Friday, April 29, 2011

Bahrain Made Personal: One Woman’s Story of Her Missing Father

Aseel Ibrahim Sharif  was interviewed by Anna Therese Day on Peace x Peace's blog.

22-year-old Aseel Ibrahim Sharif is the daughter of Ibrahim Sharif, the Secretary General of Bahrain’s secular opposition party and one of the hundreds of activists detained under the Bahraini government’s recent crackdown.

An activist in her own right, Aseel participated in Bahrain’s initial mid-February protests in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout. She describes herself as “one of the hundreds of women who voiced their opinion.” As she explained, “Nobody is silent in this movement.” Aseel’s activism was taken to a new level when her father was arrested over one month ago.

In her own words, Aseel describes the experience of her family, one of many families suffering through the regime’s crackdown.


Anna Therese Day (ATD): In your own words, can you describe the current situation in Bahrain and, within that context, why your father was targeted for government arrest?

Aseel Ibrahim Sharif (AIS): My father is Secretary General of the Bahraini opposition party, the National Democratic Action Society or “Wa’ad.” Wa’ad is different than the main opposition parties because we are secular, we don’t mix politics and religion.

What has happened in Bahrain is that the government has decided to frame the movement as a sectarian movement to pin it on the Shia. They’re basically fabricating a story about the Shia wanting to overthrow the regime for Iran in order to use this as an excuse to crack down on the protestors.

The fact of the matter is, the protest movement is peaceful, and the demands were never sectarian, they were always national. And that’s where my father comes in. He is Sunni – even though we are secular – but he is a Sunni leader in the end. He does not represent the Sunni nor does he claim to represent the Sunni, but it’s notable to the government to see a Sunni person stand up against the Sunni regime. It’s usually the Shia who voice their opinion more, because they are the majority that is oppressed.

With that said, however, the protest movement encompassed both Shia and Sunni. The majority was Shia, of course, because they are the majority of the population, but there were many Sunnis that were standing with them and the same is true on the other side. The pro-government side was mostly Sunni, but you also have some Shia with them. If the movement was sectarian, you’d see a clear divide, but the government is trying to make it sectarian right now by specifically targeting Shia villages, cracking down on Shia activists, cracking down on athletes, lawyers, nurses, you name it from one sect to turn the whole movement into a sectarian movement.

ATD: What happened on the night of March 17th, the night that your father was arrested?

AIS: My father was taken on March 17th from our house at 2AM. I wasn’t in Bahrain so I got all of this information from my mother, but from her testimony, around 40 masked and armed men came to our house and demanded that my father leave the house. At one point, they pointed a gun at him. When he asked, “Who are you? Where’s your warrant? Where’d you come from?” they avoided the questions until they finally said basically, “We’re security, you have to come with us.” They wouldn’t disclose where he was going.

He left peacefully, there was no resistance from him at all, and, ever since he was taken away, we’ve only received one phone call from him a few weeks after his arrest. The only thing that he managed to say was basically, “I’m fine, and say ‘hi’ to the kids, and how are they?” We haven’t had any visitation rights, we’re not allowed to enter into any investigations, we aren’t even allowed to speak about him under the emergency state in Bahrain.

Everything is a mystery when it comes to the detainees. Their families are usually left in the dark and you just hope for the best. Sometimes they go in and they never come out – my father has already been hospitalized twice, and in recent weeks, we’ve seen that four detainees died in custody.

ATD: What are the demands of your family and others for the resolution of the crackdown in Bahrain?

AIS: We have asked for my father’s release and we continue to do so. We believe that the only forces that will be able to resolve this situation in Bahrain are diplomatic forces abroad. We need the Great Powers and Allies, like the U.S. and the U.K., to intervene and to ensure the safety of detainees, including my father.

In terms of detainees, our demands include that they [the Al-Khalifa regime] uphold basic human rights – allowing phone calls, the presence of a lawyer for all detainees, and a fair trial – and, with that said, we also urge an investigation into the treatment of the detainees. As I mentioned before, four have already died in custody, and the ones who were viewed and photographed by Human Rights Watch showed clear signs of brutal torture, with lash marks all over their bodies.

I think it’s important for the American people to press their government to uphold the democratic values that the U.S. prides itself on. No one should allow any ally of the U.S. to torture their citizens, to make arrests and detainment just for wanting political reform. So I urge all Americans to step up and to use the appropriate channels to pressure President Obama to speak to our government, to send them a harsh wake-up call and stern words to stop torture and end injustice in Bahrain.

Women Struggle to Unite Fractured Bahrain

An article by Suad Hamada of the Inter Press Service News Agency. Also published on Reuters' Trustlaw Women's Rights blog.

MANAMA, Apr 22 (IPS) - Women in Bahrain have launched new initiatives to tackle sectarian tensions that emerged as the fallout of widespread unrest sweeping the country since Feb. 14.

The tiny island with oil incomes representing around 70 percent of government revenues was known for years for its peaceful coexistence between its majority Shiite and minority Sunni populations.

The majority of those who participated in demonstrations before the declaration of the three-month state of emergency in March were Shiites. Sunnis were mainly involved in pro-government rallies.

The result: long-time friends have turned enemies. Each sect has issued a list of shops that should be boycotted because Bahrainis of the opposite sect own them. Those lists are circulated through leaflets, email and e-forums.

‘Women for Bahrain’ is an initiative that is working to unite Bahrainis once again. "Through the group we are trying to tell people that religion is for god, and the country is for all of us, and how sectarianism could lead to serious complications," activist and member of the media committee Fawziya Al Khaja told IPS.

The recently formed women’s group of different walks of life stands against powers in Bahrain backing sectarian tension to promote their agendas, she says.

The group commenced its activities in March, calling for love and tolerance through Internet social networks. A unity petition was launched.

A gathering in the same month followed the call for love and tolerance. It promoted meditation and other exercises.

"The group’s activities wouldn’t have a timeframe and would continue as long as we are needed, we want from the people of Bahrain to respect and accept each other regardless of their differences and to share the love of their country," Al Khaja says.

The group is also dedicated to spreading the principles of wisdom, justice and freedom to protect the dignity of people. "Through the group we are telling society and the world that the role of Bahraini women shouldn’t be overlooked, as without them the structure of family and community get affected," she explains.

Internet social networks and Blackberry messenger are now a war zone for Shiite and Sunni youth who pass hate messages back and forth constantly. Those messages criticise the differences among two sects of the same religion, president of the Bahrain Women’s Union Mariam Al Ruwaee, tells IPS.

"Mixed marriages felt the heat of tensions most, since people could shun sectarianism inside their homes, while we are confronting them insides our bedrooms," Fathiya Ibrahim, a Shiite, told IPS.

Talking about her relationship with her Sunni husband, she said: "We aren’t at ease as we share different opinions. It wasn’t like that before but situations have dragged us to this level."

Sunni academic, Haisa Al Junaid who is married to a Shiite, has so far attracted 40 women to stand together against what could threaten the stability of their families and the safety of their children - fights that turn violent at schools.

"We want to take legal actions, including filing court cases against well-known figures promoting sectarianism," Haisa announced during a recent launch of the initiative at her home.

