, please visit this link.