Friday, April 29, 2011

Want action? Visit Yemen, we promise you a unique emotional roller coaster

On the morning of April 27, I spent 8 hours with actors rehearsing for a play. One of the funniest actors Mohammed was present, and made us laugh until we almost cried. Four hours later, I ran into him again, but this time at the field hospital. He was one of the injured. Thank God it was only a minor injury, but it nevertheless made me feel so strange. Just a couple of hours ago we were in a room full of laughing people, later we were in a room full of injured people. Instead of the tears of laughter, tears of sadness filled me. The morning after, I saw Mohammed rehearsing again. He had a big smile and it was like nothing happened the day before.

This is the emotional roller coaster we are experiencing at the moment. It’s been three months since the start of the revolution and I am not only physically drained, but emotionally exhausted as well. Here is a diagram of my emotional ups and downs between January 15 until April 29.

The diagram was created after compiling a selection of important dates, mostly political, in the last three months, and designating how they made me feel: happy, sad, or in between. The dates I highlighted below do not encompass all important events, but they are just a selection of few to get an idea of the roller coaster we call Yemeni politics. (key: 2 happy, 1 in between, 0 unhappy)

Summary of the emotional roller coaster
January 15 Yemenis celebrated Ben Ali’s fall by protesting.

February 2 in an emergency Parliamentary meeting, Saleh announced that he would not run again. (Great, but not enough).

February 3 Despite the President’s promises, Yemenis went to the street to call for change on the Day of Rage

February 21 First tents went up around Sana’a University’s eastern gate.

February 22 12 peaceful protesters were killed in Aden when security shot at protesters

February 23 8 MPs of the ruling party resigned and Saleh ordered security forces to protect protesters.

February 25 two days after the President’s promise, thugs opened fire on protesters killing four

March 3 opposition groups agreed on a transition plan which they would offer Saleh
March 4 Saleh rejected opposition’s offer

March 18 At least 52 people were killed and over 200 injured when snipers shot at peaceful protesters in Sana’a

March 21 ☹☺ General Ali Mohsen joined the protests. While it was seen as a sign that the revolution will succeed, it was accepted with extreme uneasiness by many.

March 22 ??? Saleh stated two things: 1) that he would be willing to step down by the end of the year as part of a "constitutional transfer of power," but also issued a statement saying that he considered the protests to be a
"coup" and that a civil war would eventually ensue if protests continued

March 23 parliament enacted a thirty-day emergency law which suspended the constitution, allowed media censorship, banned street protests and gave security forces far-reaching powers to arrest and detain suspects.

March 24 Saleh accepted the opposition's transition plan (after he had rejected it 20 days earlier)

March 25 One day later, Saleh announced at a public appearance that he won't to step down but will seek dialogue with anti-government protesters and make concessions

March 28 ☺☹ Closed door meetings between Saleh, Ali Mohsen, opposition and the US discussing plan that he would hand over power to the vice president and formation of a new government

April 4 security on rooftops fired at protesters in Taiz killing 12 demonstrators and wounding 30

April 8 ??? Saleh rejected GCC bid.

April 23 ☺☹ Saleh announced he accepted the GCC plan

April 24 ??? Saleh announced on BBC that he would only leave through the ballot box.

April 25 ☺☹ Opposition accepted GCC plan

April 27 A leading opposition figure, announced GCC plan will be formalized on May 2 or sooner. Same day, security forces shot at protesters killing 12 and injuring over 100.

April 28 Saleh announced he will have reservations about signing if Qatar representatives are present among the Gulf foreign ministers.

April 30 Secretary General of GCC arrived in Sana'a to deliver the initiative to Saleh for him to sign later in the day. With invitations sent to all sides to attend signing ceremony Sunday in Riyadh. The morning of this day, heavy violence by security against protesters in Aden.