"Through the group we want also to highlight that we are in pain from disunity in the community and disturbance of relations."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A terrorist victim isn’t always someone else

An article by Tahir Wadood Malik, initially featured by the Common Ground News Service.

Terrorism was something that happened to others.

Upon seeing news of another terrorist attack, I would simply change the channel. That is, until 5 October 2009, when I received a phone call that would change my life forever. The caller said that there had been a bomb blast in the office of the UN agency in Islamabad where my wife Gul Rukh worked.

I do not remember whether I drove, or how I reached the office. All I know is that somehow I got there. But there was nothing to see, and no one to meet.

Someone told me that Gul Rukh had been taken to the medical centre. Driving there in a daze, I began asking myself the eternal question people in such situations ask: “Why us?”

My name is Tahir Wadood Malik, a retired Major in the Pakistan Army. My career provided me with a comfortable lifestyle, and I considered myself to be part of Pakistan’s “privileged” society. In many ways I felt aloof from many of the everyday people of Pakistan.

Upon reaching the medical centre, I stood surrounded by chaos, until a doctor took me to a gurney covered in a white sheet. Lifting it, I saw the face of Gul Rukh, drawn of all colour, lifeless.

As I stood there, numb and glued to the floor, I heard a scuffle. Looking up, I saw a hospital staff member pushing a television camera man away from near where I was standing. He’d been filming the chaos in the hospital as well as my reaction, and I realised that I had become the nameless, unknown face on the television that was shocked and stunned from the carnage of a terrorist attack. I was that “common” Pakistani no one really wanted to see.

Before midnight, the burial was done and people had dispersed. I was left alone to brood and to feel angry, depressed and drained, unable to think clearly about what had happened.

As days went by, I felt increasingly alone. There was no one to talk to. For many in Pakistan, grieving is a silent, personal matter, and most people are resigned to loss being the will of God. However, while people’s responses to loss may seem similar, there is no typical response to loss, maybe because there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.

In the days that followed, there were more terrorist attacks and I felt myself drawn to these places. Talking with the survivors made me realise that we could empathise with each other because we shared a loss that others could not identify with.

What could be done for others who’d suffered so gravely? I had the opportunity to meet other survivors of terrorism from across the globe in Amman, Jordan when I was invited to attend the opening of a park dedicated to the memory of the 2005 hotel bombings there, which led to the deaths of 60 people and injured 115 others.

This collaboration of terror attack victims from around the globe gave me the direction I needed to channel my frustration and helplessness into helping my fellow Pakistanis. Upon my return to Pakistan, I started talking to more survivors and victims, and gave presentations to college and university students to raise awareness about what happens to family and friends in the aftermath of such attacks. We then founded the Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network to help victims and survivors of terrorism, and let them interact, console and empathise with each other.

In talking with others, I learnt that while forgetting is impossible, we can all learn to forgive. I ask others in my situation to make an effort to do so too.

But if I ever had the chance to encounter someone who was considering becoming a suicide bomber, I would ask them just a few questions: have you actually read what the Qur’an says about such actions, or are you just listening to an ideologue? Do you know that the Prophet Muhammad abhorred violence? And, finally, how can you reconcile the fact that, one day, someone else may commit the same kind of attack, leaving your family member injured or dead?

We victims and survivors are certainly not “common”. We have suffered through a loss so traumatic that many others will hopefully never have to understand or share. I hope our voices speak loud enough to resonate with young, confused extremists and their sympathisers, impressing upon them that their actions will not achieve anything except pain, loss and destruction.


* Tahir Wadood Malik is Founder of the Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network, which aims to provide terrorist attack survivors and victims’ families the support they need to express their grief, share the burden of loss and know they are not alone. This article is part of a series on the consequences of terrorism written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 26 April 2011,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Return to top

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Women leaders in Yemen demand equality, participation, and representation, despite President's comments. Leading activist Amal al Basha talks to Edit Schlaffer

Amal Basha, Chairperson of the Sisters Arab Forum in Sana’a
Amal al Basha, Chairperson of the Sisters Arab Forum in Sana’a, Yemen, and one of the leading progressive women’s voices in the country, was on her way to a meeting with the Women’s Coalition to discuss the issue of violence conducted against women during the demonstrations when she answered her phone. I could tell that she was very agitated, and she immediately said that she wanted to tell me about the abuses against women at the hands of religious extremists in Change Square.

Just over one week ago, President Saleh condemned women’s participation in the opposition rallies, saying that by mixing with men on the street who were not direct relatives, they were violating traditional Yemeni cultural norms. His comments provoked significant backlash from both women and tribal leaders alike—an unlikely alliance has formed around the issue of women’s capacity to lead in Yemen.

In response to Saleh’s remarks, thousands more women took to the streets, demanding their rights to be heard, side by side with the men. The women called for a mixed demonstration, but religious extremists locked arms to prevent the women from leaving their bloc and joining the men. Those women who managed to break through the cordon—about twenty, all very prominent in intellectual Yemeni society—were pushed back and beaten.

The female protesters in Sana’a reached out to the military leaders after the brutal attack. They apologized and said that they did not give the order to attack the women; the women responded by demanding this exact same apology from the political leadership as well.

Amal is confident that such use of brute force will not be effective for much longer in the current revolutionary phase. Yesterday, a group of 53 women leaders gathered at a seminar to pen a document demanding equality, participation, and representation, which they hope will be discussed in the protesters’ official tents in the coming days.

Amal explained that the current revolutionary phase will end when President Saleh steps down. He currently exerts political leadership over little more than one single district in Sana’a, but he nonetheless retains control over the security forces. “We should not push him into a corner; he is like a man in a cave. Rather, we should make sure he is safe so that he can surrender.” Once the revolutionary phase has been completed, the country will enter a transitional phase, during which Amal believes that Saleh should be tried according to the rule of law.

In response to enquiries about the mood in Change Square, Amal says that the scene is encouraging; 25,000 protesters sleep in the square every night. “Of course, however, it takes only one man to create problems and a deep-rooted sense of uneasiness among the women.”

Throughout the tumult of this revolutionary phase in Yemen, Amal and her female colleagues are very strategically and reasonably planning their next moves and refuse to give in to panic and the excitement of the moment. The women are confident that a new brand of Yemeni woman—brilliant, educated, and well-informed young women—will shape the future of the country.

The foundation does have some cracks in it, however—women belonging to the Islah Party, Yemen’s religious party, have a very different agenda. They are cleverly employing the momentum of the revolution for their own cause, establishing a Salafi state.

Amal herself has received a number of anonymous threats to kidnap her children if she does not keep quiet; even her 70-year mother has received harassing phone calls in Taiz.

In a dramatic appeal, Amal says, “We need the world to help the revolution to succeed. Saleh has used the terrorist agenda to threaten the West, collect money, and stay in power. We need our friends to stand by us now.”

Interview conducted by Edit Schlaffer, Executive Director of Women without Borders / SAVE-Sisters Against Violent Extremsim

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Women Leading the Way in Yemen

An op-ed in The Huffington Post by Hibaaq Osman, founder of Karama. Read the original article here.

Glued simultaneously to the TV, Blackberry, laptop, and my own windows, I watched Arab politics come back to life just a few short weeks ago. As someone who has devoted her life to promoting women's human rights and political participation, I continue to rejoice at the role women are playing in the ongoing revolutions spreading across the Arab world. The Western media seem surprised that women are on the streets, raising their voices, protesting for democracy, and walking side by side with men who all want the same thing -- political reform and equal rights. They shouldn't be.

As I write this, all eyes are on Yemen. The country's president of 32 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, had signaled a desire to step down by the end of 2011 or sooner, but suddenly reversed this decision, declaring that he would make no further concessions to end the crisis. This move is unlikely to placate the growing ranks of opposition members. As even more generals and diplomats move into the opposition camp, the questions are: will Yemen follow the route chosen by Egypt and Tunisia, in which the military stepped in to engineer a swift transition of power, or will Yemen become another Libya, where the elite have fractured into a civil war?

Unfortunately, many pundits and policymakers in the U.S., Europe and throughout the Arab world view this historic opportunity in Yemen through the narrow lens of terrorism. They are publicly fretting about how various scenarios may affect the near term fortunes of extremist groups or whether a next strongman will emerge to provide "stability" to preserve their interests in Yemen's capital, Sana'a. Both approaches are shortsighted.

Instead of more guns to fight terrorism, the West and Yemen's Arab neighbors should be asking how we can support Yemen in a transition to a robust and fully representative democracy. A true democracy in Yemen won't be built overnight, but it is the only thing that can begin to ease the economic despair, political sense of helplessness, and resentment of perceived foreign meddling that breeds terrorism and instability. Women must be part of that transition.

The puzzle of democracy has many pieces: civil society groups, better education, and economic opportunities. Women are 50 percent of that puzzle. Their voices have never been silent, but now, at long last, they're being heard. And well they should be.

On March 8, Women's Day in Yemen, a crowd of hundreds of peaceful female protesters gathered in Sana'a to demand the ouster of President Saleh. The protest was an act of courage that would have been unthinkable even a few weeks ago.

Mona Safwan, a participant in the march, captured the attitude of many protesters:
"The peaceful struggle through the media and pressed for by human rights organizations, the peaceful sit-ins, they did not bear fruit, and also the peaceful demands and peaceful struggle for this country. Now we join the women because the peaceful means did not work. It must be a revolution."

Consider also the case of Tawakul Karman, a 32- year old mother of three who has emerged at the forefront of the movement to oust Saleh. Several stints in prison and an assassination attempt last year have only redoubled Karman's determination as she works to coordinate the sit-ins and demonstrations that are rocking Yemen's political scene, and some observers have floated her name as a possibility for president.

Yet despite demonstrating, taking risks, mobilizing, suffering, marching, and standing side by side with men in the revolutions and protest movements of the modern era, women have historically found themselves omitted from both power and opportunity in revolutions' aftermaths. For instance, only 8 percent of women are ever represented in any type of reconciliation plans. The unfortunate historical record is that, from Mexico to Iran to post-Soviet Eastern Europe, women are often left out of post-revolutionary decision-making processes, exacerbated by traditionally lower participation rates in government, military and business.

Women have made strides in Arab politics in recent years. In 2005, the International Parliamentary Union said that 6.5 per cent of MPs in the Arab world were women, compared with 3.5 per cent in 2000. And in Tunisia, the first Middle Eastern country to fall to regime change in the region, nearly 23 percent of members of Parliament were women. No wonder the media is now taking time to listen "to us." Having witnessed history being made these past few weeks, we must continue to create political comfort zones where we develop local leaders, and where both sides work without interference from identity politics. Nowhere is this currently more evident than Yemen.

In 2005 I founded Karama, a network of groups around the Arab region working to end violence against women and promote female political participation. The organization, whose name means "dignity" in Arabic, has given me a front row view of the triumphs of Arab women like Tawakul Karman, as well as a perspective on the years and decades of hard work that still lie ahead.

We should acknowledge and celebrate the role of Yemeni women in the movement. They are a hopeful sign of the vibrant democracy that might be born in Yemen -- if it is allowed to. But the only way to truly honor struggle and sacrifice of these heroines is to make sure they have an equal seat at the policymaking table the day after Saleh leaves.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Amnesty warns that human rights activists in Yemen are under threat

Amal Basha, chairperson of the Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights
Amnesty International yesterday reported that human rights activist Amal Basha, chairperson of the Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) in Yemen, has been warned to take extra precautions as she may be under threat from security forces.

Basha is said to be suspected by the Yemeni authorities of passing information to the UN Security Council, and thus internationalizing the country's situation. Basha denies the claim.

Amnesty writes that she "received a telephone warning via her office yesterday morning telling her not to leave her home and to take extra precautions."

Amnesty is calling for the Yemeni authorities to investigate this threat to the leading human rights activist and take steps to ensure her safety.

An excerpt from the Amnesty report:

UN Security Council members were briefed on Tuesday on the situation in Yemen by UN officials in a closed session. The Council called for restraint and dialogue in Yemen but failed to agree on a statement.

The Security Council met on a day when at least three more people were killed during ongoing protests in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

Yemeni Central Security forces attacked protesters with water cannons, tear gas, batons and live fire.

Protesters were said to have thrown rocks in response to the use of force by security forces.

Those shot dead by the security forces included Anis Ahmed Abdu Saeed al-Usaydi, a SAFHR employee aged 32. The others who died were named as Nasser Muhammed Hizam and Abdul Latif Muhammad Abdullah Muhammad Omar.

Between 50 and 60 other protestors are reported to have been injured, many with gunshot wounds, when security forces opened fire on a demonstration by tens of thousands of protesters in Sana’a.

President Ali Abdallah Saleh has ordered an investigation of the incident and directed the Ministry of Interior to arrest and bring to justice those involved, according to Yemeni state news agency reports.

At least 120 people have been killed in months of anti-government protests in Yemen.

Four female doctors on their way to attend to the injured at a field hospital in Sana’a were arrested by members of Yemeni security forces on Tuesday.

All four, Dr Lamis Muhammad Saeed Dhafer, Dr Tasnim Ali al-Wafi, Dr Hiyam al-Qadesi, and Dr Iman al-Amisi were released at around midnight after civil society organizations had threatened that they would march to the Presidential Palace if they were not released.

In a report entitled, Moment of Truth for Yemen , issued on 6 April 2011, Amnesty International called on the international community to play a more active role if Yemenis are to get accountability for the bloody killings.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bahraini Zainab al-Khawaja ends hunger strike, choosing to use voice instead

The Guardian reported today that Zainab al-Khawaja has ended her hunger strike. 
The Bahraini human rights activist who witnessed her father, husband and brother-in-law being beaten and imprisoned by masked soldiers earlier this month has ended her hunger strike.
The 27-year-old mother of one told the Guardian that she has decided to stop her 10-day fast after becoming convinced that "being silent in a tomb and not able to speak is not in the interests of my family."
Her decision follows pressure from human rights groups who tried to persuade her to use her voice in support of the protest movement, arguing that the Bahraini government would rather she were dead than alive.
Meanwhile, Khawaja's hopes of seeing her family again were given a boost, after relatives received phonecalls from the authorities on Wednesday indicating that the three men were alive.

Read the rest of the Guardian story here:

Reports claim Ayat still alive

Earlier today, reports claimed that Ayat al-Ghermezi, a female poet active in protests in Bahrain, had died under government arrest. Twitter users have reported that she has contacted her family, although neither claim can thus far be confirmed.

Repression continues in Bahrain

Unconfirmed reports surfaced today that a female poet who recited her anti-government poems in Pearl Square had died after enduring torture. She remains missing.

Twenty-year-old Ayat al-Ghermezi was actively involved in the peaceful protests against Bahrain’s authoritarian government led by King Hamad bin Isa. When the government’s response to the demonstrations turned violent in mid March, security forces searched Ghermezi’s home and threatened her family until they revealed her whereabouts. She was arrested shortly afterwards. Her death was reported today, although it was later claimed that the news is a leak by the Bahrain government to discredit media. Bahrain is currently under a media blackout enforced by the government.

Bahrain’s government continues to abduct both female and male protesters and human rights activists. On Monday, six female teachers and several pupils were arrested at a school in Hamad. Teachers have gone on strike several times since the beginning of demonstrations in Bahrain on February 14, to show solidarity with the aims of the protest movements. The Education Ministry has responded by setting up a committee to take action against administration staff and teachers who are active in the protests and strikes. Security forces have further abducted medical staff from several medical centres. Human Rights Watch has estimated that at least 400 activists have gone missing since the beginning of the government crack-down on March 14.

Bahraini youth began a mass hunger strike on March 18 to show their rejection of the abuses of human rights currently underway in their country. They are following the example of Zainab Alkhawaja, daughter of human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is now on her eighth day of hunger strike.

Bahrain’s government is receiving support from Saudi Arabian, Kuwaiti and United Arab Emirate forces in an attempt to quell pro-democracy uprisings. The response of the international community to the violence in Bahrain has been lukewarm in comparison to previous responses in countries such as Libya and Egypt. Hesitation over the situation in Bahrain is damaging the image of Western governments in some quarters of the Arab world, as the USA is associated by many with Saudi Arabia’s government.

Petitions asking the UN, EU, USA and UK governments to take a firmer stance to dissuade the government in Bahrain from violating human rights are operating online.

Through the peaceful and democratic process of letter-writing, you can bring your concern over the situation in Bahrain, especially in regard to the deaths of human rights activists and the detention of pregnant women and children, to the attention of decision-makers around the world. For more information about the human rights situation in Bahrain, visit Human Rights Watch.

United States of America: To find and contact your representative in the USA click here, or contact the White House here.

United Kingdom: To find and contact your MP in the UK click here, or to write to the Prime Minister click here.

Austria: To contact your representative in the Austrian Parliament click here.

EU: To contact your representative in the European Parliament, click here.

UN: Contact the UN General Assembly here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"I just want to apologise to my mother"

14-year-old Umar Fidai fell under the influence of the Taliban and targeted innocents in a suicide attack in Pakistan. This article from BBC News tells in his own words how he regrets his actions, and has come to realise that the Taliban's teachings are un-Islamic. The article highlights the need for moderate teachings in vulnerable societies, allowing impressionable youth to learn that there is an alternative to violent extremism. It also shows the importance of empowering family members to recognize early-warning signs of radicalism - had Umar Fidai's parents been aware of their young son's intentions, they would have had the chance to dissuade him.

In early April a suicide blast ripped though a Pakistani shrine packed with thousands of devotees, leaving scores dead. Both attackers were schoolboys in their early teens. But one survived and told the BBC's Aleem Maqbool what made him want to take his life and the lives of others.

"All I was thinking was that I had to detonate myself near as many people as possible. When I decided it was the right time, it was a moment of happiness for me," said 14-year-old Umar Fidai.

"I thought that there would be a little bit of pain, but then I would be in heaven."

Umar did not make it to paradise. Instead, we find him in custody.

His left arm is missing, his right arm entirely strapped up, and there are bandages around his torso. But he is alert, polite and disarmingly frank.

"The plan was that Ismail would blow himself up near the shrine. I would wait for the ambulances to come and detonate myself near them to kill more people. I had no doubts at all beforehand.
But Umar's suicide jacket failed to explode properly.

He blew off his own arm, tore open his abdomen and was knocked unconscious. When he came round, Umar reached for a grenade in his pocket.

"We had been taught that if the belt does not go off, we should kill ourselves with the grenade. There were three policemen standing close by, and I thought if I killed them too, I would still make it to heaven."

As Umar raised the grenade to his mouth to pull out the pin with his teeth, a police officer shot him in the arm.

Extraordinary mobile phone footage shows Umar lying on the ground as police then went about defusing the remains of his suicide jacket.

'Taliban all round'

His journey to get to this point had started five months earlier, in his hometown in the mountainous tribal regions of north-west Pakistan, close to the Afghan border.

Umar Fidai failed to detonate his suicide vest and survived "Where I used to go to school, there were Taliban all around. One day one of them told me to go with him to become a suicide bomber, but I told him if he wanted to kill people he should do it himself, not ask children. But he kept coming back.

"He said there was no point studying. He told me that nothing was better than paradise, and that you could earn that by killing non-believers.

"The Taliban prayed all the time and read the Koran, so I thought they were good people. My heart told me to go and train with them."

Umar said he was blindfolded and sometimes handcuffed when he was taken to the training compound, so he would not be able to reveal its location.

He said he was trained in the use of weapons and explosives with three other boys.

Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in militant attacks in the past three years.

It is thought that the majority of suicide bombings are now being carried out by children like Umar, trained by the Taliban.

The targets across Pakistan have been diverse, but several recent bombings have been at the shrines of Sufi saints, like the one Umar was involved in.

These shrines have long been a focus of devotion and prayer, but hardline Islamists have decided that worship at them is un-Islamic.

"The Taliban always told us we would go to Afghanistan to kill non-believers," says Umar. "We agreed, because they said that would mean we would go to paradise.

"But when we travelled by bus to the place of our attack, I saw it was still Pakistan so I questioned them. They said the people who pray to the dead at shrines are even bigger infidels, and I believed them.

"When we got to the shrine, Ismail and I went up a hill to a place nobody could see, took our suicide jackets out of our bags, and put them on.

"Then we said our goodbyes and promised we would pray for each other, but we were not sad, because we thought we were going to heaven."

Dozens of injured devotees were rushed to hospital after the attack Umar said it was only when the police were trying to defuse his explosives and when he saw the care the doctors were giving him, that he started to realise he had been wrong.

"I am so grateful, because I have been saved from going to hell. I am in a lot of pain, but I know there are many people in hospital even more severely injured than me and I am so sorry for what I did and for what Ismail did.

"We did a very bad thing by killing children and old men and women. I now realise suicide bombing is un-Islamic. I hope people will forgive me."

Umar told me that nobody from his family had got in touch with him since the attack

"I know my mother and my younger sisters, in North Waziristan, would know what's happened and they must be very upset. I just want to apologise to my mother. But at the time I detonated myself, thoughts of my family were not in my mind, I was only thinking about what the Taliban had taught me."

The attack could still cost Umar his life, he remains seriously ill.

