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Archive for April, 2011

True or Cruel Intentions: How loyal are some of the opposition’s political interest groups? And what does this mean for our transition?

The Islah party, the Yemeni Socialist Party, Hisb Al-Haq, the Nasserite Unionist Party, the Popular Forces Union Party, the Houthis, Southern secessionists and the list goes on and on. These are all political interest groups that are part of the opposition. This is what we are left with and what the opposition now encompasses; groups each seeking their own interests. The only homogeneity within the movement is that they all want Ali gone. This however is not enough.

These divisions are weakening the opposition movement. It’s something we have all been thinking about. It’s a fear we all share. It’s a weakness that the ruling party has exploited for their own political platform and is the foundation of their manifesto to keep Ali Saleh and his cohorts in power. It is the fear of shifting loyalties amongst the opposition once the regime collapses (i.e. defectors that have joined the opposition).

Yet it seems like we are all in denial or at least have set these concerns aside. This revolution started as a youth led movement. It started as a movement led by students, professionals and the average citizen. Why have we allowed this movement to become so politicized and divided? As I walk through Tagheer Square, the once firm and distinct voice of revolution is now replaced by echoes of multiple disorienting positions.

It is a shame and it leaves me concerned about the favorable outcome of this revolution. After all we have lost, and after months of tireless effort, how certain are we that once its time for Ali to step down, we would have a smooth transition? The fact is that we won’t. I’ve heard too many people speak of a smooth transition, but let’s be clear, like every other transitioning government, there will be controversy, and there will vultures waiting to swoop in and take over. This fear will continue to proliferate so as long as we continue to set it aside.

As a concerned citizen I wonder. I am also certain, that some of those on the opposition reading this wouldn’t be too happy with my candid views. My concerns are valid. And they represent the angst and apprehension of the Yemeni people as a whole. One thing we all have in common, whether oppositionist or loyalist, is a genuine concern for Yemen’s future posterity. Isn’t this what this whole movement is about?  So let’s voice our concerns and set aside our differences and speak frankly. Lets leave no room for obscurity and be as transparent as can be.

Since the start of the movement, there has been little to no room for open dialogue on this issue. Most are ignoring the elephant in the room, and guys, it’s getting larger by the day. As Ali’s resignation is near, tensions amongst these groups have intensified. Some of these groups, former cohorts and defectors of the current regime have been allowed unlimited access and involvement within the movement, some more than others.

It is important that we address the concerns of all opposing views, while bearing caution. We need to recognize the differing ideologies within our country and ensure all that our subsequent government will equally tackle the challenges of each faction. We must demonstrate to all that our days of marginalizing and disenfranchising are over. It is something that needs to be proven. I am sure that most are skeptical of this just as some of us are skeptical of each other’s intentions, so this change starts now. There have been a number of complaints made by groups within the square of such alienation. Members of youth and student led groups for instance, have reported that their concerns have been ignored and overlooked.

How can we promise and demand change when this isn’t always demonstrated within the opposition? When the JMP agreed to the GCC plan, no one was celebrating at the square. What many perceived as a step towards change most deemed as a subversive move by individuals seeking their own interests. Many argue that although the main opposition bloc has a formidable voice within the movement, they are in no way a representation of the voice of the people. Again, this is a clear implication of distinct inconsistencies within the movement.

In order to achieve something close to a smooth and stable transition, we must first start by establishing transparency through open dialogue. I attended a meeting at the Square on April 26th, mediated by Tawakkol Karman and Khaled Alansi. The meeting was held in attempt to do just this: unite all groups into one solid bloc. We need to increase such efforts in establishing one voice.

There is a possibility of success if these divisions amongst the opposition are overlooked for the sake of the movement. Our only option at avoiding civil unrest is if these groups can unite and form an interim government; one that demonstrates legal pluralism and can address the political concerns of all. This is our current challenge. We asked for the end of our current regime, and its end is imminent. We must now tackle the issue of divisions and work to unite.

Lastly, we must not allow our differences as oppositionists and loyalists to interfere with our efforts of building a stronger and better nation. We are all one people. Whether we demand reform or restructuring of government, we must now extend negotiations and establish dialogue within the people collectively. We have built Berlin walls, and have developed sentiments of rage, indignation and intolerance for one another.

When I visited last Friday’s Pro-Saleh rally, I admit, I entered the square with similar sentiments; however, once I began talking to people and as I stood amongst them I ironically felt a strong sense of patriotism. They have every right to share their opinions. How could I fight for democracy while concurrently viewing their demands as uninformed? How could I fight for democracy while concurrently viewing these individuals as misguided simpletons? How could I consider anyone of an opposing view as a negligent member of society? This in itself is counterproductive and a contradiction to this revolution. This is where I fail. This is where we all fail. We need to overlook our differences and retract from all inclinations that may direct us to further divide ourselves as a people. We need to remind ourselves why we are all out here. It is for Yemen. Bilaadana al Yemen.

