Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Roundtable Discussion Beyond the Arab Spring

On June 22nd, 2011 I participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) at the US Capitol's Rayburn buildling entitled Beyond the Arab Spring. The event was moderated by Laith Kubba from NED, and included activists from Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisa, Libya, and Syria who were asked questions by the moderator and given time to respond. It was a good opportunity to hear from different voices but due to the large number of speakers we were unable to indulge in detail on any specific issue or country.

Mideastreports summarized the event here. To view a video of the discussion click here:
Part I
Part II

Monday, June 27, 2011

Out of Yemen for one month

Please excuse me because it's been one week and I haven't wrote a single post. I am out of Yemen now and in the US trying to spread awareness about what is happening in Yemen through meetings and lectures. There are many misconceptions about Yemen here, and a definite need for more information in English from the ground. But there are also many people working hard.

There are many things I would like to write about, and I'll do that once I have some free time.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Death and Celebration in Yemen, a message for Elham

On Wednesday June 8, 2011, pro-Saleh supporters, thugs and members of the military celebrated the President's successful surgery by lighting fireworks, firing guns, machine guns, and heavy artillery, for tree hours throughout most neighborhoods of Sana'a. At first, people did not know what was happening. Many were frightened at the sounds of what seemed to be a war. Some women had a miscarriage, and others with heart problems suffered from heart attacks. State TV first announced the celebrations after 15 minutes, and at first they said that it was only fire works. Many people, like Elham's father, wanted to alleviate their children's fears of the loud noise by assuring them that it's only fire works. “Lets go to the rooftops so you can see for yourself” Elham's father told her. Minutes later, Elham, 11 years old, was hit in the head by a stray bullet. Six days later, she died and this is my message to her.

Dear Elham,

I just returned from visiting your family to give them my condolences on your passing. The black clothed and tear-eyed women do not normally gather in one room for a girl your age. But today, they are there to remember your innocence, your short life, and your unfortunate death due to the irresponsibility of the government.

Even if the attack was not deliberate, it is the responsibility of the government to keep its citizens safe, and when that doesn't happen, citizens have the right to seek justice. Unfortunately, in your situation, no justice can be served.

The celebrations for Saleh's successful surgery ironically, resulted in a number of injuries and deaths throughout the city. Celebration and death seem to go hand in hand these days in Yemen. No one will be blamed, and no one will be taken to court.

I sat next to your grandmother who told me that in the past “helicopters used to throw candy on rooftops during times of celebrations, but today they send bullets.” She then sighed and said “times have really changed.”

I'm sorry my dear Elham that your life was taken away from you at such an early age.

I'm sorry that justice won't be served. Who can your family sue? No one. During this time, anyone can kill anyone else and blame it on “stray bullets.” The government will do nothing, except maybe honor this act of loyalty.

I'm sorry that you grew up under a government that does not abide by rule of law.

I'm sorry that you grew up under a government that does not value human life.

I'm sorry that your brother and sisters will be forever traumatized whenever they hear of a “celebration”.

I'm sorry for so many things my dear, but I promise you, change will come one day.

Although I never met you, I want you to know, that I am saddened to see you depart this earth. I am sure your spirit will live on forever. You will be the memory that will remind us all to always seek justice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Art at Change Square on BBC's the Strand

An interview on BBC's the Strand about art at change square (chapter 1)

Art at Change Square on BBC's the Strand

An interview with BBC's the Strand about art at change square (chapter 1)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What electricity cuts mean for us?

** i was supposed to post this at 11:00 pm on the 11th but I only got back electricity 5 minutes ago (5 p.m. on the 12)

So, what does electricity cuts really mean?

It means the most obvious.. No electricity = no lights. It means reading and writing under a candle light, and while that sounds so nice, it's really just when you're watching a movie, in reality after a while it your eyes start to hurt.

It also means shortage of
water. Why? because the water pump needs power and a long period of no electricity, means the pump no longer works. Ok so no problem, we'll just buy water right? Well, water now is three times the price. Even if we theoretically had water, no electricity means the water heater will not be working as it depends on the electricity, so IF we had water, we would only have cold water.

Long electricity cuts also means that everything in the fridge will go bad. You can't really buy much for fear it might get spoiled. You have to buy things on a daily basis, and for people that are super busy these days, and can't buy food on a daily basis it means our meals are limited to pasta, rice & canned goods. (I'm not complaining, thank God for this as many people can't afford basic food items).

No electricity also means no internet or TV. If you work from home and need internet (like I do), you must find an alternative place to work. For me I've practically moved into two separate coffee shops that I often frequent.

No electricity also means you can't charge your phone, your computer, or your batter =for your camera. Sometimes I plug those things in the wall just in case electricity turns on while I'm asleep. You never know when they decide to turn it on.

It also means that when you finally sleep, you may be woken up in the middle of the night by the lights in the room when the electricity suddenly returned at 3 a.m.

It also means you can't use your vacuum cleaner nor the washing machine. The other day, when electricity turned back on, I jumped to get the vacuum cleaner, I'm not sure when I'll see it again.

I used to love the romantic atmosphere of candles, now I'm starting to hate them.

All this however is luxury compared to the fact that electricity cuts impact patients in hospitals who sometimes die due to the lack of appropriate medical care.

So, why don't we buy a generator for electricity?
Well, petrol is in shortage and it's double or three times the price. We would have to spend hours getting gas, or try to find someone with connection that will get us the petrol. That would be ironic during a revolution when we are calling for change and an end to “corruption.” :)

In my village, we don't have electricity at night. I know this and because I know it, I accept it and I don't complain when I go. But here, we are supposed to have electricity, and I'm not mentally prepared for these daily cuts. The infrequent electricity is almost a tease. Maybe it would be better if we just never had electricity. Also, it's quite irritating to live behind the Parliament building (just 50 meters away) and see it very WELL lit, while we are in total darkness.

I just finished typing this but can't upload it because there is no electricity, and therefore no internet. My computer's battery will shut down in approximately 19 minutes. If I post this on June 11 it means electricity returned, if not, I'll wait until he next day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The peaceful revolution is struggling to survive, but it's still alive

Peaceful protesters went to the streets four months ago calling for an end to the regime. During this time many developments happened, and many players interfered. Violent conflict occurred separated from this peaceful struggle between armed tribal members and government forces. Tension is mounting, and civil war might erupt. Despite these escalations, protesters still stand firm, they are still camped at change square, and are continuing their peaceful protests.
On June 7th, independent youth marched to the house of vice president Abd-Rabou Mansour calling for the immediate creation of an interim council and an end to the regime with all its components, because while Saleh is out for now, his immediate family members and relatives are still holding key positions in the military and security apparatus. They camped there for 24 hours until they were dispersed by members of the First Armored brigade, the military who vowed to protect protesters late March.

On June 11th, independent protesters organized a symbolic march inside change square condemning the US position in Yemen. The statement that was read on stage had four points, the following is only the first point related to the US
"Our peaceful revolution is writing itself in the books of history. As free revolutionaries, we stood firm for four months, calling for change, which led to the beginning of the end for Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime. However, we recognize that the regime has not yet fallen with all its components. We therefore emphasize the following:
We thank the US for calling for a transition of power, however, we condemn the U.S. position which supports the continuation of the same governing system as evidence by the following:
  • The United States is dealing with the current situation in Yemen as a political crisis and not a popular youth revolution. This is evident from US support and pressure for the GCC initiative without inclusion of the youth.
  • The United States is not working towards real regime change, by supporting the family members of Ali Saleh in key positions as head of military and security institutions under the pretext of combating terrorism.
  • The United States has not taken a firm stand against allegations that the Yemeni regime is using counter-terrorism arms and equipment funded by the US to suppress peaceful demonstrations"

Monday, June 6, 2011

All that we have is our soul

Last week I went to Jeddah for my sister's 'Agd, the signing of the wedding contract. while it was extremely difficult to leave Yemen behind, I really wanted to be with her on this important day.

I was supposed to return to Yemen on Thursday but my plane was delayed, then the airport closed. I kept having problems returning to Yemen and at the same time my family was begging me to stay in Saudi. Some said that the flight delays are probably a sign that I shouldn't return. My parents begged me not to return and said I should think of them and how worried they are.

While I hate making my family worry, I also can't imagine leaving Yemen at this time, so I decided to return no matter what. Upon hearing this, one of my uncles said «you are a hero, you have the choice to leave Yemen and yet you are returning», but that's exactly why I feel it is my obligation to return, precisely because I have the liberty of leaving, i should stay.

I am no hero. I have many things that serve as "protection" for me. One is that I am a woman, and while there have been attacks on women, it is less common then men. Second, I am a dual national, which makes Yemeni security think twice before detaining me (it's really unfortunate that a foreign passport provides more protection in your own homeland). Third, i have many contacts with the international community. 

So, with all these things on my side, I feel that what I'm doing is just my obligation and duty since I have more space to do it. It's the least I should be doing. It's true I quit my job to be fully engaged in the movement. It's true I have no social life anymore, it's true that I face some threats that every activist faces, it's true I'm mentally and physically exhausted, it's true i chose the hardships of Sana'a over the stability of other countries, but this is what almost everyone in the movement is doing, and my sacrifices are very minimal compared to others. Real heroes are those who are sacrificing everything for the revolution even if they have no alternative.

Mohammed a 20 year old man joined the protests from the beginning. He believed in change and wanted to see a civil country. He had many hopes and dreams. Four days before his birthday he was killed by a sniper for participating in a peaceful march to call for change. Mohammed gave the ultimate sacrifice for Yemen, he gave his life.

Ali, a 40 year-old man, was fired from his job for joining the movement and not coming to work. He has four children and his wife is a house wife. He has no other source of income. Some may think his actions are irresponsible, but he said "I can't live in prison anymore, if we don't do this, my kids will have to live in the same prison I lived in, I am doing this for them. Money will come, but our dignity needs to be regained."

Abeer, has three jobs: being a full-time mother, a full-time teacher, and organizing seminars at change square. She is exhausted and said while her husband is fully supportive of the movement and of her work, they are engaging in many fights due to her frequent absence from the house.

Hamzah a 24 year old medical student, left his 4th year in medical school in Cairo to join the movement. He has been camping in the university for over three months. He was planning to study and fly back to Cairo to take the final exams at the end of the year so he doesn't lose the entire year. However, he is unable to do that now. Hamzah is unable to leave the square for fear of being detained by security forces. He will now have to repeat the entire 4th year of medical school. For him, joining the movement "is definitely worth it."

I speak English, I can relate to the West and people in the West can relate to me, that's why it's easy to find me and highlight my work. But there are many real heroes who are not seen or recognized. (see my previous post titled Hidden Heroes of the Revolution)

We are all doing this because of a sense of obligation and as singer Tracy Chapman put it, "all that we have is our soul" and our soul can't rest until justice is served.