With these political ups and downs can you blame us for being cautious with our feelings. We can’t be too excited about any prospects until we see real action and not just promises.

p.s. if you believe any of these dates are incorrect please let me know.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Demands of the Revolutionary Youth

Many people ask the pro-democracy movement, "what do you really want?". In an attempt to answer that question, various groups from different backgrounds met extensively for about a month and finally reached an agreement of these 13 demands.

These demands were also discussed in different governorates and have found a great deal of acceptance. they have been printed and distributed throughout the squares of Yemen.

These are the demands of the Revolutionary youth:

Another attack on peaceful protesters in Sanaa

On April 27, 2011 around 6 pm, peaceful protesters were marching near May 22 stadium in Sana'a when they were brutally attacked by live ammunition, rocks, and batons. Field hospital medics announced at least 11 deaths and hundreds wounded. I saw 9 bodies at the field hospital. Very frightening is the fact that some wounded are kidnapped by security. We have no confirmation at the moment of the number of those kidnapped.

Abdulrahman al-Okairi, is a 14 yr. old martyr. He was in the 9th grade

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hidden Heroes of the Revolution

Revolutions need leaders to help spark the movement. To maintain the momentum and succeed, everyone's participation is needed. The beauty of this revolution is that everyone has a role. The intellectuals challenge us to think beyond the obvious, artists inspire us with their revolutionary art, historians provide us with lessons from past revolutions, youth are passionately and courageously marching for our dignity and freedom, mothers are cooking for the protesters, human rights activists are documenting violations, researchers are writing policy briefs for the future, and doctors have stopped working in their clinics and instead are volunteering their time for a better future for all.

Not everyone is equally recognized because many are working behind the scenes. Here is a list of some groups of people that are working hard for the revolution with little recognition. There are many other hidden heroes, but this is a small attempt to highlight some.

Motorcyclists: motorcyclists have played a great and important role not only in transporting people and journalists to squares of change, but more importantly their heroic role in transporting the wounded to hospitals; especially when ambulances have been blocked.

: protesters have been camping in the squares of change for two months. During this time, husbands and wives have sometimes been separated for a long time. Without the emotional support and encouragement of the spouse, protesters would not be able to dedicate so much of their time on the revolution.

Lobbyists: there are many different groups in Yemen and outside Yemen that are working tirelessly to help spread accurate information about the revolution and the situation in Yemen to decision makers, media, and influential people. This is often conducted behind the scenes and major players are usually not recognized. Nevertheless, it's a very important job.

Taxi drivers: taxi drivers have agreed to take protesters and journalists to dangerous areas in order to help spread information and report on the current revolution. These acts are also very admirable.

Volunteers: there are many different committees at the squares of change including: media, organization, medical, finance, security, and legal committees. They all depend on dedicated volunteers who work day and night for the revolution. For example, members of the security committee who guard the entrances spend hours doing a long, boring, but very important job of checking all those who enter. Under the sun or rain they remain steadfast.

This Revolution is truly by All and for All.

Pharmacy at square of change run by volunteers
photo by Benjamin Wiacek

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Attack against peaceful protesters

On April 19, 2011 peaceful protesters were marching in the streets of Sana'a. They were attacked with live ammunition, water cannons, and tear gas. The following images were taken at the field hospital after the attacks.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saleh's speech on "mixing of men & women" & its implications

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh recently used another political tool to try and suppress the pro-change protests. Like many leaders worldwide, he used "women" as a tool against his opponents. His brief statement on the prohibition of mixing between women and men (English text of President's speech) along with the smear campaigns on national TV against women implies that women in pro-change square are "loose" women. This is a great insult to all women activists. It is a dishonor to all women, their families and tribes.

His speech has numerous implications. He is clearly trying to appeal to the Salafis as he has done in the past, either to gain their support or potentially turn them against protesters. As a political analyst said: "this could give space for the formation of a future lobby led by Salafis to limit women’s participation in society". A worrisome example, is that some protesters were upset by the "accusation of mixing" and in response demanded separation of men and women "to prove him wrong." This is what caused the clashes between some members of the 1st brigade along with members of organizational committee; and a number of women activists yesterday. This is a dangerous precedent especially in light of the fact that men and women worked side by side as partners from the beginning.

