Saturday, August 27, 2011

Some thoughts on the media blackout

There is an ongoing discussion on why Western mainstream media is not writing or broadcasting enough material about the Yemeni revolution.

I was back in the US this summer, and many people I spoke to there, did not know that the peaceful protesters are still camped at the squares. They thought that the peaceful protests were over because the media had stopped giving them a voice.

In this post I will list some of the theories that people have regarding the media blackout. I don't necessarily agree with all these points, but I would like to list them all here in order to have a discussion about it.

Theories on media blackout:

1) People just don't care about "Yemen", after all they just recently found out this country exists. Same people knew about"crazy" Qadhafi for years, and Syria was also known especially for it's link to "scary" Iran. But,'s still brand new for media. (of course Yemen is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world)

2) Journalists find it hard to understand Yemen due to its complicated history and various players on the ground. To them, the pro-democracy movement seems scattered and it is therefore very difficult to know who to talk to. Who is the spokesperson? Who can speak on behalf of the revolution? Etc

3) More analysis pieces need to be written to help everyone including the journalists with understanding Yemen, and yet editors are not necessarily eager to publish these analysis pieces. They are more interested in how many people died, where, and when. No depth, just fast facts. Why? Because everyone is obsessed with sending the story first, not enough people care about the quality of the story.

4) There are few western journalists in Yemen. However, there are many English speaking journalists in Yemen covering stories in all governorates. In addition, there are a lot more Western journalists in Yemen than there are in Syria, yet information from Syria is covered on a daily basis and not from Yemen. Why is that?

6) Mainstream western media is serving a specific agenda, that does not include promoting real change in Yemen. Without realizing it, western journalists repeat, like parrots, the standard government lines void of any analysis. How many times have you read the same exact information in different articles on the same day?!

7) We often hear about AQAP as the largest threat to the world, without proper investigation or analysis. Have we heard much about former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair's analysis that the drone attacks are “not strategically effective. If the drones stopped flying tomorrow, Blair told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum, “it’s not going to lower the threat to the U.S.” This is not the story the west wants its audience to hear.

Of course each one of these points needs further explanation, and I will try to elaborate on that soon in another post. No matter what the reasons are, the reality is, information on Yemen is scarce. Of course other countries in the region, like Bahrain, are suffering from the same blackout.

More importantly than why, is how can we circumvent this blackout and push Yemen and other countries in the media? We need to really push independent media to disseminate information that's missing from mainstream media.

We can't constantly blame journalists for all of this, they are trying hard to do their job, but it's our job as citizens to push them to always do their best. So with that, my advise to the journalists in Yemen is the following: if editors are refusing to publish deeper stories on Saudi's role in Yemen, the humanitarian situation of the IDPs, or the impact of drones on ordinary citizens for example, journalists should still write the story. Don't wait until you find an editor who agrees, write the story and then find an independent source to publish it if needed.

Finally, if your goal is to serve a community through writing about the truth, it won't matter if your name appears on the best selling newspaper or an independent online one.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Songs for Change

She sang for change, hope & freedom, the Revolutionary voice of Miriam Makeba.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The daily "boom" sound

As I've written in a previous post, living in Sana'a these days feels like sensory overload. Too much is happening, and too many sounds. Between thunderstorms, bullets, heavy artillary & fire works, it's often hard to differentiate between them all. I asked kids in my neighborhood to show me how to light a firework so I can get used to that specific sound. They only had a small type not the fancy loud one.

There are many different types of fireworks here. "Al-Gummally", who sells fireworks in the old city, has become famous these days for selling the best fireworks, or as my cousin said "fire weapons". He has all sorts of things form really tiny fireworks, to major independence day-like fireworks. It all depends on how much you are willing to pay. Fireworks were illegal at one point, but now that they're legal and encouraged, his business really profited. At least one business has not plummeted during this economic crisis!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yemeni Macarena Dance?

Video Taken at the Square in Sana'a on August 14, 2011 at 12:30 a.m.

The newly formed National Governing Council, will it govern in a new way?

Today, August 17, Yemen's opposition groups met in the Grand Hall at Sana'a University, amidst tight security, for the formation of a national governing council to unite various groups in one legitimate opposition voice. The 1,000 members could only enter the Grand Hall after checking their ID's and obtaining their name cards.

Video of organizer handing out name cards to registered national assembly members

The Join Meeting Parties (JMP), Yemen's main opposition coalition, began circulating the idea for the governing council for a couple of weeks, and discussions have been underway between various forces. Initially, two of the largest groups outside the JMP, the Houthis and southern secessionists had agreed to join. However, at the last minute their position was unclear. Houthis announced their rejection of the council the night before due to a number of reservations including unfair representation. (for a list of reservations by the Houthis click here). The southern secessionists announced that they wanted 50% representation but it was unclear at the meeting whether they had fully rejected the council or not. Media inaccurately announced the presence of both the Houthis and the southern secessionists in the council.

Today's meeting was the first step in the forming of a legitimate opposition group that comprises many different political affiliations. More than a 1000 people gathered at the meeting today from various governorates and backgrounds. High ranking members of the JMP, independents, youth representatives, members of civil society and women's rights activists were present. For this council to be truly effective it will need to include the Houthis and the southern secessionists as they represent a large number of people and have a strong force. As stated in the meeting, the general assembly will remain open for any individual or group to attend.

Inside the Grand Hall during the National Council meeting


With over 1000 people present, today's gathering served as the first meeting for the national assembly. From this national assembly of 1000 members, a national council was created of 143 individuals, of which 23 will serve as the executive committee, and will elect a president for the council. (click here for a list of the 143 names in Arabic)
As usual, there was lack of organization and insufficient time to have a real deep discussion on the issues. In today's large meeting, people were expected to give their comments, questions, and suggestions on a three page draft, in only two hours (since we started two hours late). It almost felt that organizers were doing this only as a formality. A more effective way would have been to have smaller working groups/focus groups meetings prior to this large meeting and then the 1,000 members can come together and discuss findings & suggestions at the meeting.
Nevertheless, it is a good first step for unification of the opposition. In addition, a group was tasked with drafting the blaws, plans, and tasks which will guide the council. Creating a process and ensuring transparency is key for legitimacy of this council.
A facebook survey results show that a vast majority of Yemeni facebookers strongly support this national council. While the majority of youth seem to accept this initiative as a step in the right direction, many feel hesitant about the intentions of the JMP. Some youth even rejected this idea, saying that the JMP is hijacking the revolution. Distrust between the independent youth and the JMP must be overcome for real collaboration to take place.
Three protesters at the square holding signs against the national council and in support of the previous youth led transitional council
People were feeling very tense for the past two days, especially after yesterday's speech by Saleh's and after Abdu al-Janadi, deputy information minister said that that the decision by the JMP to form a national council was "a declaration of a civil war." Nevertheless, the meeting went smoothly.
What next?
While this is a great first step, the legitimacy of this council will depend on the transparency of the group and on the internal democratic process. Many questions come to mind:
Will the national governing council govern differently than the previous government, given that many in the council members were part of the previous regime?
Will one political party be the key decision maker or will the collective group share in this responsibility? How will decisions be made?
Will there be oversight from the national assembly? how can members of the national assembly impeach members of the executive committee ?
How much collaboration will there be with people on the ground?
Finally, will the other forces including Houthis and southern secessionists be part of this council? the council needs to truly push for their inclusion in order to have a strong opposition united force.
I will say this again and again, the national council, is a great first step, but the success will depend on the way these questions are answered. The council fills me with worry, anticipation and hope at the same time. I worry that what if the independents are just used to legitimize a group that is identical to the previous regime? or could this be an opportunity to create a new democratic world?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Q & A on

Q & A on situation in Yemen on

Does the global press coverage of Yemen exaggerate the violence and/or chaotic aspect of what is going on there?
If you mean, AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula), then yes i think it is exaggerated, as there has been no sufficient investigation to prove or disprove any of the claims.
If you are talking about violence by pro-Saleh entities against protesters, then no, I don't think it's exaggerated; I don't think it's covered enough. You don't hear much about the violence that's happening right now in Taiz, in Abyan, and in Arhab. What is completely missing is the humanitiaran aspect.
Last time, we spoke about how activists were organizing in Facebook groups to coordinate and decide on what is next. There's now a transitional youth council in Yemen that looks as if it may wield or soon wield political power. Are they still using facebook to share ideas and make decisions?
Yes of course. Facebook is still widely used to share ideas. Some groups are "private" for security reasons, and they only add people they know. Other groups are open for all, and anyone can share their ideas. The electricity problem, however, is not permitting as many to go online. No electricity means no Internet for the most part. The wealthy are trying to circumvent this problem by purchasing generators, while others have an Internet USB. But, the majority can't access internet when electricity is cut, unless they go to an Internet cafe.
How likely do you think it is that the Yemeni non violent youth movement will have real political power within the year?
That is a very hard question. In Yemen, it's very hard to predict anything as things are very complicated. Alliances can be made and broken within a week, and attacks can change the course of a group's goals. The youth are still struggling - they are still at the squares demanding change, but no one seems to be listening to them. Most people abroad don't even realize they are STILL camping out at the squares, and have been since February! Whether their demands will lead to real political power depends on a number of factors including the groups inside the country and pressure from foreign countries. The humanitarian crisis is not helping the situation, and it is making people not only suffer, but live in a tense environment. People are worried that a war could errupt at any moment. The role of political parties should be stronger, and they should push for political change in a more powerful way. The creation of a transitional council pushed the JMP (Joint Meeting Parties - the oppostion coalition) to try and work out the next steps forward.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Iftar under the candle light

Iftar under the candle light sounds great, but it's not. It's one thing to enjoy iftar under the candle lights for one night, it's completely a different story if it's something constant, which it is. Since the start of the holy month, with the exception of today, we have lacked electricity for 22 hours of the day. We devour every minute of that hourly electricity we're getting. We often have so much to do during that previous moment. When the heavenly lights turn on, we jump with excitement. One of us quickly steps outside to turn on the water pump and the other gets the vacuum cleaner. Some days we both just turn on the computer and pray that internet connects quickly before electricity shuts again. Before we sleep my husband and I make sure to charge our two phones, two computers and of course our re-chargeable small lamp. At least if we charge those when electricity is cut we're able to use word for work or watch a movie on the computer to entertain ourselves.

Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Walking down the streets of Sana'a you still hear the honking horns and the loud shouting of people. You also hear a lot of "trrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr" the generators that are in many stores. Everyone needs one now, and in fact yesterday we went on a four hour chase to try and get a tiny one. They are overly priced now, and in high demand. We will soon join this group of inconsiderate neighbors as we will have to buy a generator to be able to function. Internet is a must for work and light is necessary for my sanity. Yes, I truly am a product of the 21st Century.

Sensory Overload for the past week, I've been on edge, with ears as strong as satellite antenas. I hear EVERYTHING and anything that sounds remotely close to a gun shot or an explosion I stop and think about it. I then turn to get a confirmation from my husband or anyone near by that what we heard was NOT an explosion. Given that we are having DAILY random fireworks and lots of thunderstorms, it's often hard to differentiate between thunder, fireworks and explosions. This is making me on edge with every little sound and making my husband really irritated by my constant questions.

Need a salary increase please $$$$ To go to our favorite cafe it used to cost us 250 Yemeni Riyal one way by taxi, now it's at least 500 YR. Fuel prices used to be 1,500 YR per dabba (20 liters), when fuel shortage occured it went up to almost 9,000 YR in the black market. It now went down to 3,500 YR and it is widely available (hence the trafic jams). While the prices has doubled from the original 1,500 to 3,500 YR I'm surprised that people are not complaining and in fact happy that we at least have fuel. Unlike the ghost town that Sana'a became for a short while, traffic jams are now back. The worry I have, and what seems very likely is that these price increases in fuel, transportation, and basic food items will stick even if prices are reduced.
But despite all these negative things, Sana'a seems to be coming back to life slowly. Sana'a is experiencing a typical Ramadan when life at night is the norm, but with major setbacks.

Of course these are very minute things compared to the greater issues facing people in Yemen such as death, human rights violations, hospitals that can't function, displaced people, malnutrition, water crisis.. etc.. the list can go on. This post is just a personal reflection of my day to day and as someone on twitter said, the accumulation of small distresses.