Yemenis robbed of Eid joy as economy worsens

'We know it is Eid, but we do not feel any joy': A bleak celebration for Yemenis as country's economy deteriorates
6 min read
20 July, 2021
While the war has dampened the occasion of Eid in Yemen, the recent rial collapse and price hikes have made it more complicated this year and stolen the joy for many families.
Muslims gather to perform Eid al-Adha prayer at Al Jeraf Square in Sanaa [Getty]

Saleh Ahmed, a resident of Sanaa, wants to celebrate Eid Al Adha and shows joy on this occasion. It gladdens him to see his children smile, wear new outfits, and play joyfully. Eid Al Adha is an important annual religious festival celebrated in Yemen and elsewhere in Muslim nations. It happens on the tenth day of the last (twelfth) month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar.

While Ahmed cherishes the speciality of this occasion, he does not have what it takes to rejoice in this festival. Ahmed's purse is empty. And when the pocket is not full, the heart is heavy, he admits. 

It has been seven years since the country plunged into chaos and war. All the previous Eids had a sense of bleakness and sadness for many people. Still, the present Eid is bleaker this time. The conflict is not the sole joy killer. The recent unprecedented currency slip and the sharp price hikes have made it difficult for families to celebrate this occasion happily. 

Civilians say it has been a fresh severe dose of suffering for people around the country. The one dollar is now equivalent to YR 1,000 in government-run cities, while it is sold for YR 600 in Houthi-run areas. The political divides have led to a split in the exchange rate in the south and north, worsening the country's economy. 

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Ahmed cannot hide the pain caused by the economic conditions and the disastrous war. His sense of joy in this Eid is dead. "For children, Eid is new clothes, new toys, and sweets. I cannot provide all these things for my five kids. I am broke," he told The New Arab

"For children, Eid is new clothes, new toys, and sweets. I cannot provide all these things for my five kids. I am broke"

Ahmed works as a taxi driver in Sanaa, a repeatedly interrupted job due to the fuel shortage. This fuel crisis is attributed to the war and the blockade Yemen had seen since 2015 when Saudi Arabia spearheaded a coalition to fight the Iran-allied Houthi group. 

The daily wage earners are not alone in the depth of the ordeal but also those who have government jobs. On July 16, Bashir Zindal, a lecturer at Thamar University, said he received YR 21,000 ($35). He wrote on his Facebook page, "This is a half salary which I received a few moments ago…." 

He added, "It is supposed that the amount should cover Eid expenses, the clothes for the children, and new clothes for me. It is not fine to be a university doctor while one's attire does not look good to people." 

Since September 2016, government employees have not received their salaries regularly. The warring parties' dispute over the Central Bank of Yemen has cost over a million employees the regular payment of their monthly salaries. 

The Houthi group occasionally gives a half salary for government employees working in areas under its control. Yet this amount cannot satisfy the salaried workers.  

Abdulaziz Ahmed, a government employee in Sanaa, also received a half salary of YR 30,000, about $50. He said this amount would not be enough to buy two shirts and two pairs of trousers for his two sons.  He told The New Arab, "What can I do with this amount? Even if I receive my full salary, it will not cover the Eid expenses. We know it is Eid, but we do not feel any joy." 

"What can I do with this amount? Even if I receive my full salary, it will not cover the Eid expenses. We know it is Eid, but we do not feel any joy"

Yemen's six-year blockade has affected all aspects of life, even the price of clothes people put on. Abdu Nasser, a clothes seller in Sanaa, said the import of clothes has been challenging and costly during wartime, which has reflected on the price. 
He told The New Arab, "Some parents come with their kids to the shop to select clothes, but they get shocked when they know the final price. They try to find other shops in the hope of buying at a low price. The prices are high everywhere. It is not sellers who impose the price. It is the war and the blockade." 

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He added, "Two years ago, I used to sell a suit for a five-year-old at YR 8,000. Now it costs YR 15,000. As the value of the national currency keeps decreasing, the price of products continues rising. We do not manufacture everything here. We are just importing, and this requires the US dollar."

Many provinces in Yemen have different Eid customs and traditions. But they all share several rituals such as congregational Eid prayer, mutual visits, distribution of gifts to children and relatives. 

Despite the war and the harsh economic conditions, some families try to enjoy the Eid occasion as much as they can. Zuhor Amer, a university graduate in Sanaa, said the war would not end soon, and families should not postpone their happiness until after the war. 

She told The New Arab, "The taste of Eid now is different from that of pre-war years. We hear and see many tragedies every week and month in this country. But we still can give space to the brief joyful times like Eid Al Adha." 

She added, "Over the last seven years, I kept saying the war would end, and the next Eid will be better. It is wrong to wait for the end of the war to feel happy. I prefer to live in the present and be happy. Our sorrow cannot fix the situation, end the war or improve the economy." 

The continuous depreciation of the currency has alarmed the people and the government alike. Prime Minister of Yemen's UN-recognised government held a meeting with the Supreme Economic Council on July 13 to discuss the currency fall and the possible approaches that can help address this crisis. 

A government statement said that the Economic Council adopted several policies to enhance and diversify revenues, expanding their sources, ensuring that the revenues reach the government account. The Council also suggested controlling and rationalising expenditures to be limited to inevitable and necessary spending to help create financial and monetary stability.

Though the government has declared multiple measures to restore the value of the Yemeni rial or at least stem its rapid fall, the reality has not changed, and people have not seen tangible results. Saleh Ahmed and millions of his likes do not expect the end of the plight soon. "I am in my fifties now. I am not sure if I will live until I see an Eid in Yemen without a war or an economic crisis." 

The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security.