The speech is also an effort to divide protesters. By trying to expose the hypocrisy of some Salafis who previously spoke out against mixing on numerous occasions, but have recently "allowed" it for the sake of the revolution; Saleh hopes to turn liberals against conservatives within the pro-change movement.

His attempt however backfired, at least for now, as more women joined the movement. In response to his speech, thousands of women took to the street on April 16, 2011. We must deal with the potential impact of this by raising awareness on women's rights and having an open honest discussion. At the same time, we must not give up just yet. The second phase of the revolution has just begun.

The following are some videos of the march, two short clips of women's reaction, and videos of slogans and chants.


Chants Used:

النساء مع الرجال.. ثورتنا ثورة نضال
women with men..our revolution is a revolution of struggle

اعتراض اعتراض..يا علي إلا الأعراض
objection, objection..O Ali anything but our honor

يا حكومة يا سخيفة.. بنت اليمن هي شريفة
O silly government..Yemen's daughter is honorable

ارحل.. ارحل..ارحل

اعتصام اعتصام.. حتى يسقط النظام
Sit-in sit-in.. until end of the regime

Friday, April 15, 2011

Relationship Status: It's Complicated

For the past two months, my husband has been quite upset/jealous about my deep relationship with Mr. Revolution. My mind and heart have been preoccupied with anything revolution related. In the few hours I am home, I am usually watching the news, blasting revolutionary music, on twitter or facebook, or writing something related to the revolution.

When I first met Mr. Revolution back in late January 2011, it was love at first sight. It was a dream come true to see my fellow Yemenis finally breaking the barrier of fear and speaking out. The square represents a new Yemen; a Yemen where everyone, despite our differences, is working together for a greater cause. Daily seminars on equality, future expectations, human rights, etc, fill the square. Music, art and poetry illuminate the area. When I am there I am filled with hope and excitement. It is truly a dream come true.

For these reasons and many more, I felt a deep love towards Mr. Revolution. For a long time, I was in a euphoric state. When you meet someone new, you have many high expectations. When these expectations are not met, we become very disappointed. With time, as in most relationships, I began to see some troubling signs. I took them seriously, because I am afraid of having my heart broken in the future.

It first started when General Ali Mohsen, a man known for his corruption and bloody history, befriended Mr. Revolution. Hand in hand they marched. The General was hailed as a hero and as a protector. I was shocked, disappointed but decided to overlook this for the general good of the relationship. Then other troubling events occurred, including the time when women were “barred” from marching (see this blog post). More worrisome, is the common accusations directed at people who criticize Mr. Revolution. If you criticize anything you are quickly labeled one of two things: a spy for the government or someone who wants to divide the revolution.
Of course, some of our mutual friends will be upset that I am discussing this publically. However, I am a firm believer in the following:
• Disagreements are very NATURAL and in fact healthy. If we all agreed on everything, it means we are not honest and are not engaging in real dialogue.
• It is important to document reality and to have an honest assessment of the situation in order to better predict future possibilities, potentials, and scenarios.
• I believe that honesty promotes credibility.

Regardless of all the negatives, I am still very proud of Mr. Revolution. All I need to do is remember the amazing and unimaginable things that have happened in the past two months. The unity amongst people divided for 33 years, the peaceful resistance of an armed population, and the aspirations for justice, freedom, and equality.

If you love someone, you have to work hard to maintain that relationship, and not leave as soon as you see alarm bells. I will try my best, work on this relationship to preserve its essence. Some may call me an idealist (you know who you are); others might be upset that I invoked these negative aspects of the revolution in public. Reality is, I am neither. I do not want to be too naïve, but I also do not want to give up too easily. That way, at least, I will not have any regrets. I encourage everyone to be honest and keep an open eye, but not give up at the same time.

