Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Yemeni Citizens Patiently Await the Return of their Country
Originally published In Aramica’s June 1-15, 2011 Issue.
As tribesmen loyal to President Saleh and the Ahmar family, make their way into the Capital, residents make their way out. With the proliferation of violence in the city, thousands of residents have fled to isolated villages outside of Sana’a, hoping to escape the mayhem. “We can’t help but feel terrorized”, “Saleh and Ahmar are the real terrorists” are just some of the statements I’ve heard in the past day. With yesterday’s escalating attacks on the Ahmar Family in Hada and attacks on the presidential palace, residents feel as if Sana’a is on the brink of tribal war. Some of the fear is directly related to the propensity each of these families have to attack in the name of “honor” and retribution. It is a fear that things will eventually snowball into tribal war and further chaos.
As the international media has shifted its focus from the revolution to this family dispute, it has opened a window for consistent attacks by security forces on demonstrators in Taiz and Sana’a. As the world turned its attention to Al-Hasaba, Taiz’s Freedom Sqaure was infiltrated and burned to the ground, as Sana’as Change Square sustained numerous attacks by armed thugs and snipers, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured.
While the city of Sana’a trembles from both the explosions of family war and overpowering fear, residents in Sana’a continue to prepare to flee the capital. Civilian neighborhoods, schools and children’s playgrounds have turned into battle zones where President Saleh and his former cohort Shiekh Sadeq Al-Ahmar duke it own in a game of my gun is bigger than yours. During the initiating phases of the fight, residents in Al-Hasaba area were told to flee their homes. Many did. But for those who could not afford to, they were caught in the clashes, many losing their lives. For those remaining in Al-Hasaba and the new danger zones, they have little to no access to basic necessities like power, food and water. Residents are forced to rush to their cars to charge their phones, their only form of communication, as sounds of mortars and heavy shelling surround them. Families are forced into tiny windowless rooms to take cover as RPGs, mortars and 12/7 heavy artillery weapons explode into the evening and wee hours of the morning.
Humanitarian pleas were sent out through the neighborhood mosque minarets, urging Saleh and Ahmar to end the violence. Today, the fighting in Al-Hasaba persists. The effects of war have extended to all parts of Sana’a as tribesmen leak into the capital infiltrating major streets and contributing to springing violence on all parts of the capital. For everyone else in Sana’a, living conditions are worsening, as the most basic necessities are almost inaccessible. With power outages lasting up to 20 hours a day, residents are living in total darkness as sounds of warfare echo around the city. In addition to roadblocks and increasing checkpoints, inaccessibility to petroleum has also added to difficulties in freedom of movement. With the few gas stations that have limited access to petroleum, there are long lines with customers waiting up to 5 hours, many times forced to walk away empty handed.
Since the latest attack on the Presidential compound, leaving President Saleh wounded with second degree burns, everyone is Sana’a is beginning to prepare for a new wave of attacks by tribesman loyal to the Saleh seeking retribution. Neighborhood watch groups have been formed, as citizens bear arms and guard entry points to their neighborhoods, “There is no security now, it is up to us to protect our families and homes from the inevitable”, said Sadam Saidem, a young man of 18 years, as he stood on the curb with a loaded AK-47 on his back. Most of those who stood with him were much younger. Those who didn’t own weapons were carrying sticks. “We are at a state of lawlessness, and after the attack on the presidential palace, we are sure the President will hit with heavier force!” they said.
As I drove through Sana’a today, the streets that once bustled with street venders, shoppers and traffic are completely empty. Businesses remain closed and traffic is no longer a problem. The streets are bear, the only thing that remains are the child laborers and beggars, a harsh reality of their existence despite the worst circumstances, reminding us that hunger has no boundaries. The square is at a calm, unsure of what will happen next. Experiencing daily attacks has kept them on their feet and uncertain of what the future will bring. One thing that remains consistent is their determination. Despite all this, they remain camped out waiting for President Saleh’s departure. They remain peaceful and continue to wait. The people of Sana’a have done the same. Despite the violence and clashes between President Saleh and Al-Ahmar, they insist they will remain peaceful; they are trapped in the middle of the crossfire, yet remain peaceful. They insist on protecting Yemen while remaining peaceful. And as Sadam puts it, “Yemen belongs to the people, and not some power hungry men that want nothing less but to terrorize