Yemeni Women, Leaders and Warriors: Including a note to all Islamophobes from one of the most Veiled Societies in the World.
(Topic Cont’d from this POST )
Yemen has received much criticism 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.
For quite some time now, women continue to struggle when choosing to partake in political affairs. In a system so heavily shaped by outdated tenets, women face taxing constraints when seeking to establish a voice within government. For instance, as a nation with over 7,000 tribes, many political meetings occur in the traditional form of Jalasat. A Jalasa is a gathering in which individuals are seated on the Yemeni Jalsa (floor seating arrangement) while chewing Khat. These meetings, in which many significant topics are discussed and decisions made, are gender isolated, for it is improper for any woman to sit amongst men while chewing Khat. This reminds me of the western form of gender exclusion in business and politics, when meetings would be held after hours at country clubs. As of today, out of 301 Yemeni parliamentary members, only one is a woman. In some Yemeni societies, it is considered taboo for a woman to become an attorney or take on any profession that may place her in the public eye. These are some challenges women face in political and professional environments.
In regards to policy, there have been many policies and laws implemented that have left Yemeni women shorthanded. In 2008, the National women’s Committee (NWC) formed legal teams, which worked to examine gender discrepancies within Yemeni law. This analysis of Yemeni law was to ensure that the Yemeni legal system complied with Islamic principles. They examined the Yemeni constitution and international conventions ratified by the Republic of Yemen, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). These legal teams concluded that they found clear evidence that there was blatant discrimination embedded in some provisions, essentially in the Personal Status Law, the National Law and the Penalty Law. [Yemen Observer]
For instance, the Personal Status Law does not specify a legal age of marriage, thus perpetuating the long time tradition of child brides. This creates in inadvertent effect and interference in the individual’s development and well-being: inability to continue her education and the possibility of early pregnancies which many times causes fistulas or death during child birth. The Personal Status Law also permits polygamy. This is a big problem many Yemeni women face, the legal freedom of her partner remarrying. And in most cases, in a surreptitious manner without her consent. The law in no way specifies provisions that would mandate the male party to inform his wife. This lack of consent is a clear violation of Islamic law.
This law also discriminates against divorced women in the matter of child custody. Many women who are unhappily married decide to stay married so as not lose custody of her child. There have been many instances in which civil courts have ruled in favor of the male party and have ordered the forced removal of the child from his mother. These along with 61 other provisions have been identified as discriminatory.
Today, the illiteracy rate amongst women is at 67% and girls as young as 9 are married to men who are in most cases much older. This however is drastically changing. Women are breaking away from this system and demanding their rights. In the case of Nujood Ali, she was married at the age of ten, and broke tribal tradition when she walked into a courtroom demanding a divorce in 2008. Similar acts of courage have now spread all across Yemen. A tradition that was once met with tears and fear is now met with a strong voice of rejection and disapproval. Young girls are no longer accepting these very old traditions.
Women rights activists are found all over the country. Women are opening organizations, which monitor human rights infractions and work to protect the rights of both women and men. They are claiming political positions and many have excelled so far in their fields that they have gone international. Amat Al Alim Alsoswa is one of them. She is a Yemeni politician who once started as Sana’a TV’s Deputy TV Programs Director. She currently serves as the Assistant Secretary General, Assistant Administrator of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Director of its Regional Bureau for Arab States.
Yemeni women have also taken over the media. Some of Yemen’s most outspoken journalists and writers are women. Their voices are heard in newspapers, magazines, news segments, and online blogs. The late Dr. Raufa Hassan was Yemen’s first female journalist and a renowned intellectual figure. Through her work and contributions to development, education and culture, she had left an overwhelming effect on women all over the country. Even after her death in April 2011, she continues to inspire women to excel.
Yemeni women are also leading the revolution. With leaders like Tawakkol Karman, the revolution continues to grow. Tawakkol Karman, the Chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains, has fought for reform for years. With the ignition of the Arab Spring, Tawakkol Karman and many other activists were well aware of their opportunity at hand. Today, Karman is a symbol of revolution and an inspiration to men and women in Yemen and on an international scale.
These women have taken the courageous roles of leaders, activists, and campers of Tagheer Square; they spend endless hours as doctors and nurses at the makeshift hospital, commit to acts of civil disobedience and go on fearlessly writing about the political corruption in their land. They are our true heroes.
The role of women in our subsequent government is essential. Their influence on policy is crucial when considering societal development. It is extremely crucial that women are designated leadership roles within any future restructuring of government. It is clear that Yemeni women could make major contributions to comprehensive reform and development. They hold strength and perspective that we need as a nation. They represent a voice that has tended to be ignored. It is time that this voice is heard.
Yemeni women will not only make an everlasting effect on social progression in Yemen, but also internationally. In light of the current international debate of Muslim women and the Niqab, Yemen as a veiled nation, will set an example against Islamophobic rhetoric and policy making, exhibiting and underscoring that gender inequality is not an Islamic issue, but a global issue. The Niqab isn’t what limits women, it is culture and policy. Just like policies implemented in France, women are controlled and regulated through societal norms and legislation inspired by prejudice and ignorance. It is the very act of regulating women that has continued to restrain them. What makes the west think that Niqabi women need to be liberated? The act in itself demoralizes and devalues women, implying that we are a gender unable to fight for the very rights we deserve. Policy-makers are suggesting that women are inadequate and unable to protect the rights that they are being “deprived” of.
A message to all the Islamophobes of the world: Look at Yemen, a perfect example of culture and policy depriving women of rights. What has allowed women to grow and lead right now is the very thing you fear: Islam. This is our weapon. We not need your policies and bias views. It is the strength of women that will topple injustice and corruption.
These women are breaking stereotypes and will continue to do so. These are individuals you should learn from, individuals who endure and persist, not against Islam but against a more global phenomenon: ethnocentric bigotry and sexism. Islam is our weapon, and we will continue to endure so as long as the words of Allah are at the tips our tongues.
And to all my fellow women, whether Yemeni or Non Yemeni, continue to resist ideological oppression. Continue to fight for the inherent dignity and rights that we are all equally endowed. Continue to revolutionize and show the world that women are changing policy, with our Niqabs on. Continue to fight against the cruel ethnocentrism of our so-called saviors, who supposedly carry the torch to our own liberation. We carry our own torches; our torches are the women before us who continue to inspire us. Our torches are women like Nujood Ali, Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, Dr. Raufa Hassan and Tawakkol Karman. Yemeni women, continue to be inspired and continue to inspire. You are our leaders. You are our warriors. Show the world how it’s done.
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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.
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]
- 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
- 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
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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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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 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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My friends decided to bring him home to Sana’a, hoping they could better his situation. On the trip from the rest stop to Sana’a, Jilaal appeared to be nervous and uncomfortable. You would expect him to be when in a strange car with two strange men. He forced himself to stay awake until he arrived in Sana’a safely. Upon arriving to our home, we had already prepared a suitcase with fresh new clothes, shoes and some pocket money for the month. As I greeted him at the door, I was brought to tears. He was frail and skeletal, sun burned and frost bit. He was malnourished and clearly emotionally and psychologically abused. I approached him, trying to get closer to him. He resisted, stepping back with fear and uncertainty filling his eyes. As he made way into the house, he took a seat without letting his guard down. I sat down next to him and tried to reach out to him with my hand, but his hands were firmly placed on his lap. I placed my hand on his and felt what I realized was the story of his struggle. As I rubbed my hand over his, I felt the splinters from what was sure caused by the laborious work he had done, cracks from what was sure to be frost bite caused by his long nights alone on the streets. The surface of his skin resembled sandpaper and its skeletal feel a sign of lack of nourishment and food rations.
Although his hands and skin exhibited all the physical signs of abuse, his eyes gave away the rest. The fear and uncertainty in his eyes revealed his dark and abusive life and struggle. There were clear signs of molestation and abuse when he backed away into the wall as I tried sizing up a pair of trousers to have him change into. A strong sense of shame overwhelmed me. As I was seated next to him in my elaborately furnished villa, wearing my designer clothes I felt embarrassed and self-conscious. I felt little and trivial. I looked at the small child and felt like the weight he has carried in his short life is more than I would ever know and understand. As my younger siblings entered the room I walked away and allowed them to make his acquaintance. I watched from a distance and suddenly was astounded by his smile. He smiled, and with this smile I found a snippet of what was left of his innocence and purity. Bizarrely, a sense of envy overpowered me. I envied this boy. Not for the horrible life he was forced to live, but for his resilience. For his ability to smile despite all he had experienced. I was envious of his strength. As he began to nibble on some of the cookies and pastries we gave him, I was distracted by what I assumed was him mumbling beneath his breath. As I got closer, I realized that between every bite, he read a prayer, a prayer and supplication of all thanks be to Allah. How can the weak person in me not be envious?
Again, Jilaal is not unique nor one of a kind. I met Jilaal in July and continue to fall in love with him more and more every day. He is a part of a marginalized group that serves as a majority in Yemen. He is hauled out of restaurants when he asks for food to fill his churning stomach, he is ignored and unnoticed as he stands on street corners asking for work, and those who choose to notice him look at him with pity and shame; but we shouldn’t pity him, we should pity ourselves. He has lived and seen the world for what it can be. He has seen the good and the bad. He has experienced life in a way we can never understand. And with this he is able to smile.
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Several weeks ago, I was in a cab when a rush of black tinted SUVs approached, signaling us to make way. I rolled down my window and yelled, “You don’t own the street! What’s going on?” It turned out the president was inside one of the SUVs. “If only he could spend just as much resources on his people, as he does on himself,” I said to the cab driver, as I rolled up my window. “If only” he replied as he too rolled up his window to avoid the upcoming mob of child beggars we were to meet at the end of the street.
The influx of child laborers is palpable, as they begin to deluge Yemen’s busy intersections and checkpoints. Child labor has become more of an emerging concern as poverty and lack of education continue to grow. One may argue that child labor will never be eradicated so as long as poverty subsists, this however is a myth. Conversely, without the implementation of education in the lives of children and redirection of child laborers towards schools rather than the busy streets and Suqs of Yemen, POVERTY WILL NEVER BE ERADICATED. Child labor perpetuates poverty (ICCLE).* With the absence of education, comes the inability to develop as an individual, consequently leaving no room for societal progression.
This is something that has unfortunately become embedded in Yemeni Culture. On a wider scale you’ll find the government overlooking its people by neglecting the nation’s infrastructure and individual development. This problem runs deep into the homes of Yemen’s populace. Individual development is no longer a priority or concern. Rather, you’ll find that short-term solutions, like removing your child from school to make a living, would instead suffice. This has proven to be counter- productive to the country’s development as a whole. With weakened state institutes, you’ll come across limited support and resources in the academic arena.
Without reforming our short-term policies that relieve no one but those who pass them, we are rendering our children incapable of producing stabilized futures for themselves and our nation as a whole. With this, we leave our nation predisposed not only to economic instability, but political and social instability as well. For the sake of our future posterity, let us speak up and recognize that a great injustice is in action. Let us speak up before it’s too late.