He is also now scared that the Taliban could come to kill him at any time for failing in his suicide mission.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A turning point for Yemeni women

Thousands of angry women went on the March in Sana’a to condemn Saleh’s statement that women and men should not mix at protests. Yemen Times Photo by Adnan Al-Rajehi
Nadia Al-Sakkaf, editor in chief of The Yemen Times since 2005 and a member of SAVE Yemen. She has been a very active figure in Yemen and has won awards internationally for her role as a change agent in Yemen’s press and freedom struggle. Nadia tells us why Saleh's disparaging comments about women's participation in the protests were misplaced, and describes how men and women are working together to push for change in Yemen.

In the remote country of Yemen at the end of the Arabian Peninsula there is nothing but trouble. There is poverty, conflict, terrorism, a deteriorating economy and discrimination.

Yet there is another side to the story.

In the remote country of Yemen where beyond there is nothing but sea, hope is everywhere. It radiates from the soaring hearts of young men and women demanding change, in the eyes of women who bake colorful cakes to feed the protestors, in the chants of young kids who are learning for the first time the words of freedom, democracy and human rights.

The problem is that for hope to survive and make a difference it needs a chance. The change makers of Yemen, especially the women, need to be empowered in order to translate hope into progress.

Against all odds Yemeni women have broken all stereotypes and achieved the impossible. In a society ridden with traditional constraints against women, it appears that this revolution is one born and supported by men and women alike.

Not only are women leading the protests and attending to the wounded, women are also active politically in the discussion spheres online and on the ground.

In fact, in Change Square, the launching point of Yemen’s revolution there are families that camped with women and children who are determined not to return home until president Saleh leaves his. It has become personal. And the last thing you want to do is get on the bad side of a Yemeni woman.

At the beginning of the protests, women used to stay in isolated quarters and usually kept to themselves. More than once when I was visiting in the early days, as soon as I appeared at the entrance to the camp two or three men with badges found me and escorted me smoothly across the crowds shouting, “Woman coming…make way!” I found myself weaving my way, out of breath, following my guides feeling protected yet confused… where are they taking me?

In less than seven minutes I found myself approaching a cloth barrier and the men gestured to me to walk the remaining few meters on my own as I was entering a men-free zone.

They were bewildered when I refused to be tucked under the cloth barrier. I thanked them for their protection but explained that I wanted to take a walk around the protest grounds and get a feeling of how things are, not only in the women’s corner which I had already visited recently.

“I am a journalist.” I said and it made all the difference. Suddenly I was given all the freedom to walk and talk to whoever I wanted within those sacred grounds of Change Square, including the women’s corner.

Today, women in Change Square are everywhere. They are no longer confined to that section and they often take the stage to announce or comment on something. Women are there serving food, educating others on their rights or legal issues, or just being there.

It was amazing how there seemed to be a sense of liberation and purpose. It took the tens of thousands living in Change Square less than three months to change their ways and build on each other’s strengths, whether men or women.

Indeed the women’s corner is still there, much larger now that there are more women, but it is not intended to isolate them anymore.

On Friday April 15, President Saleh made a nasty comment on those women. He viciously asked what they were doing there, sleeping in the streets between all these men. His comments angered thousands of women who marched the following day for hours warning him that he is out of line and that they will not leave until he does.

There is great potential in the women of Yemen as peace makers and as human power for rebuilding the country. This is an opportunity to help Yemeni women break the chains that have held them back for many decades.

The time is now, and the women of Yemen are ready.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thousands protest in Yemen against president's criticism of women's presence at demonstrations

Original article by Ahmed al-Haj in The Republic.

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's anti-government movement took up the issue of women's rights in the conservative Muslim nation on Saturday, as thousands of demonstrators seeking the president's ouster denounced his comments against the participation of women in protest rallies.

In a speech Friday, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said the mingling of men and women at protests in the capital was against Islamic law. Demonstrators, including thousands of women, responded by marching through the capital of Sanaa and several other cities, shouting: "Saleh, beware of injuring women's honor."

"This insult has made us more determined to remain at the opposition squares with the men to topple the ugly regime," said Jameela al-Qabsi, a female professor at an education college.

Though it was a young woman who first led anti-Saleh demonstrations on a university campus in late January, women didn't begin turning out in large numbers until early March. It was a startling step considering the Muslim nation is a largely tribal society with deeply conservative social and religious traditions.

Many Yemeni women remain out of sight and conceal themselves in public under black head-to-toe robes. The issue of child brides in Yemen has also drawn international criticism. But unlike in neighboring Saudi Arabia, women in Yemen are permitted to vote, run for parliament and drive cars.

Two months of near-daily protests and defections by key allies in the military, powerful tribes and diplomatic corps have failed to bring an end to Saleh's 32-year autocratic rule over the impoverished and fragile nation in the Arabian peninsula.

A crackdown on protesters by Saleh's forces has killed more than 120 people, according to Yemeni rights groups, but has not deterred crowds from gathering.

On Saturday, a group of female protesters presented the chief prosecutor with a complaint against Saleh for his remarks. Amat al-Salam Abdullah, one of the protesters, said the prosecutor ordered an investigation.

"I don't rule out that the president has been traumatized as a result of the involvement of tens of thousands of women in the demonstrations calling for his downfall," said Faiza al-Sharji, a female university professor.

The youth movement leading the anti-government protests took up the women's cause, calling for people to come out in millions on Sunday for a day of "honor and dignity."

The youth movement said in a statement that Saleh's comments were "a continuation of his violations against the Yemeni people after he killed them and accused them of being agents and outlaws."

Advocacy for women's rights in Yemen is rooted in the 1967-1990 period when the once-independent south had a socialist government. After unification, women in the south became more marginalized, resulting in high unemployment among female university graduates.

Afghanistan suicide bomber kills nine troops

A suicide bombing at a military base in eastern Afghanistan has killed five foreign and four Afghan soldiers.

A bomber wearing a military uniform struck inside the base near the city of Jalalabad, the Afghan defence ministry said.

The blast took place shortly after 7.30am Afghan time and represents the biggest recent killing of Nato troops from a single attack. 

Read full article from The Guardian.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Make sure women can lead in the Middle East

An article from Common Ground News Service by Carla Koppell and Haleh Esfandiari

Washington, DC - In Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia and elsewhere, women have stood with men pushing for change. In Libya, Iman and Salwa Bagaighif are helping lead, shape and support protesters. And in Egypt, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, one of the oldest and most well-known non-governmental organisations in Egypt, estimated that at least 20 per cent of the protesters were women.

For example, the 26-year-old co-founder of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, Asmaa Mahfouz, mobilised thousands of youth in support of the protest through her impassioned YouTube video. In Yemen, a 32-year-old mother of three, Tawakkul Karman, helped organise protests against the current government.

Yet women's leadership in 2011 is not a new phenomenon. In Iran, women have for many years successfully pushed for greater freedom in personal status law, and greater employment and educational opportunities. Many Iranian women have been imprisoned simply for endorsing the Million Signature Campaign, which seeks equal rights and the repeal of laws that discriminate against women.

Women have been using social media and leveraged communications technology to pursue greater social and political openness since before the arrival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Notwithstanding a rich history of non-violent activism and extraordinary leadership, women have rarely been involved in political decision-making in the Middle East and North Africa region.

At an even more basic level, women do not feel confident that their rights will be preserved under the systems emerging from recent political transformations.

In Iraq, there have been female judges since the 1950s and thus many of women’s rights have been protected since 1978 by a personal status law. Yet in 2003, the new Iraqi Governing Council sought to strip women of these rights. Only in the face of domestic petitions, letter writing and face-to-face advocacy were women successful in ensuring their rights were preserved. Iraqi women continue to face efforts to reduce their freedoms and each time they have defeated the assault.

Already Egyptian women are risking similar marginalisation. There are no women on the committee revising the constitution. In an almost uncanny parallel to the struggle of Iraqi women after former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Egyptians have drafted a petition, endorsed by over 60 local organisations, decrying women's absence from transitional political bodies.

Bias embedded in the new draft constitution suggests that these concerns may be real.

The international community and the new generation of progressive, democracy-minded leaders in the Middle East need to see women as critical partners for change. The evidence is undisputable. The 2005 UN Arab Human Development Report cautions that under-employment and under-investment in women severely drains overall well-being and concludes that "the rise of women is in fact a prerequisite for an Arab renaissance, inseparably and causally linked to the fate of the Arab world."

The world has an unprecedented opportunity to transform nations held down for decades by oppressive regimes. We must make sure that this opportunity is open to all citizens, including women.

Women’s role must be honoured in the struggle and protect against the fundamentalist push. Most importantly, their involvement will be key to enabling pluralistic, economically thriving societies to emerge in a region whose progress has been stalled for generations.

The window is small but the time is now and the opportunity is enormous. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day on 8 March, let's remember how critical advancing the status of women will be to success.

"No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men"

Shabana Fayyaz taking part in the SAVE Women's Dialogue
Shabana Fayyaz, SAVE Pakistan representative and Assistant Proffessor at the Defense and Strategic Studies Department of Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, reflects on the critical role of women in combatting extremism in Pakistan, and on the inclusive teachings of Quaid, founder of Pakistan.

In Pakistan women deserve a critical role to play at the state/society policy shaping and making level. Women in Pakistan constitute more than half of the country's population. Female icons since the creation of our country have played and continue to play a decisive role on all fronts - yet their role as 'agents of change' remains under-appreciated, both by themselves as well as state/society at large.

The SAVE Pakistan chapter is a step in the right direction to make unheard stories of women’s contributions known. Women’s role in ‘social cohesion’ needs to be registered through multi-track interventions. That is, investing in the training and capacity building of existing women-based networks to counter extremism at the micro and macro level.

There exists a critical gap in the existing indigenous literature on women and extremism accompanied by a tendency to frame women as ‘victims’ and not recognizing their role as ‘healers’ in society. By following a victimhood lens, the women are mostly reduced to being either a ‘sufferer’ or a ‘silent spectator’, ignoring the ground realities. The fact of the matter is that women have a central role simultaneously at the family and at the community level. At times, particularly in the case of SWAT, it was womenfolk that served as a critical fund-raiser plus a victim of Maulana Fazlullah’s so-called ‘Islamization’ drive. Many mothers were aware of their sons’, brothers’ and husbands’ radical tendencies but looked the other way purposefully, thinking that it would lead to an equitable and just society - as pronounced by Maulana Fazlullah’s in his sermons through a mobile radio network in the area.

The role of women in curtailing, spreading and tolerating extremism in Pakistan remains an under-researched area. There is an abundance of contemporary literature on the genesis of extremism in the country but focus on women as an equal stake-holder in the policy-making and shaping arena remains untouched. There exists a niche to critically focus on sensitizing women leaders from all over the country on how to build and nurture their role as “agents of change” through team-building initiatives. And it is only through informed debate, dialogue and discussion that an inductive and inclusive counter-extremism policy can be shaped.

As it is often said, who will bell the cat? It is state and society together. The extremism and terrorism facing Pakistan falls in between traditional and non-traditional security challenges. It requires an inductive and sustainable response on the home front. That is, optimal use of women as key stake holder in response to radicalization, extremism and political violence. In this enterprise, media (including print, television, radio, and on-line) has the capacity to be a ‘change-maker’ in airing not only the stories told through the ‘victimhood lens’ but also highlighting the on-going efforts of the courageous women leaders on the ground against religious, cultural and political extremism. Parallel to this, learning and sharing the best practices on how women became an agent of change for sustainable peace in all parts of the world should be encouraged.

In conclusion, women facing and fighting extremism need to be recognized as viable and critical partners in the fight against the quagmire of extremism in Pakistan. That is, we need to reclaim Quaid’s vision of a moderate and progressive Pakistan, whereby a woman is an essential stake holder in the policy making arena. Now is the time to rectify our earlier deeds, when women’s activism was/is perceived as a threat to the so-called social, cultural and religious underpinnings of a stable Pakistan. In conclusion, the following words of Quaid - the founder of Pakistan, (in a speech at the Islamia College for women on 25 March 1940) are worth recalling:

“I have always maintained that no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women”.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

BREAKING NEWS BAHRAIN: "We want our children to have their mothers back"

One woman has died and up to 30 are still detained in undisclosed locations in Bahrain, during a violent government crackdown on protesters.

Women are arrested and tortured by government forces in order to deter their relatives from continuing to protest, said Lebanese freelance journalist Zeinab Al-Saffar in an interview with SAVE.

"The message the government forces are sending is: If you don’t calm down, we will attack your women," said Al-Saffar, who has close ties with citizens in Bahrain. Bahiya Abd Rassoul AL-Aradi, a woman in her thirties from Al-Manama, died on March 21 due to a bullet wound to the neck.Three of the 20 missing women are believed to be pregnant, and many more are mothers. "We want these children to have their mothers back," said Al-Saffar.

In total, over 600 people have disappeared during the unrest. The youngest is Ali Ahmad Abass Yehia Thamer, who is under 12-years old. Several have died during their imprisonment, including the prominent businessman and member of opposition party Wefaq, Kareem Fakhrawi. The authorities refuse to release the bodies, blaming the deaths on chronic diseases, such as diabetes or heart problems, according to Al-Saffar. Police have also been entering the Al-Salimiya Hospital to arrest wounded protesters and hospital staff. Other women have been abducted at check-points or at their homes late at night.

In many cases, whole families are held in captivity. Zainab Alkhawaja, the daughter of prominent activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, is on hunger strike to protest the arrest of her father, husband, brother-in-law and uncle. She announced her protest action through her blog, addressing herself to US President Barack Obama, as she said that her own government has "proven that they do not care about our rights, or our lives."

Protests began on February 14, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. For a month, demonstrators peacefully demanded reform, but did not aim to oust the current regime. The protests, which often centred on Pearl Square and its iconic pearl monument, escalated until Bahrain saw its biggest demonstrations ever, with an estimated 200,000 people taking to the streets - about a fifth of the national population.

On March 14, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa declared a 3-month state of emergency and cracked down on the protesters, choosing violence over dialogue. Aided by neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he invited foreign troops into Bahrain in an attempt to quell opposition to his regime. The monument in Pearl Square has been demolished by the government, as it has come to represent the spirit of the protest movement.

The protesters have now changed their demands, aiming to topple the regime and achieve wide-ranging constitutional changes.

Despite the severity of the crisis in Bahrain, few reports have surfaced in the international media. The government in Bahrain is enforcing a media blackout, and Bahrain is also a close ally of the United States, hosting a large US naval base. US politicians such as Hilary Clinton have expressed tempered criticism of the government’s behavior.

Women in Bahrain have been taking an active part in anti-government demonstrations. The population of Bahrain is only 800,000, and since 2002, various reforms have introduced improved political and social rights for women. They are economically active, and Al-Saffar expects that in the event of a new regime, women’s voices will be louder in the reform process than they have been in countries like Egypt.

Amnesty International is organizing a petition calling on King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to conduct full inquiries into the deaths of protesters, guarantee the right to peaceful protest and freedom of association, and release all opposition activists immediately. Read more about this action here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Without respect for women's rights, there can be no democracy or peace in the Middle East

Edit Schlaffer, Executive Director of SAVE
Dear Women without Borders, dear SAVE sisters, dear friends,

Terrorism has become part of our life - the attacks on innocent commuters on the underground in Minsk, Belarus, is the most recent proof.

I am writing from the conference Preventing Terrorism: Developing Comprehensive Solutions to the Challenges of Radicalization in Dakar, where military and civil society actors, state representatives from across Africa, and experts from the West have come together to analyze growing radicalization and methods of containment. There is a lot of talk about the role of religion, and speaker after speaker stresses the fact that religion does not lead to terrorism.

Obviously what is driving youth radicalization from Yemen to Pakistan and Somalia is the perception of injustice. These real and perceived injustices feed into Al-Qaeda’s narratives and are part of their recruitment approach. Women and girls are still not key targets of radicalization and certainly should be recognized as part of the solution. Equipped with self-confidence and the right tools for debate they will be the driving force for moderation.

Anouar Boukhars, a US scholar of Moroccan descent brought to our attention in a very impressive way here in Dakar that the crushing of democratic hopes in Egypt will eventually lead not only to frustration but to anti-Western sentiments. This is a very timely warning. Men and women stood side by side in the Egyptian uprising, but shortly after Mubarak was forced to leave, new democratic hopes were put to the test. Women called for a rally to celebrate their success on the occasion of International Women’s Day, but they were beaten up and chased from Tahrir Square. The message is clear: thank you for the revolution, now go back home.

The rebels and revolutionaries have to keep in mind: Democracy is gender inclusive. This is our responsibility: to alert the international community to make sure that all sections of society are supported and represented equally in the political and social process.

Women are just as important for moderation as enlightened religious and other community leaders. When we call for more moderate forces to be brought to the forefront, women must certainly be recognized as valuable players in combating extremism. The voices and actions of women are in high demand - they represent a new global talent pool and are credible drivers against insecurity, radicalization and violent extremism.

With best wishes,

Edit Schlaffer and the Women without Borders / SAVE team

Belarus hit by blast at Minsk metro station which kills 11

An explosion in the centre of Belarus' capital city has killed 11 and injured up to 100 people.

The explosion took place last night at around 17.55 local time, as commuters traveled home from work.

To read more on this story, follow this link: 

Breaking News: Women and children targeted by government forces in Yemen

Yemeni government forces have killed 24 children in their crack down on protesters since “Bloody Friday” on March 18, according to UNICEF

Two minors were killed during the massacre in Sana’a several weeks ago, and the growing unrest has led to further child casualties.

Yemenis have petitioned international organizations, including UNICEF, to put pressure on the Saleh government to cease using violence against children.

Women bringing a similar petition to the UN Development Program headquarters in Sana’a were attacked by government forces, Maha*, a SAVE contact in Sana’a, said. Women initiated the petition to condemn the deaths of protesters in the southern city of Taiz, and were bringing it to the UNDP, when government forces stopped their cars and assaulted drivers and passengers.

Protests bring about social change and unity

Women continue to be very active in the protests in Yemen, and their treatment in Change Square in Sana’a is symbolic of a new social atmosphere in Yemen.

“Women are treated with grace and respect in the square... Usually in Yemen, women get harassed all the time, but in Change Square nobody touches me," said Afrah Nasser on her blog.

Tawakkol Karman, a leading female activist, stated in an article in The Guardian that the protests have brought all sections of Yemeni society together like never before. Most Yemenis agree that the protest have provided them with a common cause which overshadows their differences.

“Protesters come from all segments of Yemeni society, united by one demand - to oust Saleh,” writes Nasser. “Contrary to what the president has been predicting about a civil war looming on the horizon in the event of his resignation, representatives of different tribes are protesting together at Change Square, acting in complete harmony. In fact, there have even been reports of tribes making peace and resolving long-running grudges as a result of this new atmosphere of unity.”

However, activists caution that these newly-founded bonds may break apart, as differences are reasserted and fights for power commence, should the protests succeed in toppling Saleh's regime. “We need to give people a new cause, give them ownership of the revolution, and involve youth in plans for the future,” said Nadia Al-Sakkaf, editor of The Yemen Times. “This is the time for a stronger civil society and media to develop. It is a turning point. If we don’t seize this chance, we will regret it.”

Gulf Cooperation Council rejected by opposition parties
Today the opposition parties announced their refusal to take part in the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative to mediate between the government and protesters. The initiative was viewed with suspicion by some, as Saudi Arabia, a leader of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is traditionally a supporter of President Saleh. Young people in Change Square asked the opposition parties not to accept the proposal, as they are discontent with any deal that would grant Saleh immunity from conviction for the alleged corruption and crimes committed during his 32-year presidency. They also worry that intervention by Saudi Arabia could mean the replacement of Saleh with a similar regime.

“Yemenis and Saudis love each other as neighbours,” Maha said. “But many people do not want intervention. They are afraid that the Saudis will find someone else who will just follow their line.”

Nadia Al-Sakkaf, editor of Yemen Times, expressed hope for the initiative despite the early failures. “Saudi Arabia is our big brother. Although these talks got off to a rocky start, they could still be successful, depending on how strongly other countries, like the USA, push.”

Intervention in Yemeni politics is a touchy subject, and Qatar is today coming under fire from Yemeni pro-government protesters. Demonstrators outside the Qatar embassy in Sana’a are condemning Qatar’s loud and uncompromising calls for Saleh’s exit.

Neglected southern provinces should provide next president and a Yemeni first lady, some say

With talks halted, violence continues in various cities of Yemen. In Sana’a yesterday, one protester was killed and one was critically injured, during huge protests against violence in Taiz, around 200 kilometers south of Sana’a. Taiz continues to experience severe unrest, with several killed on Friday.

Taiz suffers from underdevelopment due to insufficient investment by the central government. There is mass youth unemployment and a poor infrastructure. Nurses in the town complain of a lack of medical supplies to treat wounded protesters. The poor economic and social structures fan the fire of revolution in Taiz.

