Maha (name changed), a university-educated woman, explained how her life has changed since this past Friday, when a bloody massacre left over 50 anti-government protesters dead. President Saleh immediately declared a state of emergency in Yemen, which has sought to restrict the movement of individuals and closed public schools and universities (private universities, including the Islamic Iman University, remain open). When she now wants to travel to Sana’a, Maha and her family must pass through a series of checkpoints, a reality she had never before experienced.
The current uprisings throughout Sana’a are beginning to take a severe toll on the Yemeni population, at least in the capital city. Yesterday, many private companies throughout Sana’a asked their employees to return home and remain indoors; as a substantial portion of Yemenis live on less than 2 dollars a day, however, the economic pressures the state of emergency is exerting on the population have led some to defy orders and seek work.
Change, But Who and How?
While hope and a fervent desire for change can be found among the revolutionary Yemeni youth, uncertainty about the future seems to be the pervasive emotion in the homes and camps throughout Sana’a. The resignation of former key government supporters, including a number of government Ministers and Ambassadors, has created a severe sense of unease among the revolutionary population. They also fear that should Saleh fall, his half-brother or another, similarly oppressive leader will seize power, such that a regime shift may occur without any true change or development on the ground.
A significant complicating factor in the Yemeni uprisings is that while the Yemeni youth desire change, they generally support neither the government nor the opposition forces. From the beginning, the opposition group has not pandered to the youth, and the youth did not pledge their support to them. Emblematic of this indecision is the growth of a youth group that calls itself ‘The Youth Group without a Political Party,’ which is currently gaining supporters throughout Sana’a. Maha fears that the majority of the young revolutionaries have no clear idea of what the desired outcome of the uprisings should look like, nor how this change should be achieved.
As in Egypt, no single young leader is emerging out of the unrest; however, unlike in Cairo, with a population of close to 20 million, many of whom are educated, only a small minority of the less than two million people who live in Sana’a are educated. This imbalance is hindering a common formulation of what post-revolution Yemen should look like; the agitation for change, without clear direction or even the present ability of an individual to emerge out of the masses and give direction, raises questions about how successful this movement can be. Maha strongly emphasized that Yemen and Egypt cannot be compared in their revolutionary paths, as Egypt’s revolutionary youths’ very poignant idea of and desire for democracy cannot be found reflected among the Yemeni youth.
In general, Yemenis support the Allied enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya; they fear that if President Saleh is not removed, he will become a second Gaddafi. However, Yemenis are very concerned about the humanitarian consequences and are afraid that such external intervention could have a lasting effect on Libya and the Middle East in general. There are fears that the no-fly zone is the beginning of ‘a second Iraq,’ but those who are frustrated with Arab autocrats believe that there should be sacrifices in order to create change. responded that “the Yemenis feel that civilians are likely to die either way, and that it is better for civilians to die at the hands of the Allied forces than at the hands of crazy Gaddafi. They hope that Libyans will ultimately cultivate the fruits of their new revolution. ”
Western Media Focus
Western media have reported that Saleh’s tribe has rescinded his membership; when asked about how strongly this information is featured in the Yemeni media, Maha noted that it was only peripherally mentioned in the Sana’a press. Also of concern is that while the Western media have highlighted the role of Tawakkol Karman, a leading female activist who was kidnapped at the beginning of the unrest and who played a key role in the protests at the University of Sana’a, has been very quiet in recent days, even ending her text message campaign to other activists. Amal al Basha, the Executive Director of the Sisters Arab Forum, is instead slowly emerging as a very loud supporter of change.
Women are playing a significant role in this uprising. They cook and supply food to the protesters, support their husbands, and also take to the streets themselves. Significantly, women and men are mixing in the camps.
Rise of Extremsim
Maha’s friend, a political analyst, yesterday identified Taliban who are beginning to infiltrate these camps. One of their first efforts is to segregate male and female protesters, claiming that the mixing of the genders is against religious law. These initial steps, combined with the Taliban’s growing presence in the camps, raises concerns about the rise of Islamist extremists to fill the vacuum being created by revolutionary agitation with no clear goal or leader.
Facebook has become the most important medium for the youthful revolutionaries to communicate and exchange information; very few listen to or watch the news and/or read newspapers. Yesterday, a youth group began posting their demands on a Facebook page.
To read more about the situation on the ground in Yemen, visit the Yemen Times
Further up-to-date information about the uprisings in Yemen can be found on the BBC's website.