No matter the ups and downs. I will always love you Mr. Revolution. You have given me so much, in such a short time. While my husband is still jealous about my relationship, he is happy that I will not give up just yet (yes he’s a very understanding man).

Note: this post has NOTHING to do with Saleh’s fatwa/speech on women and mixing. I am not giving his speech any importance and it will not divide us.

Campers at Sanaa sit-in prepare for the long haul

Every time I visit the square I am awed by how quickly things change. New tents sprig up everywhere, new signs, and new types of tents. Today I realized that campers are not only prepared for the rainy season, but are also prepared for the long haul. Some tents have evolved into wooden “rooms”. What was once a cheap small tent has now become a wooden tent. People are making it more cozy because they are prepared to stay as long as it takes.

Protection "roofs" from the rain

Wooden tents

Health care professional turned taxi driver – the life of so many Yemenis

On the taxi ride back home tonight, I had an interesting conversation with Mohammed, the taxi driver from Taiz. Mohammed, has a masters degree in biology, with extensive courses in public health. In the 1995 he opened a small business, but never forgot about his passion for health care. Two years later, he befriended a well-known businessmen who agreed to help him open a free clinic in his neighborhood. He hired two doctors, and gave whatever he earned from his business to keep the clinic going.

A couple of years down the line, his small business began suffering. Added to that, increase in prices, meant he needed to work harder to sustain his family's livelihood. With no grant to sustain the health clinic and no connections to government, he ran out of money and was unable to keep the health clinic operational.

Neighborhood families were saddened by the closure of this clinic. He tried to find a more stable job to be able to support the clinic as well, but here everything needs connections. If you want a good job you need to know someone, or you need to pay some Yemeni riyals to someone who will know someone who will know someone who can drop off that paper to the director requesting a job. In addition, many of the health care institutions he applied to recruited people not based on qualifications but based on family and tribal affiliations.

On the way home, this bright man had three great ideas to improve the health care system in Yemen. However, like he said, “who will listen? The best I can do is give advice to my customers, share ideas, and hope that one day someone will implement them.” Mohammed should have been an advisor to the health ministry not a taxi driver.

The sad reality is that given the unemployment rate of 35% Mohammed is lucky to be driving this taxi. What is missing from the unemployment rate is the serious underemployment that many professional Yemenis suffer from. The employment of workers with high skill levels in low-wage jobs that do not require skills and abilities that they studied for years is a common occurrence in Yemen. Mohammed, the trained health care professional working as a taxi driver is just one example.

Unfortunately, Mohammed is not alone. This is one of the many reasons people are demanding the ouster of the regime. Yemenis want an end to corruption, a decent dignified life, and an end to family and tribal rule.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Life of Yemeni Activists

Sanaa’s annual spring rain began. Under the rain we marched in solidarity with the people of Taiz who were attacked by security forces for three consecutive days. At the march, my eyes were on the rooftops of buildings, searching for snipers. Snipers have been used in many occasions to kill peaceful protesters.

Two nights ago, snipers again shot at peaceful protesters. Heavy tear gas and water cannons were also used against them. Watching the live coverage on Suheil TV of the field hospital at the change square made me feel so helpless. I found my mind filled with worries. Some of the wounded might die from the lack of medical help, not necessarily from the severity of the condition. Medical conditions that may be treatable in normal circumstance seem impossible due to lack of medical aid here. Humanitarian aid organizations have turned away from protesters they call overly political. But humanitarian relief should be for everyone, regardless of political affiliations.

Our Work
My day is torn between making phone calls to different cities for updates, monitoring and documenting events at the square via video, photos and blogs, attending meetings at the square, translating information into English, reading and watching news, working on awareness-raising brochures and short video clips, marching, communicating with international media, and spreading information through Twitter and Facebook.

The committees at the square are also noteworthy. Organization, medical, media, legal, and fund-raising committees are all working hard to help protesters and empower the revolution.

Public squares have become great entities of civic engagement. Awareness-raising seminars are happening on a daily basis by academics, human rights activists and youth leaders. They spread information on topics such as: women’s rights, legal rights, constitution, peaceful resistance, the power of persuasion, citizenship etc. Artists are also using their talents for social change. Well-known musicians are joining, CDs with revolutionary songs are being sold, photographers and filmmakers are documenting history as it unfolds.

Revolution's Impact on Life
We have become somewhat paranoid due to the current political environment. Unfortunately, many people are distrustful of each other due to the increase in potential security personnel everywhere. The newly passed emergency law allows for wide arrests and detentions. Some activists and journalists are continuously threatened and harassed, and some kidnapped.

Yemenis are known to own guns in almost every home, but we have not used them in this struggle. Yemenis, even those from the tribes, chose not to use violence, and instead chose the path of peaceful resistance.

Sanaa University is still closed, and it seems that it will remain so until the following academic calendar. Many schools have closed, and some wealthy families have left Yemen in so that their children can continue their education.

Checkpoints are present throughout the city searching for weapons. The closure of important roads leading to the presidential palace have created traffic problems. There is major cooking gas shortage and some households are suffering from water shortage. Banks are very low on dollars. New Yemeni currency is floating around, a terrible sign of possible future inflation. Saleh will leave the country with no money, high inflation, and dwindling oil resources.

Future expectations
We receive conflicting messages on a daily basis. We cannot predict what will happen next. We are witnessing a stand-off between the will of the people and Saleh. The recent violent attacks, are hopefully a sign of Saleh's last days. Desperate governments take desperate measures.

No one doubts that Saleh will leave, but we are expecting more violence before the final exit. The question is, how will he leave? Will he succeed in instigating the military to respond violently in order to start a war? Will it continue to be peaceful resistance? Etc

More importantly, most people realize that our struggle for reform will not end when Saleh leaves. The next phase will be a very long struggle to safeguard the principles of this revolution for the formation of a civic state with equality, citizenship, and justice.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dear brothers, don't forget, we are PARTNERS in this struggle

Today was another bloody day in Yemen. Pro-democracy peaceful protesters in Taiz, Hodaida and Sana'a were attacked with live ammunition and tear gas.

After the first attack in Sana'a, a march was planned to protest against the violence. Men on the stage at the university called on their brothers to join the march, and told women they are "forbidden" from joining. Yes that was the exact word used: ممنوع خروج النساء.

I understand that given the circumstances, they are concerned about our safety, but it should be stated as an advice, not an order. We are adults, and we can decide for ourselves whether we would like to march or not. We do not need someone to tell us what to do, or not to do.

In defiance, women decided to march regardless. This video shows the number of women who joined.

Then, at the intersection, the security committee blocked us from continuing saying that women are not allowed to march. Arguments emerged between women and the security. Some women asked us why we are arguing and said that the men are only doing it for « our protection ». I responded by telling her that if we let them tell us what we can or cannot do now, we will be dishonoring the essence of change and reform. Today, they say you can not march, tomorrow they will say, you can not work etc.

Today, we were full of sadness and sorrow for what happened to our brothers around the nation. We wanted to express that feeling with our brothers. Unfortunately we were denied that right.

Women of Yemen, we need to stand up for our rights now more than ever. We were at the square of change from the first day as equal partners in the struggle for reform, and we will continue as partners until the end.

** Note **

For those that worry that any negative criticism about what is happening in the square may cause rifts, I tell them this: What is happening in the squares is absolutely amazing, but of course we are human beings and mistakes may happen, it is not a utopia. In addition, differences of opinion are normal and very healthy.

When people criticize, do not fear for the revolution, our goals are too honorable and too big for it to be affected by differences of opinion. These differences are normal, and expressing them only enriches the diversity at the square, it does not cause rifts.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Saleh buys his loyalists with money

video: local council members in #Aden admit to receiving money for attending pro-Saleh gathering. They were offered 60,000 Yemeni Riyal to come to Sanaa and refused.

This money is coming from the public funds and is another example of the corrupt government.