In fact, there has been some talk that a new president should be from the south of Yemen. Since unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, the Southern provinces have been ruled over by a Northern president. Maha suggested that it might be good for Yemen to have a more open-minded, well-educated president from the South. Women are also hoping that Yemen may for the first time have a visible First Lady; President Saleh has never presented any of his female relatives to the public. “It would be great for Yemen to have a First Lady,” said Maha. “It would have a good impact on all our work, and we would hopefully have a role model for Yemeni women, and someone to turn a greater focus on women’s issues.”

*Name has been changed

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Yemeni women call on international community to support their urgent demand for inclusion

Women in Yemen claim that international pressure is essential if their voices are to be included in decisions about the country’s future.

Figures such as Tawakkol Karman have become increasingly prominent in Yemen’s current uprisings. Women are playing a key role in mobilizing protesters and leading demands for change. However, the experience of Egypt shows that women are too often forgotten once revolutionaries have achieved their goal.

“The international community must put pressure on Yemen’s decision-makers to include women in any new administration; otherwise they will not do it,” said Nadia Al-Saqqaf, editor of the Yemen Times. “There has to be a fair recognition of the part women are playing. The international community should use a carrot and stick approach to encourage decision-makers to include women.”

The participation of civil society, youth and intellectuals in an emerging administration will be decisive for Yemen’s future, Nadia adds. She is hoping for a presidential council that will carry out the transfer of power under a clear mandate, and for extensive financial support to flow into Yemen. The country’s economy has been hit hard by the protests, and Nadia predicts that recovery will take years.
However, the protests in Yemen seem to be far from over. Over the last two days, deadly clashes in Taiz, a city in the south of Yemen, have left at least 19 dead and hundreds injured. The clashes occurred when protesters – many of them students at Taiz University - marched on the town hall, apparently in an attempt to occupy the building. Government forces stopped them, using bats, daggers and a brand of tear gas, which some have claimed is illegal under international law. Facebook has lately been inundated with videos and images of the attacks.

Opinions differ as to who was at fault in these clashes. Although many believe the government response was disproportionate, some Yemenis believe that the protesters’ actions were too aggressive, worrying that the violence will jeopardize dialogue and be used by Saleh as an excuse to stay on.

Sana’a has seen further disturbances today, with the New York Times reporting that tribesmen loyal to Saleh have clashed with soldiers who have joined the opposition, leaving three dead.

There are ongoing skirmishes and stone-throwing between government supporters and anti-government protesters in Sana’a. Some streets of the capital are in lock-down mode due to frequent clashes – shops and businesses are shut, while many residents have evacuated.

Maha*, another contact in Yemen, says that many Yemenis are “thrilled” by the increased pressure that the USA is exerting on Saleh to step down. However, many are worried that Yemen may end up in a similar position to Libya. President Saleh’s administration has agreed to attend talks with opposition leaders in Riyadh. Locals view this initiative with skepticism, believing that little progress will be made. Saleh is also expected to demand diplomatic immunity for himself and his family for the rest of his life if he is to stand down. But it is unlikely that Yemenis would accept such a compromise. “Saleh should pay for what he has done to the country,” said one Sana’a resident.

Fears are increasing that the unrest in Yemen is paving the way for radical forces to gain a stronger foothold in the country. Women, as strong advocates for dialogue, democracy and non-violence, must be included in government, in order to create a safe arena for moderate voices. Saleh has said that he wants to leave Yemen in safe hands: a responsible, accountable and stable government requires the participation of the whole of society, both male and female.

*Name has been changed

People-to-people contact and victims' stories break cycle of violence in Israel and Palestine

Robi Damelin, representative of SAVE Israel, reflects on the current situation in Israel and Palestine, highlighting the importance of people-to-people contact between the two sides. Teaching the young generation through presenting real life stories is key to initiating a sustainable reconciliation process. Incorporating reconciliation in any future peace agreement is also essential. Original article published by Common Ground News Service.

Tel Aviv - The recent violence in Israel and Gaza is threatening to spiral into yet another cycle of reprisals and counter-reprisals in this long and intractable conflict. This ceaseless reality of violence, which has engulfed Israelis and Palestinians for decades, has already caused terrible damage severely affecting the social and cultural fabric of both societies and substantially degrading the relationships between them.

I lost my beloved son David in this bloody conflict. He was pursuing a Master's degree in the Philosophy of Education. He was part of the peace movement and did not want to serve in the Occupied Territories when he was called in for reserve duty.

For me, dialoguing with students in schools about reconciliation has become the most meaningful way of commemorating his name.

I belong to a unique grassroots organisation called the Parents Circle - Families Forum (PCFF), comprised of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost immediate family members to the conflict. We come from all walks of life, with one thing in common: we share the same pain, and recognise that if we – Palestinians and Israelis who have paid the ultimate price – can understand the need for a non-violent solution to this conflict, then surely this belief can serve as an example for others.

Our long-term goal is to create a framework for a reconciliation process that would be incorporated into any future political peace agreement. Our power stems from the collaborative work of our members – now more than 600 families – half of which are Palestinian and the other half Israelis.

Our most important ongoing work on the ground is conducting dialogue meetings in schools. They allow us to reach more than 25,000 students every year. We speak to 16- and 17-year-old Palestinian and Israeli students who, for the most part, have not met anyone from the "other side". Coming into a classroom of Jewish-Israeli students with a Palestinian partner who tells his or her personal story and journey to reconciliation opens their eyes to the humanity and narrative of the other side.

For Jewish Israeli students, this may be the first opportunity to hear what the daily life of a Palestinian living under occupation is all about. For the Palestinians this may also be their first encounter with an Israeli not in an army uniform or who is not a settler.

Anyone attending a meeting with members of the Parents Circle cannot be immune to the deep sense of trust between us. They listen to Nasra from Nablus who lost two sons, together with Roni from Tel Aviv, who has also lost two sons in the conflict. Together they stand in front of hundreds, sharing their determination to prevent others from experiencing this loss. This joint, heartfelt plea must be an example to all.

One of the most important elements we feel is missing in the Arab-Israeli discourse is real human stories. For this reason we have recently introduced a programme that uses personal narratives to build trust, empathy and mutual understanding between Palestinians and Israelis, through a parallel narrative experience. The programme offers an opportunity for hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis to tell their stories, sharing the most difficult consequences of the conflict.

Our latest efforts focus on social media as a means to cross the forbidden border and create conversation between people on both sides of the conflict. Called "A crack in the wall”, this initiative allows Israelis and Palestinians to engage, tell their stories and get to know one another directly. One Palestinian speaks and 100,000 Israelis will listen; one Israeli speaks and 100,000 Palestinians will listen.

Our personal experiences have led us to a strong belief that any peace agreement achieved between the Israelis and Palestinians cannot be sustained without a substantial reconciliation process between the two peoples.

We have all watched politicians signing peace agreements on the lawn of the White House, but this has led only to a ceasefire. We understand that we must create the possibility for people to understand the needs of the “other”. We have studied many other countries and realised that without a people-to-people peace process and a framework for reconciliation that will suit the cultural needs of the two peoples, this conflict will go on forever.

In this period of uncertainty and change, we cannot afford to give up hope and wait for new leaders. We who best understand the consequences of violence will continue to work for the human dignity and freedom for all.

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS