Thursday, May 31, 2012

Achieving Long-Term Stability in Yemen: Moving Beyond Counterterrorism

Policy Brief published by Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

With a new president in power, Yemen has the opportunity to fundamentally restructure its political and military system, but multiple obstacles stand in its path. The Yemeni military remains a disjointed body split by corrupt and self-serving officials, many of whom are supported by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. With its counterterrorism-based ties to the Yemeni security sector, the U.S. appears reluctant to forgo these relationships for a reform process. Alwazir argues, however, that the United States’ counterterrorism efforts have been counterproductive and have provided fuel for terrorist groups’ recruitment efforts. To achieve true long-term stability, the U.S. should focus on providing economic support and development, encouraging fundamental restructuring of the Yemeni military, tying military aid to this restructuring process, and recalibrating the U.S-Yemeni relationship to be less military-centric.

Click here for the full text of the policy brief.

Monday, May 28, 2012

In remembrance of the May 21st attack, lets also be reminded of our humanity

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.Mahatma Gandhi

A candlelight vigil was organized today to commemorate the deadliest suicide attack in Sana'a that killed 96 soldiers and wounded 300.  People decorated the photos of the deceased with flowers, followed by a candle light vigil, and a recitation of the Qur'an.

While participating today, I had many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was never fond of security and military officials because I often think of them as perpetrators of violence, not as protectors of citizens.  This is because security and military officials have engaged in many atrocities throughout the country, including torture, killing, and illegal imprisonment of innocent civilians especially during the revolution, the six wars in Saada, and  the civil war in the South.

Yet, I felt attending this vigil was the right thing to do.  While I have my issues with the Yemeni military, I can not rejoice over anyone's death.

Seeing the photos of the young deceased soldiers, humbled me and reminded me that nothing is pure evil or pure good.  Many of them were not as privileged as I was to choose what kind of life to lead, and what kind of a career to seek.  Their environment and upbringing dictated how their life will be.  A soldier's salary can barely support a family, and their work conditions are terrible. 

It is probably this thought that pushed many to recognize the soldiers' humanity and the atrocity of the crime.  Even people who were directly affected by previous attacks by government officials were present at the vigil.

I had to fight off tears, and suffer that lump in my throat in order not to cry when I saw peaceful protesters placing flowers on posters of the deceased soldiers.  

Not only did they join, but it was them who organized this campaign, brought the flowers, and the candles. It was very ironic for them to organize the vigil in the same place that was closed off for almost a year due to "security reasons" and fear that peaceful protesters would march there to take over the Presidential palace.

Despite the fact that hundreds were killed and thousands wounded during the revolution by government and security personnel, activists were there to pay their respects and condemn violence.

Maybe some of these deceased soldiers participated in the killings, and maybe some of them refused.  Maybe some of them had no choice.  But today was not about killing.  It was a time of mourning for death itself.  A time to say enough killing.

Seeing the people come together like this, shows that "revenge" is not inherent in our culture.  What we saw today, was the spirit of a shared humanity.  Only through love and compassion can life exist.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Morality, ethics & martyrs

I have a box at home that I filled with all sorts of stuff from the Revolution such as posters, stickers, clocks, pamphlets, bullet shells and mortars.  Not sure what I will do with this box, but it's my way of documenting history.

So today, while at change square, I stopped at a kiosk that sells revolutionary memorabilia to see what's the latest revolutionary "product".  I found a mini booklet with photos of the martyrs.  I turned the book around to see who published it and found the name of the kiosk.  I asked the young salesman (he was about 16 years old), who made this booklet? "we did" he responded.

"How much is it?" I asked.  "300 Yemeni Riyals (about $1.3)" he said.

As I flipped through the pages of the booklet, I saw photos of the martyrs from all ages and cities, and I began to think about their families.  These martyrs gave their life for change, have their families felt any of that change yet?

Then I started wondering about the ethics of "selling" this booklet.  Yes it's very cheap, but the question was not about money, but about whether we should be profiting from the martyrs.  I ended up purchasing it anyway for the "box", and on the bus ride back home I began flipping through it once more.

