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Archive for August, 2011

The Evolution of Yemeni Men and Women Amidst a Revolution

April 19, 2011

Bodies pressed up against one another, the march is so massive, there is barely any room to walk; instead it is best to softly tread so as not to cause panic. I have never seen so many people marching in unison in my life. As I climbed onto the hood of a parked car, I attempted to locate the start or end of the march. I realized that it was almost impossible to tell. The number of men that were marching was in innumerable waves. As soon as I thought I saw the end, a new wave arrived.

Yemen has received a bad rep when it comes to their treatment of women. In large part this is true. In many societies within Yemen, women are viewed as inferior, lack common sense, are melodramatic, and incompetent when leading challenging roles due to their feeble nature. This ideological approach on the role and nature of women in Yemen is quite relative, depending on the society. In many tribes, women play leading roles and are very much valued and idealized. You can find these ideological and cultural discrepancies as you begin to mingle within the Yemeni populace.

Throughout my many visits to Yemen, one thing that never seemed to fail or change was the consistency of verbal harassment and mistreatment. If you are a woman in Yemen, expect to be hit on, criticized, denigrated and sometimes even physically harassed. This misconduct is further consolidated in the capitol, Sana’a. This malignity of women is culturally rooted to the proselytizing of primitive philosophy. This however is about to change.

[Who says chivalry is dead?]

I was suddenly surrounded. The march is massive and growing by the minute. I turn around to find two men making way for me. I began to rotate, observing my surroundings. I realize the men in the rally have created a human barrier circling around me. Their hands locked, so at to protect me from the suffocating mass. Amid the tens of thousands of Yemeni men, I’ve never felt so empowered. This march was in reaction to President Saleh’s statements against gender integration at Tagheer “Change” square; yet another statement towards the degradation of women in Yemen.  This time, the people had enough. These throngs of men were here in uproar, condemning his misogynistic utterances.

Chants from the march:
يا صالح، يا جبان، بنت اليمن ما تنهان ! يا علي، يا جيفه ، بنت اليمن شريفه
“Oh Saleh, you coward, the daughter of Yemen is not to be insulted!” “Oh Ali, you bad odor, the daughter of Yemen is honorable!”

Yemen is at its crucial point. The people have united: man, woman and child. All have joined the effort. These gender disparities and black sheets that once separated a people have been set aside. The people genuinely want change. This yearning for change has transcended what was originally percieved as tradition. It is a revolution against ignorance and the deterioration of a people.

I strongly believe that this return to chivalry is in large part due to the earned respect and appreciation of women’s role in the revolution. Amongst the many who have led the revolution with courage and determination are women. Women have played a significant role in the uprisings. They have put their lives on the line of fire and continue to do so.  These women have surpassed the expectations that Yemeni men have shared for so long, and expunged the conventional image of the “typical” woman. These women have procured the reverence they deserve. It has been an honor thus far to march side by side with women like Tawakkol Karman. These leading females have revolutionized the role of women in a land so frozen in time, in a society so rigid in freedom. These women are our heroes. They inspire us all. This is what promotes change. This is what motivates us to continue. This is what offers our men courage and allows them to face the bullets and poisons of a never-ending regime. It is a hope for a better Yemen.

My families and friends worry about my presence in such dangerous situations. But I have never felt so safe and secure in my life. Despite the bullets that surround us, the poison amidst us, I am inspired. This is all that matters. This is what offers us strength and courage. We feed off each others determination, each others bravery. The male figures of this land that I once feared I have now entrusted with my life. The women that I once sympathized for, I now idolize and revere…

It is a new day in Yemen and there is no going back.

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Yemen’s Saudi Dilemma

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June 07, 2011

As Yemen teeters on the edge of social and political collapse, our attention remains focused on Saudi intervention. Gulf states have attempted to mediate time and time again to end the four-month-old political stalemate that has ended in dozens of abductions, thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths. Yemen is in bad shape and the West has watched from the sidelines as the GCC diplomatic discussions have failed time and time again. Saudi Arabia’s inability to find an alternative and have all parties reach an agreement of compromise has left the Yemeni people uninspired and apprehensive of their intentions.

For many, President Saleh’s lack of regard to GCC attempts and Saudi Arabia’s more recent involvement during this week’s escalating violence has left Yemenis to believe the entire operation is a sham and a front to conceal the Gulf’s true intentions of protecting their own political interests. “Why has it taken them so long? I don’t trust Saudi Arabia in any of Yemen’s business” a demonstrator said to me when asked if he was disappointed about the GCC execution of the deal and Saudi’s direct involvement in state affairs, “Saudi Arabia has never sought the best interest of the Yemeni people, why now?” This is a valid question and for the past couple of months, it’s been a question many people have been asking.

Saudi Arabia has much at stake when it comes to Yemen’s stability and instability. Overseeing and monitoring the transition of Yemen’s structure is in their very best interest. Regulating an inevitable revolution and uprising and its every facet is in their best interest. Playing a role in the political negotiations so as to decide whom and what the Yemeni government will look like is in their best interest.

Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it will do whatever it can to support neighboring monarchies. Their commitment to despotic governments was recently exhibited when they sent troops to Bahrain to protect that monarchy. Keeping the region autocratic is part of their objective to remain in power. This includes keeping their wielding hand in conflict zones like Yemen. Shared ideals are not what keep this region’s ties together, it’s power and interest. This is also translated when considering the Saudi and American relationship. Historically, the US has done everything it could to maintain its strong rapport with Saudi Arabia and to keep the oil flowing, despite American ideals and aspirations of democracy and freedom.

This explains the US’ delayed response after repetitive pleas of intervention by the Yemeni people. It represents the deeply rooted interests of the US in Saudi Arabia. It also symbolizes the deepening rabbit hole and how much the West would ignore to maintain this connection.

Saudi Arabia wants to keep Yemen at the happy medium of not too stable and not too unstable. They have kept their long and powerful wielding hand in Yemeni state affairs for a few decades now, exerting their power through both troops and money.

If Yemen’s peaceful resistance succeeds and Yemen prospers both economically and by developing a political system of value, the weak nation that Saudi Arabia once crushed under its heavy weight will demand its rights and no longer accept the current system of corruption. According to Yemeni analyst Ali Seif Hassan, “Saudi Arabia has often treated Yemen as its backyard.” This will no longer be the case once Yemen reaches a more independent state.

There is also the possibility of Yemenis demanding northern territory that was conquered by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul-Aziz bin Saud in a 1934 war. This land is now southern Saudi territory and is said to be rich in oil.

A major argument made for Saudi involvement is the threat of Yemen’s instability to their national security. For a while now, Saudi Arabia has been providing “economic support” for tribes along the Yemen-Saudi border, hoping to maintain power and influence in the area to fight off the Houthi- Shi’i threat. Al-Houth are a powerful local clan in Sa’ada, along the Saudi border. Saudis view them as fundamentalist Zaydis who serve as a threat to their security.

In addition, Saudi Arabian concerns about the threat of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continue to mature. They fear that the AQAP threat is a growing one and continue to provide the current regime with monetary support as a preventative measure to combat AQAP’s infiltration of the border. Many Yemenis argue the contrary. They claim that the only reason AQAP was able to establish themselves in Yemen was because of the current government neglect and Saudi leaking extremism and Wahhabism from across their border into Yemeni land.

There is also the fear of extreme instability and political unrest creating a breeding ground for further violence and tribal conflict that can also leak into Saudi jurisdiction. This fear has kept Saudi Arabia on their toes. Pushing them even further into the intervention process in Yemen.

It is important that when dealing with Saudi Arabia we keep these realities in mind. We are at a crucial part in our history and we have an opportunity to protect our nation and its interests. We shouldn’t refuse international support and intervention. Instead this intervention and support must come in more implicit forms rather than the more current direct form. This is our opportunity to stand on our own two feet. We can lean on others for support but it’s extremely vital that we remain our own watchdogs. We are asking for an end to a corrupt regime. This includes us reconsidering and reevaluating our current allies.

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