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The Opposition

Al-Islah is a key opposition party in Yemen. They hold about 20% of legislature’s seats. Al Islah carries both Islamist and tribal undertones. A major figure in their party is Salafi preacher, Abdul Majid Al-Zindani who has been referred to by the United States as a “global terrorist”; however, Al-Zindani has established a strong following in Yemen, and is revered by many. The Muslim Brotherhood is also an active part of the Islah party. The Ahmar family’s late patriarch, Abdullah Al-Ahmar, founded the party.

Due to the Islah’s Islamist/tribal split, there are many internal ideological differences within the party in regards to the role of government, women in politics, and some other issues. These differences have counteracted their active role in government, and instead have kept their influence at a minimal function for quite some time.

The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) was founded in 2002 as a coalition of opposition parties working towards political and economic reform. The Islah party has since joined the coalition. JMP also includes the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), which is more popular in the South, Hisb Al-Haq, the Nasserite Unionist Party, and the Popular Forces Union Party. The JMP is can also be synonymous to the Common Forum. Given its diversity in political theories and convictions, you will also find division within the JMP.

Al-Ahmar Family One of Saleh’s main political challenges comes from the sons of the late Abdullah al-Ahmar, the former leader of the Hashid tribal confederation. Abdullah was a longtime ally of the president’s, but his sons are less loyal – particularly Hamid, a prominent businessman who is considered a potential successor to Saleh. Hamid has opposed the president for a number of years – in a 2009 interview with Al Jazeera, he accused the president of treason.

Several other Ahmar brothers help to make the family a potent political force. Himyar al-Ahmar is the deputy speaker of parliament, and Hussein al-Ahmar is a leader of the Hashid – though his influence is limited – who resigned last week from the ruling General People’s Congress. “The Ahmars are the paramount sheikhs of the Hashid confederacy,” said Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, a prominent Yemeni political analyst. “They clearly think this is an opportunity to take what they’re entitled to.” [Source: Aljazeera]

Houthi Rebellion It is hard to imagine the Houthis, who have fought an on-again, off-again civil war with Sanaa since 2004, playing any role in any “unity government” sponsored by Saleh. Their grievances are complicated. They worry that their religion (the Houthis are Zaydi Shia) is threatened by creeping Wahhabi influence; and they are frustrated with the economic marginalisation of the north, particularly Saada province. Sanaa, in turn, has accused the Houthis of being Iranian agents.

Various cease-fires since 2004 have inevitably collapsed, and so the Houthis’ political role has been extremely limited. Saleh said last year, following the most recent truce, that the Houthis could form a political party and contest elections. But they have had little involvement with Yemeni politics since. The Houthis issued a statement endorsing the anti-Saleh protests, but it is unclear what role, if any, they would seek to play in a post-Saleh Yemen. [Source: Aljazeera]

Southern Movement Also murky are the desires of the secessionist Southern Movement. The movement’s leaders have temporarily dropped their demands for independence, choosing instead to support the protests and call for Saleh’s ouster. If he is to fall, it is uncertain though whether the Southern Movement would revert back to demanding secession.

The movement traces its roots back to 1994, when south Yemen tried (and failed) to secede from the north. Its longstanding grievances are economic: Sana’a has not done enough to develop the south’s economy, the movement argues, and many northerners enriched themselves by illegally seizing land from southerners.

Its anti-government demonstrations have increased over the last two years, and the movement enjoys popular support from many in the south. And its grievances are systemic: Saleh’s resignation would not, by itself, resolve Yemen’s economic inequality. [Source: Al-Jazeera]

DEFECTORS:

Army Officers

  • Brigadier Ali Mohsen Saleh, head of the North Western Military Zone
  • Brigadier Hameed Al koshebi, head of brigade 310 in Omran area
  • Brigadier Mohammed Ali Mohsen, head of the Eastern Division
  • Brigadier Nasser Eljahori, head of brigade 121
  • General Ali Abdullaha Aliewa, adviser of the Yemeni supreme leader of the army
  • General Faisal Rajab, based in the southern province of Lahij
  • “Dozens of officers of various ranks” – AFP

Diplomats:

  • Abdel-Wahhab Tawaf, Ambassador to Syria
  • Mohammed Ali al-Ahwal, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
  • Ambassador to Jordan
  • Ambassador to Egypt
  • Ambassador to Kuwait
  • Ambassador to China
  • Ambassador to Algeria
  • Ambassador to Indonesia
  • Ambassador to Iraq
  • Ambassador to Qatar
  • Ambassador to Belgium
  • Ambassador to Pakistan
  • Ambassador to Czech Republic
  • Ambassador to Spain
  • Ambassador to Germany
  • Ambassador to Oman
  • Ambassador to the UN
  • Charge d’affairs to Tunisia
  • Representative to the Arab League
  • All embassy staff in Washington except the ambassador

[Source: Al-jazeera]

 

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Where the F*** is our humanity?!

I need to vent! I just got back from Tagheer’s Makeshift hospital. The situation is dire as usual, mass casualties and multiple fatalities. Walking through the hospital you hear cries of agony, bodies lined up on the floor palpitating, the tiled floor stained with blood. A body lay in the back of the mosque, drenched in blood, brain matter trickling from the bullet’s entry wound. On the body is a torn piece of cardboard, with the name of the martyr: Nasser Mohamed Hizam Qa7than; a Qur’an lay beneath it; absolutely devastating.

We later hear that there were dozens kidnapped at the rally including 4 nurses from the Makeshift hospital. What has happened to Yemen? Yes I know, there are a lot worse conditions and atrocities committed around the world, but this still makes me ask the same question: Where is our humanity? How can we allow such atrocities to occur around the world?

I understand what makes us do this. What makes us ignore the agony of people around us? It isn’t always a loss of our humanity. In most instances it is a form of distancing ourselves from these situations. As human beings, we have a natural propensity to protect ourselves from things we fear. It is the coward in us that drives us to turn our backs on those who need us. We exonerate ourselves and instead of fighting to preserve the sanctity of life we look for ways to avoid our human obligations.

I get it. We all do it, all the time. We witness acts of cruelty, horror and brutality, yet we continue to withdraw ourselves and excuse ourselves in order to evade our sense of guilt. I’ve never really taken this Hobbesian philosophy too seriously, I’ve always been an optimist, always looking for the best in people; but lately I’ve felt like we’ve failed ourselves. We’re failed each other. We’ve failed humanity.

This makes me so disappointed, so pessimistic at times. Today, after everything I’ve seen, that’s how I feel. I feel hopeless and dismayed. It’s the worse feeling in the world.

I need to remind myself that there are people out there that still care; people that give a fuck; people that will put their lives on the line to preserve humanity as a whole. People who will stand up against oppression and cruelty and despite all their fears look it straight in the eye and face it.

I’m neither naïve nor am I impressionable. I understand that cruelty and evil will always exist. It has in the past and will in the future. But instead of just accepting this as our reality and surrendering to it, why not do everything within our power to combat it. Just like a cancer that has taken over one’s body. Why not fight it? Why not strengthen ourselves not as separate nations, but as a global society and stand up to face this evil? We’ve seen the worse acts of cruelty occur historically, and instead of speaking out against it and reacting we’ve ignored it. We continue to do this to this day. I’m not asking for us to do the impossible, all I’m asking is that we do our best within our own capabilities. In whatever capacity we can. We’ve created global entities like the United Nations to stand against oppression, yet the UN in itself has become in many ways politicized and in many instances continues to fail when it comes to their responsibilities.

Those who do speak out against these atrocities are in small denominations. We need to continue to grow. We need learn to empathize more for others. Why must we wait for evil to knock on our doors to react? Why must it be one of us, in order to feel the suffering of others?

We need to reconnect with our own humanity for the sake of Yemen and every other person suffering around the world. Let us end this distancing and break down the walls we’ve built and link our hearts and souls together. We are all human. So let’s start acting like it!

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A Better Yemen is found in Tagheer’s Makeshift City

As you walk through the streets of Tagheer Square, you instantly forget that this was formerly a university campus. Rows of distinct tents go farther than the eye can see. Try walking to the end; it may take you all day. Tagheer has expanded its borders beyond the campus into the city. Barbed wire restricts freedom of movement in small neighborhood entryways, containing the demonstrators in this makeshift city and preventing harmful intruders from disturbing the peace. Instead there are a select few ports of entry and exits heavily guarded and secured.

There is no other way to explain it. The square has turned into its own sovereign city. With an army guarding the perimeter, thriving businesses, makeshift hospitals, and tents offering its inhabitants shelter, it is a city in itself. This is almost prophetic, a glimpse into a possible future for Yemen. This city represents what Yemen could potentially be. Despite recent attacks, it is one of the safest places for an individual to be.  Once you cross through it’s borders you’ll find a sense of brotherhood, harmony, fortification, and solace.  There is no room for dishonesty, harassment, or vice.

This revolution and square is led and kept by a diverse group of people: students, youth, feminists, civil society/professionals, religious leaders, tribes. It is legal pluralism at its best, and it again debunks the idea of Yemen’s inability to politically thrive, and reinforces the feasibility of Yemen maintaining its traditional tribal roots while grabbing hold to untainted democracy. I am a firm believer that change starts with the individual. And yes, change takes time; however, the people in Tagheer have demonstrated an inclination and willingness to self-reformation through their commitment and enforcement within the square. Their demands are accompanied with action and example. This is where change begins.

This change is exhibited through the square’s makeshift hospital, formerly the University’s mosque. No one is turned away here. As some hospitals outside the square turn injured demonstrators away, this hospital takes them in. It has opened its doors to all. In recent attacks, it has received victims from both the opposition and loyalists (including the President’s thugs). Dr. Abdelaziz, head of operations at the hospital explained that it is unethical to turn anyone away, regardless of their political affiliation. He emphasized that change starts within the borders of the square and when demanding change, one must lead by example.

Although this makeshift city offers Yemenis optimism, and proves it is capable of betterment, there is a masked and lingering threat of deceit and infiltration. The truth is, there are individuals amongst us who claim to be loyal to Tagheer’s cause, but instead divulge information on the opposition to those interested in the ruling party. One can possibly consider this as an indication of the ruling party feeling shaky and threatened by the oppositions overwhelming force; yet, this raises security and safety concerns. How can one feel so safe yet so insecure at the same time? All sorts of feelings like uncertainty and apprehension are consistently reckoned with. Stories of arrests, deportations, kidnappings and death are shared and accompanied with warning. Paranoia sets in for many, yet these attempts of intimidation fall flat, as all remain motivated and unyielding, well aware, that this is greater than the individual him/herself; it is a movement of an entire people. It is inspiring to witness a people so oblivious to the self, and instead so committed to the nation as a whole. It’s no longer me it is we.

For all those part of this movement, through this makeshift city you have tasted what it feels like to be free, to have a voice. In this interim city, you have improvised your dreams, impositions and desires. You have allowed yourself to dream again, but this time all in actuality. You have taken command of your life, and finally recognize that you are worthy of what every human being rightfully warrants, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And no one can tell you otherwise.

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Yemen on the Brink

Yemen today is at its tipping point; it is on the brink. It has arrived at a pinnacle phase in its recent history. What ensues within this interlude is what will determine its fate and its imminent role in the global community. It is imperative that this period is documented and the right inquiries are investigated. The international community tends to inaccurately associate the entire Middle Eastern region into one category, assuming they are mostly similar and homogenous. We fail to recognize the apparent distinguishable traits each country carries; the differing political structures and forms of governance; the economic disparities and religious diversity. These differences that we find are crucial in accurately comprehending societal upheaval. Yemen unlike most of the Middle East is a predominantly tribal nation, historically isolated from our global society. When many parts of the world were experiencing the industrial age, Yemen remained secluded and failed to partake in global development and advancement. Traces of this are found in Yemen today. This lack of technology and advanced communication is not only the result of historical influence but economic instability. Poverty in most part caused by corruption, is the current fundamental basis that hinders technological growth and development and underscores the motivation behind today’s revolution. The average Yemeni lives on $2.00 (USD) a day and massive inflation has contributed to their deteriorating condition. Seventy percent of the Yemeni population is below the age of 25 and most face unemployment.

Accompanying challenges such as corruption and poverty, Yemen faces more daunting hurdles: mounting economic crisis; festering regional tensions such as that of the north with the Houthi rebels and a secessionist movement in the south; deteriorating natural resources such as oil and water; and increasing threats of terrorist infiltration (AQAP). The current regime has juggled these challenges for some time now; however, the inability to instill long-term solutions has left Yemen teetering on the edge of collapse and further instability. The neglect and increasing corruption within the ruling party has aggravated the sentiments of the Yemeni people and has pushed them to edge. With the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, came the final push that forced Yemenis to face their current struggles and offered them optimism and inspiration for greater possibilities and opportunity. It gave Yemenis the opportunity to dream, something that for a long period of time, they forgot to do.

This new-found motivation and repudiation to the “ideals” of the current regime is something revolutionary in itself. A nation once so tolerant of their deteriorating situation, to suddenly denounce their traditional systems of governance, and demand something far superior. A nation that once felt they didn’t deserve what everyone else around the world had, to suddenly stand and shout, “I deserve more!” There is nothing more inspiring and avant-garde than this. There is nothing more revolutionary and groundbreaking than self-revelation. I have never been more proud to be a Yemeni then now, in this very moment. I have never been more proud and honored be alive to witness such a transformation of human character and behavior. At a time when we witness the worst of atrocities like that of Libya, when in the face of brutal repression are acts of integrity, unity and brotherhood. This puts me at ease. And because of this, most importantly, I have never been more proud to be human.

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Tagheer “Change” Square, Sana’a

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The threat of Civil Unrest in Tribal Yemen