When I arrived I went through my bag to look for my camera but it was not there!  I panicked and began tracing my steps until I realized I had most likely forgotten the camera at that kiosk where I was engrossed thinking about morality, ethics, and the martyrs.

I went to the kiosk and asked about my camera.  "Yes it's here, my brother has it.  He's having lunch, he'll come back soon."  I waited for half an hour, and then, paddling on his bicycle, I saw the blue camera case hanging on an 8 year old boy's neck.  With a beautiful innocent smile, he handed it back to me.

I was so thankful, and I wanted to show my appreciation so I attempted to give them some money as a gift.  They adamantly refused it and said this is their duty.  I begged and pleaded but to no avail.

I left happily with my camera, and wondered about life's irony.  I was questioning their ethics regarding the booklet, but when they had a chance to profit from the camera, they did not.

Nothing is black or white, everything seems a shade of grey.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Yemen: Color Me a Wall

First published in Al-Akhbar

In March the Yemeni artist Murad Subai began a creative initiative named “color the walls of your street,” to promote the rehabilitation of areas that underwent conflict through art.
“Our walls in Yemen are decorated with bullets and destruction,” said the 25-year old artist. “I wanted them to emanate with life instead.”
On March 15 Murad created a Facebook group where he invited others to join him in coloring the walls in areas that were damaged. He spent one week painting alone, and then on March 22nd, others joined him and continue to join him every Thursday morning.
The goal of this initiative is “to make art the common denominator between all people, and to give them hope for the future,” he said while painting. Anyone is welcome to join in and there are no rules for what you can draw. The plan has transformed casual visitors into active participants, becoming part of the artwork.
Some paintings spread social messages such as tolerance, women’s rights, and the plight of marginalized communities. Others paint to instill hope, while some just aim to express inner emotions. “These people have made us proud and have raised our head high, who knew we had so much talent?” said a passerby.
Yemenis on the whole have been incredibly supportive. “We all thought that there would be more negative reaction from people but it was the opposite, I did not imagine that this idea would get this much support from all kinds of people, civilians, armed men, women, children,” said Sahar Abdullah, a 25-year-old activist. “When I pass by these walls I get a feeling of utter happiness for two reasons: because it looks beautiful, and second because I was part of it,” she added.
When the artists leave the area, the wall is no longer silent. It has changed from a wall of despair, to a wall that speak of life, courage, and hope. It is a wall that speaks the language of the community and hence serves the purposes of community building and artistic expression.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Towards a new Yemen: “by changing nothing, nothing changes”

First Published in the Oxford Student
The Yemeni revolution, which began by independent youth, made it possible to stand up against former President Saleh’s 33 years of misrule including corruption, injustice and nepotism. Protesters went to the street in mid Jan 2011, to say enough is enough.  Then on the 21st of February, a group of university students camped outside the gate of Sana’a University.  Day by day more people joined, until it transformed into a tent-city with thousands of inhabitants: Change Square was born.
The truly revolutionary aspect of this movement is the peaceful nature it took.  There are 70 million firearms in a country with the population of 24 million, yet peaceful protesters refused to take up arms, despite the violent and brutal attacks against them, that resulted in approximately 2,000 martyrs and thousands wounded, according to the ministry of human rights.
The regime that had once neglected the youth was forced to interact with them, due to their street power not military power, expanding bargaining beyond the traditional political elite.
Where we are today in Yemen is a product of the interplay between the power of the street that pushed for reform and the political negotiations of the formal political elite with the ruling party and the international community. Unfortunately, the process by which traditional parties negotiated, excluded the demands of the streets, which limited their eventual bargaining power.
While youth have been recognized as an important entity, the political process had sidelined them.  This partially explains why thousands of activists and protesters are still camped in change square living in their wooden or fabric tents.
While many positive steps have been taken including the official removal of Saleh from power, the creation of a transitional unity government to lead the country, and the adoption of new laws and decrees such as the right to access of information; a complete break from the past through comprehensive changes is yet to be seen.  Today, many of the same players of the old regime remain in place disconnected from the majority of the population.  Many independent youth are concerned that the traditional opposition figures who worked side by side with the old regime are just trying to co-opt the revolution for personal gains.
The demands of the street extended beyond the removal of the president to include comprehensive change to the entire political structure, which has been the cause of marginalization. Parliament recently announced that tribal Sheikhs will receive $60 million, which is an example demonstrating that the transitional government is not keen on moving away from the patronage system towards a modern civic state on the basis of equal citizenship, social justice, and a plural political system.
Nevertheless, the rules of Yemen’s political structure are still being negotiated, and many new political actors and political parties, including youth parties, have emerged.  Young people now are more willing to express their opinions and to be proactive in influencing their societies.
The extent to which they are able to push for reforms will demonstrate whether Yemen will move towards a more inclusive political process.  Inclusionary politics will not only mean inclusion of new actors, and more open door meetings, but also giving those in decision making positions, the actual power necessary to make these decisions.
Politicians should remember that youth will no longer accept to be silent witnesses in their own countries, exclusionary politics will no longer be tolerated.  The seed for change has been planted, and it will take years for the tree to grow.  It is our duty as citizens however to make sure to water that seed and give it the proper nutrients to flourish or else it will be as if no revolution has taken place.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Walls come to life حديث الجدران

Color the walls of your street” is a youth volunteer initiative which changed the silent walls filled sadness and despair to walls of hope and life.  Each walla tells a different story, and together they tell the story of Yemen.  From here we begin our road to the revolution of mind and culture.  From here we begin to build our society.  to promote the rehabilitation of areas that underwent conflict through art.

To read a photo blog on this topic visit: Color Me a Wall 
For more photos visit للمزيد من الصور 

Walls come to life حديث الجدران

مبادرة "لوّن جدار شارعكمبادرة شبابيّة تطوعيّة حوّلت الجدران المليئة بالحزن واليأس الى جدران مليئة بالحياة والأملكل جدار يحكي قصة مختلفة وبألوانها العديدة تحكي قصة اليمنلقد نطقت الجدران وبدأت تحكي قصة المجتمعومن هنا نبدأ طريقنا إلى ثورة الفكر والثقافة وبناء المجتمع
الفن هو الحياة، والحياة هي الحياة، لكن فن الحياة أن تحيا حياتك بفن
- بيتر التنبرغ كاتب وشاعر نمساوي

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Foreign Aid Caused More Harm than Good?

#SupportYemen and Resonate Yemen held the first First Oxford Style Debate on Thursday May 3rd, 2012 on the following motion:

"Foreign Aid to Yemen Caused More Harm than Good"

The audience casted their votes on the motion twice, before and after the debate. The team that changed the most minds in the course of the debate declared winner.

Voting Results:
Before the debate:
For the motion: 28.5%
Undecided: 25%
Against the motion: 46%

After the debate:
For the motion: 60.7%
Undecided: 0%
Against the motion: 39.3%

The winner of this debate was Team One arguing for the motion "Foreign Aid to Yemen Caused More Harm than Good"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

في ذكرى يوم العمّال: فلنذكر عمّال الوطن المنسيين

سوف تتعلم الأجيال الآتية المساواة من الفقر والمحبّة من الحزن- جبران خليل جبران

لبضعة أشهر مضت وحتى الآن كانت مدن اليمن تغرق في أكياس متنوعة الألوان: حمراء، زرقاء، خضراء، وصفراء... لم تكن ورودا زاهية ولا زهورا متألقة، ولكنها أكياس زبالة طغت على كل مدن اليمن مما جعل المناطق تفوح بروائح لا تطاق تزكم الأنوف، واهم من ذلك ماتسببه من إنشار الأمراض على نحو واسع.

لم يعرف الناس مقدار ما يقدمه عمال النظافة من خدمات لهم حتى رأوا ما أمامهم وبدأوا يتساءلون عن سبب ذلك وعرفوا انه بسبب إضراب عمّال النظافة لكنهم لم يحسوا بما يعانية هؤلاء من اضطهادن وتهميش، وسوء معاملة، جعلتهم يتخذون الإضراب-وهم على حق فيه- وسيلة مطالبة بتحسين اوضاعهم ورفع معاشاتهم، وتثبيتهم في أعمالهم، واعطاءهم حقوقهم.

بدأ الناس يتسائلون عن أسباب الإضراب، و غضب أحد عقال احد الحارات من هذا الوضع السيء، وصمم ان يزور العمّال في بيوتهم كي يأمرهم بالعودة إلى العمل. وللعلم فأغلبية العمّال ممن يسمّون بـ "المهمشين" او كما يسمون باسم اشد قسوة وأكثر مهانة وهي "الأخدام". وهم بطبيعة الحال لم يولدوا مهمشين، ولم يولدوا اخداما، بل ولدوا أحرار، وكلنا ايضا أحرار في هذه الدنيا، ولكن الأنظمة الظالمة لم تكتف بالتسمية فقط، بل طبقت عليهم قوانين المذلة أيضا، ومع اني لا احب ان استخدم الكلمتين إلا ان المجتمع هو الذي همشهم ومن ثم فاأنا اشير اليهما كتشخيص حالة مرضية لا إقرار واقع.

عندما وصل عاقل الحارة إلى "السمسرة" التي يعيشون فيها أصيب بصدمة نتيجة مارأى من ظروفهم المعيشية التعيسة فوجدهم يسكنون في مكان ضيّق ومغلق مكتظ بمن فيه، يتكدس بعضهم فوق بعض كعلب السردين في مكان ليس به صرف صحي، ولا مشروع ماء، ولا كهرباء. هذه المنطقة تبعد ١٠ دقائق فقط من منزل عاقل الحارة ولكنها تبعد ألآف الأمتار من واقع حياته وجيرانه.

جلس عاقل الحارة ليتحاور مع مجموعة من عمّال النظافة وطلب منهم أن يعودوا إلى العمل، فبدأوا يشرحون له بعضا من معاناتهم وسبب إضرابهم، وبعد ساعة من الحديث تضامن عاقل الحارة معهم ومع مطالبهم، وبهذا التضامن أثبت انسانيته.

إن عمّال النظافة محرومين من عقود ملزمة، رواتب عادلة، ضمان صحي، و تثبيت في العمل. يشتغلون كمتعاقدين يوميا بمبلغ يتراوح ما بين ٦٠٠ إلى ٧٠٠ ريال يمني في اليوم لمدة ٣٦٠ يوم في السنة حتى في الأعياد "فلا عطل، ولا إجازات، ولا تأمين إجتماعي، أو صحي، ولا تحسب لهم سنين الخدمة التي يخدمونها في "وطنهم" قال حيدر سويد رئيس جميعة أصدقاء النظافة بالاضافة إلى تلك المعاناة فهم لا يحصلون على أيه علاوات سنويّة. فهم "ليسوا خاضعين لسلم الوظائف المدنيّة وهذا يحرمهم من الترقية والترفيع. فالعامل الذي له ١٨ عام كالذي له يوم واحد" أضاف حيدر سويد.

عملهم صعب وشاق ومع ذلك فهم يعملون من دون ضمانات صحية، وهم أكثر عرضة من غيرهم للأمراض حيث لا توجد لديهم ملابس وقائيّة تصونهم من الأمراض، وإذا مرضوا فليس لهم ضمان صحي. ظلمات بعضها فوق بعض.

لا تتمسك الدولة بمعايير التوظيف القانونيّة عند تشغيل عمّال النظافة، وبالتالي فإن عددا كبيرا من الأطفال دون السن القانونيّة يعملون في النظافة، كما تواجه النساء العاملات في النظافة مشاكل كبيرة أثناء الحمل أو الرضاعة أو الولادة، كما يتعرضن إلى التحرش والإغتصاب. ولا من سائل ولا من مجيب، وخاصة وهن لايستطعن ان يرفعن قضية ضد الجاني بسبب الخوف، وعدم توفير المال، وعدم توفير أي نوع من الحماية القانونيّة.

باختصار فالدولة بشكل دائم لا تتعامل جديّا مع قضايا الانتهاكات الجسديّة والجنسيّة والتميير القائم على أساس اللون ضد المهمشين وخاصة عمّال النظافة.
بسبب هذه الانتهاكات ضد حقوقم قامت النقابة بترتيب إضراب شامل في كل مدن الجمهوريّة مما أدى الى إصدار قرار مجلس الوزراء رقم (٤٦) لعام ٢٠١٢ مؤخرا بتثبيت عمّال النظافة واعتبارهم كموظفين رسميين، وهذه خطوة جيدة لأنها ان طبقت ستعطي العمّال حقوقهم وايضا ستكون حاجزا ضد الفساد الاداري الذي كان يستفيد منه البعض بالتعاقد يوميّا مع أسماء وهميّة لسرق الأموال.لكن الاجراءات ما زالت قائمة.والبرقراطية ماتزال تعمل، وبقية العوائق معروفة.

لقد قدم عمّال النظافة مهلة ثلاثة اشهر للحكومة حتى تنفذ القرار ، لأن هذا ليس أول قانون يقر مطالب تثبيت العمّال. ففي ٢٠٠٨ صدر قرارين رسميين ٢٩٢ و٥١٧ من وزيري الخدمة المدنية والتأمينات يتضمنا موافقة وزارة الخدمة المدنية والتأمينات على تثبيت عمّال النظافة واعتبارهم موظفين حكوميين مع مساواتهم بزملائهم في كل الحقوق. والى اليوم وبعد مضى أربع سنين فإن هذا القانون لم يطبق، وكذلك بقية القوانين التي صدرت بهذا الخصوص . ومن هنا علينا ان نطالب ونضغط على الحكومة الانتقاليّية بتطبيق هذا القانون وجعله من أولويّات الدولة، كما يجب أن توضع قضية عمّال النظافة في جدول أعمال الحوار الوطني، ومن اولوياته.

الواقع المر الذي عادة ما نحاول ان ننساه هو أن التمييز ليس فقط تمييز رسمي ولكنه ايضا أجتماعي أي من المجتمع نفسه. صحيح ان الدولة لم تصر على ادماج المهمشين مع بقية المجتمع وكرست مبادئ التمييز ولكن ليست المشكلة مشكلة دولة فقط ولكنها مشكلة ثقافيّة إجتماعية.

عادة ما يتعرض المهمشون إلى تمييز وعنصريّة وعنف من اخوانهم اليمنيين و كما أن البعض يرفض ادماجهم في المجتمع ويريد التفرقة بينهم وباقي المجتمع وكأنهم خائفين من "عدوى”. هناك قائمة من الأمثال الشعبيّة مثال حي للثقافة السائدة: (ومن صاحب الخادم بكّر نادم) و (إذا أكل الكلب من وعائك اغسله وإذا أكل الخادم من وعائك اكسره). ولذلك على الدولة أن تأخذ الإجاراءات اللازمة لدمج المهمشين مع باقي المجتمع ونشر الوعي ضد هذه الانتهاكات وايضا تجريم التمييز.

في ذكرى يوم العمّال دعونا فعلا نجعله تذكيرا جهيرا بحقوق عمّال النظافة عمّال الوطن. ولا ننسى أنه بينما يكون الكثيرون منا في عطل رسمية يكونون هم يعملون ويشتغلون في اليوم الذي من المفروض ان يكرموا فيه.

اشكروهم وقدروهم واذكروا اننا كلنا من ابناء نفس الوطن، فكلنا سواسية ولا فرق بين احد. قفوا معهم وساندوهم في مطالبهم الشرعيّة وعندما ينظموا وقفة احتجاجيّة انضموا إليهم واجعلوا هذه القضية قضيّة وطن. أليست الحريّة والعدالة والمساواة للجميع مطالب كل ثورة حقيقية؟

Time to remember Yemen’s forgotten workers

"Coming generations will learn equality from poverty, and love from woes" - Gibran Khalil Gibran

For months, piles of red, blue, green, and yellow plastic trash bags spilled into the streets throughout Yemen, filling the cities with the unbearable stench of filth and decay. This was due to a nationwide strike by sanitation workers demanding improved work conditions.

This protest was not the first of its kind. Garbage collectors have gone on strike five times since 1993 to demand higher wages. While they managed to secure wage increases from $0.93 to $3.80 per day, they have also incurred the heavy cost of imprisonment of labor union members for weeks and sometimes months. This increase in wages technically puts them above the poverty line, but they continue to work under extremely insecure and harsh conditions with the lowest wages for public sector employees.
The workers framed their grievances in terms of both economic exploitation and social inequality. As their struggle was integrated into broader national narratives of suffering, the inequities of their situation became more commonly recognized and sympathized with, in spite of continued and considerable discrimination.
The majority of sanitation workers belong to an ostracized social group which self- identifies as al-muhammashin (the marginalized), but is more commonly and derogatorily known as al-akhdam (the servants).
In each neighborhood, residents complained about street cleaners and their strike.  Ahmed, a neighborhood local authority hence decided to solve the problem, he was determined to go visit the street cleaners and demand that they go back to their jobs.  Most street cleaners, if not all, are part of a marginalized community commonly referred to with the derogatory term “al-Akhdam” the servants.

As Ahmed entered the home of one of the workers, he was struck by the overcrowded space, and lack of basic infrastructure such as sewage system, water, and electricity.  While this was only five minutes away from his home, it was miles away in terms of difference.  As they began explaining their harsh work conditions, under-paid salaries, and exclusion from basic rights such as education and health care, Ahmed’s demanding tone softened.  After one hour, he expressed his solidarity with them, and encouraged them to continue their strike.   

Garbage collectors work under very harsh conditions. They are not officially employed by the government, and are only contracted to work per day receiving $3.80 to $4 per day and work 360 days a year, with “no vacation days, no holidays, no social or medical insurance, and the years of work do not count towards promotion" said Haidar Swaid, head of Cleaners Friendship Society. “A man who worked 18 years is like the man who started work yesterday” he added.
While they have a very tough job and work in unsanitary areas, they are denied medical insurance, and do not have the proper clothing for protection.  No gloves are even offered for them while they are doing their job.

The government also does not respect the employment laws and hence there are many children working as street cleaners.  In addition, pregnant and breast feeding women suffer from very harsh work conditions with no compensation.  Too often, women street cleaners are also harassed and raped.

Given their fear of being fired as there is no contract to protect them, their poverty, and the fact that they are denied legal defense, they often do not report or sue their perpetrators.  The government  does not address the issue of rape and sexual harassment against marginalized women in a serious manner, nor the general discrimination and racism against the marginalized community, and street cleaners.

After months of the on and off strikes, the prime minister passed law number 46 which decreed full employment rights and benefits for street cleaners.  This is a good announcement as it will serve to not only give workers their rights (if implemented) but also reduce corruption.  The “daily contractors” system helped maintain corruption as many managers often hire “fake and non existing” street cleaners in order to embezzle the money. 

Street cleaners have given the government three month period to implement the law or else they will return to their strike.  This is because the previous government had already passed two laws in April 2008, law number 292 and 517 which decreed full employment of street cleaners with complete benefits. Unfortunately, this law was never implemented.  It is therefore vital that we push for the implementation of this law, and pressure the government to make this a national priority that should be discussed in the national dialogue.

The bitter truth that many try to avoid is that this discrimination is not only institutionalized practice, but also due to cultural practices.  The marginalized community often face brutal verbal abuse and discrimination from their fellow citizens.  Common sayings such as “if a dog eats from your plate clean it, if a khadim eats from your plate, break it”, or “he who befriends a khadim will regret it”
are examples of the prevent and widespread discrimination.  It is therefore vital that the state has the political will to integrate the marginalized community in mainstream society, criminalize discrimination and racism, and raise awareness on this topic.

In honor of labor day, let us take a moment to remember the street cleaners. While many of us are on holiday today, these hidden heroes are working even on the day that is assigned to honor them. 

Thank them, be grateful for their hard work, and give them the recognition they deserve.  Most importantly, stand in solidarity with their demands for equality and justice. Next time street cleaners are demonstrating for their rights, everyone should join them in order to make it a national issue.  

After all, isn’t that what the revolution was about?
Equality, justice and and freedom for all.