Thursday, February 17, 2011

Power of the people

Yemen's recent protests have been small in comparison to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Our parnter in Yemen and editor of the Yemen Times, Nadia Al-Saqqaf, asks whether the difference lies in culture, history, education or civil society.

Watching the news unfold in Tunisia, where mass demonstrations have recently forced the President to flee the country, creates mixed feelings in Yemen. Many of us are happy that the people of an Arab country are standing up for themselves and creating change in a peaceful manner. Personally, I am jealous, apprehensive and doubtful.

I am jealous of the Tunisian people’s strength and unity: how they managed to win the army over to their side.

I wonder whether something like this could happen in Yemen? Could the people revolt and demand dignity? And if they did, would the army be there to support them or would it instead be killing protestors and putting them in prison?

I fear that Yemenis would let each other down. The Tunisian protests began in a few towns in mid-December and spread in a scattered fashion. They were not organized by an opposition political party or by civil society organizations that herded them onto buses or paid for them to chant slogans as we see in Yemen.

Gradually more and more Tunisians took to the streets and joined hands in solidarity at each other’s suffering. There were in it together and knew that the way out required that they stood together united.

And I am also doubtful, doubtful whether Yemenis will stand up for themselves any time soon. Certainly not until they stop being sedated by qat and spending hours every day building castles in the sky. Do Yemenis really care about what is going on in their country?

Perhaps the fact that so many Yemenis are illiterate compared to the 100% literacy rate in Tunisia is a factor. But is feeling hunger, deprivation, and injustice dependant on education? Are educated people more sensitive to their physical and emotional needs than uneducated ones?

On the other hand Yemen has much stronger civil society than Tunisia with a more free and independent media and a semi-democratic system that allows for multiple political parties. Both of these were non-existent in Tunisia.

Or maybe it’s about history? Tunisians had their revolution 23 years ago compared to ours almost 50 years ago. Perhaps our revolution was so long ago that we’ve forgotten how to do it?

Yemenis are hungry, unemployed, uneducated, unhealthy and increasingly unhappy. How much lower do we need to sink before we stand up for ourselves and demand more respect from our rulers?

Originally published in Yemen Times on 15.01.2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

SAVE sisters Aicha El-Wafi and Phyllis Rodriguez at TED Women

Aich El-Wafi, mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been convicted of conspiring to be a part of the 9/11 terror attacks, and Phyllis Rodriguez, whose son Greg was killed in the attack on the Twin Towers, talk about their unlikely but deep friendship at the first ever TEDWomen conference. The conference took place in Washington DC in early December, bringing together some of the world's most influential women and men to listen to inspirational talks about how women and girls are reshaping the future. To watch Aicha and Phyllis tell their story of forgiveness and reconciliation, watch the above video.

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS