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Sanaa — With the opposition’s tentative endorsement of the Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal aimed to oust Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office 30 days after signing, the country edges closer to ending its enduring political stalemate. The ramifications of a Saleh departure abound, but Yemeni economists say the regime’s speedy withdrawal is the sole means available to solve one pressing crisis that has plagued the country for a month now: its debilitating gas shortage.
“The gas crisis is firstly political and social,” professor of economics at Sanaa University Dr. Ali told Al-Masry Al-Youm. ”It affects the limited income classes: the workers in restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels.”
Residents of Yemen’s main urban centers, such as the capital Sanaa, have faced problems finding cooking gas in recent weeks due to transportation and security issues. As the regime, the opposition and different tribes place responsibility on each other for the gas shortage, ordinary Yemenis are forced to pay more than 300% the standard price. Many other citizens have lost their jobs and only incomes as a result of the crisis.
The shortage is exacerbating an already bad economic situation in one of the Arab World’s poorest countries. In an attempt to pressure the government to solve the issue, Yemenis equipped with empty gas barrels are taking to Sanaa’s streets in protest.
“I never thought that one day I will use this method to demand anything but life is hard, and I have to feed my family,” said one demonstrator. “The gas that we used to buy for YR1100 we now hardly find for even YR3500.”
Sanaa resident and former restaurant owner Twafiq Mohammed says he lost roughly YR2,000,000 due to the crisis. He was forced to shut the doors to all his establishments and fire his 160 employees.
“We used 35-40 gas barrels a day at the restaurant a week ago,” said Mohammed. “When the price became YR5000 I had to close down.”
Although meager amounts of natural gas come from refineries in Aden, the vast majority of the resource is found in Marib Governorate. The Marib supply must feed nearly all of Yemen’s 24 million people. The Yemeni government blames the gas crises on the political opposition and provincial tribes who control Marib Governorate.
“Marib is all under Major General Ali Mohsen [head of the first armored division] and his tribal allies that belong to Al-Qaeda,” said presidential information officer Ahmed al-Sofy.
In a move that tipped the balance in favor of pro-democracy demonstrations that have filled the streets of Yemen for three months now, Mohsen defected in March and vowed to protect the country’s protest movement.
But Major Colonel of the first armored division Abdalsalam al-Ayani says the gas crisis is fabricated by the regime to intimidate citizens and deter them from continuing to demand Saleh’s ouster.
“Everyone knows by now that there is no Al-Qaeda at all in Yemen,” al-Ayani told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Such logic is dismissed by some members of the international community, such as the United States, who consider Yemen a bastion of Islamist radicalism and President Saleh a bulwark against its expansion. US officials, however, have indicated in recent weeks they are withdrawing their unconditional support for the three-decade-long strongman.
After the onset of protests, the Yemen government lost control of vast swathes of the country. To fill the security vacuum, Marib’s Abeeda, Jehm and Al-Jda’an tribes have collaborated to protect the Marib–Sana’a highway, the primary conduit of gas to the country’s capital, when they seized control of the area two months ago.
Last Friday armed clashes reportedly erupted between those tribes and the Republican Guards in the Marib town of Sahn al-Jn. State media alleged tribal groups attacked the guards when they deployed to stem prevention of access on the highway by tribal groups.
Shiekh Naji al-Arada of Abeeda, Marib Governorate, on the other hand, accuses state security of seizing trucks passing along the conduit.
“The highway is protected by the tribes, at the beginning of the political crises the tribes in Marib gathered and agreed to protect the public interests in the governorates and never to prevent anything that the citizens benefit from such as gas,” said al-Arada. ”A month ago, when the gas crises started, national security detained 20 gas trucks en route from Mareb to Sanaa.”
In the wake of that incident, according to al-Arada, security seized another 20 gas trucks, claiming they feared the cargo would be confiscated by vandals.
Al-Arada on Friday said the Republican Guard’s Marib leader met with the area’s tribal leaders to apology for the supposed state-sponsored attack.
“The republican guards attacked us with around 40 tanks,” said al-Arada. “We managed to destroy two of them, kill three soldiers were killed, injure 15 and arrest 10 others. We used our Kalashnikovs and bazookas to defend ourselves.”
“The solution is to withdraw the regime as the security and economic crises won’t have a reason to continue.”
But even if Saleh’s departure returns security to the embattled country, Yemenis will be suffering aftershocks from the crisis for years to come. According to Ali Al-Ashal, a member of parliament’s oil and development committee, the gas crises will sustain itself through 2029 should the current production and distribution atmosphere remain in place.
Yemen produces 20000 barrels of gas a day. That amount sufficiently serves the local population. Back in 2005, however, Yemeni officials signed a contract to export natural liquid gas with the French company Total and the South Korean firm Co Gas. Gas exports, according to the contract, began a twenty-year term in 2009.
The parties stipulated imbursement at US$3.2 for the one metric ton over the following 18 years of production when international prices, at the time, rated US$13.
Today that deal deprives Yemen of nearly half its reserves. Moreover, one metric ton figure now sells for US$16 on the international market. Yemeni MP’s are jockeying to push a corruption case against the regime. They say Yemen suffers substantial losses as a result of the deal.
In an attempt to cope with the crisis, Yemeni officials have imported three shipments of gas since the onset of the crisis. Twenty thousand tons of cooking gas, the Yemen Times recently reported, is due for arrival in the country this week.
“There are no doubts that changes in the regime will get Yemen out of this crisis. What led us to it in the first place is corruption and poor administration,” said Al-Ashal. “If the youth revolution succeeds it will put us in a better position to cancel this deal which harms Yemeni interests.”
If not for the revolution I wouldn’t know how great Yemenis are, unique, and brave. Today the sense of belonging finally knew its way to my heart. All those disagreements, differences melt to emerge the best in us. I won’t talk about Houthis coming along with Islah, I won’t talk about tribesmen giving up their weapons, I won’t talk about women walking proudly in the most crowded place in Yemen and not being harassed. This is all old news now. I will talk about saleem the 11 years-old boy who went to al-Tagheer square by luck and lost his eyes by a sniper. Saleem is just a smell boy with a huge Yemeni inside him just like the others when he heard the shooting he ran. They all ran but only in Yemen they run toward the shooting. I remember how surprised my friend Iona Craig was when she told me how brave Yemenis are and that she has never seen such a thing any where ales but Yemen. I will talk about Me .finally not for the revolution I wouldn’t know how great Yemenis are, unique, and brave. Today the sense of belonging finally knew its way to my heart. All those disagreements, differences melt to emerge the best in us. I won’t talk about Houthis coming along with Islah, I won’t talk about tribesmen giving up their weapons, I won’t talk about women walking proudly in the most crowded place in Yemen and not being harassed. This is all old news now. I will talk about saleem the 11 years-old boy who went to Al-Tagheer square by luck and lost his eyes by a sniper. Saleem is just a small boy with a huge Yemeni inside him, just like the others when he heard the shooting he ran. They all ran but only in Yemen they run toward the shooting. I remember how surprised my friend Iona Craig was when she told me how brave Yemenis are and that she has never seen such a thing any where ales but Yemen. I will talk about Me. Finally I found me when I felt there is a role that can’t be done by anyone ales. When I felt the history will prosecute me if I didn’t dedicate my time to add for this revo and to learn from these wonderful people. If it’s for revo I wouldn’t know how great, creative Yemenis there are. I wouldn’t become friends and learn from Farida, that modest women who joined the protest from the second day Afrah Nasser, Atiaf, , Sarah, Arwa, Ashwaq the 17 years-old girl who hide her school uniform run from school to help organizing the square, And many many more.
It’s a new Yemen that believes in sharing, understanding and acceptance.
YT photo by Abubakr Al-Shamahi
SANA’A, Apr. 20th — All across Yemen this week, more violence broke out against pro-democracy protesters. Last Wednesday, five protesters were killed in Sana’a and two in Ta’iz when clashes erupted between demonstrators, security forces and pro-government thugs wielding AK-47s.
The Science and Technology Hospital on 60 Meter Road near Sana’a University’s Change Square received at least 140 injuries that day. Four of those injured are in critical condition and remain in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Four volunteer female medical students were also arrested by Central Security Forces during the protesters’ march up 60 Meter Road.
“We were holding an emergency operation, trying to save the two [protesters] who died last night, but they passed away during the operation,” said Dr. Mohammed Al-Obahi, head of the pro-democracy demonstration’s field hospital.
“We are experiencing an acute shortage of general supplies, drugs and oxygen. We often have to transfer some cases to the nearby Kuwait hospital for triage,” he continued.
The Science and Technology Hospital received most of Wednesday’s injuries due to its proximity to the fighting. The protesters began marching from Change Square at 4:00PM, passing Al-Zubeiry Street to 60 Meter Road, near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to protesters, security forces tried to stop the march in Al-Zubeiry Street, which is where the clashes began. The Yemen Times has also learned that the protesters managed to arrest Colonel Genera, the leader of the security forces who gave the final order to attack. Seven pro-government thugs were also arrested by the protesters’ security committee.
“We seized their weapons and the rocks that they intended to throw at us, and we will turn them over to the prosecutor’s office,” said Salem Alaw, a member of the National Organization for the Defense of Rights and Freedoms.
According to the revolutionary media committee, one soldier was injured in the clashes and four volunteer female medical students rushed to treat his injuries. However, when they found the injured man, more soldiers rushed towards the women and arrested them.
Regarding the four arrested women, Walid Al-Amari, the protester responsible for managing Change Square’s main stage, said, “We gave an address on the Square’s stage that was broadcast to all of the other squares in the country, demanding their [the women’s] release. Otherwise, we will escalate.”
At the same time, Ahmed Al-Sofi, President Saleh’s information secretary, told the Yemen Times that not a single bullet was shot by the armed forces and that the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) should be held responsible for the killed protesters.
“All the gunfire came from the roof of the Saba phone company and from Asr mosque,” said Al-Sofi. “There are eyewitnesses who have confirmed that the armed forces didn’t use any bullets.”
Al-Sofi also said that national security was in the street simply to prevent any clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters, as a pro-government march was taking place at the same time.
He alleged that the JMP are responsible for killing the protesters. “They want to depict themselves as martyrs of the revolution,” insisted Al-Sofi. “The armed forces did not shed a single drop of blood.”
Meanwhile, according to a statement made by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), reporter Ahmed Al-Mohamadi was kidnapped by the Republican Guard last Saturday. Al-Mohamedi works for the Suhil opposition news channel, which has been actively covering events at Change Square.
According to the CPJ, Al-Mohamedi received a phone call on Saturday evening from the Office of the Republican Guard, summoning him to appear for questioning. Since then, he has disappeared.
According to Al-Mohamedi’s brother, the journalist had already been contacted on Thursday by two officers of the Republican Guard who asked him to resign from his post at the news station and work as a government informant. Al-Mohamedi declined.
The CPJ called upon Yemeni authorities to reveal Al-Mohamedi’s whereabouts.
Journalists have faced increasing levels of persecution over the course of the Yemeni crisis. On Saturday, security forces beat four freelance journalists who write for the independent weekly Al-Nidaa and the state-owned Al-Thawra.
According to the CPJ, Hamood Al-Hasimi, a journalist working for the independent daily Al-Oula, was beaten by a group of unidentified men while covering Friday’s pro-democracy protests in Taiz. Shortly before the attack, he received an anonymous phone call ordering him to stop his coverage and to leave the scene immediately.
Also on Friday, security forces seized a shipment of independent daily newspapers that included Akhbar, Al-Yawm, Al-Oula and Al-Shari. According to the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, the seizure took place at a checkpoint in the southern governorate of Hodeida. The driver transporting the newspapers was beaten.
“We call upon the Yemeni authorities to bring an immediate end to all forms of violence against the media, as well as to lift censorship,” said the CPJ.
A very different culture has evolved in ‘Change Square’, the area around Sana’a University that has become the central location for anti-government demonstrators in the capital. The announcements that are made from the stage in the square affects strongly the mentality of the protesters, and the stereotypes about them that have been drawn by observers.
Back on Feb. 20, when the protests were still just starting, the stage was smaller and used mostly to repeat the slogans of the revolution, such as “the people want the withdrawal of the regime.” However, the revolution has grown, and has now continued for over 12 weeks. The stage has increased in size and its role has evolved with the protests.
On the first Friday of the protests, there were only four speakers to broadcast the message of those who took to the stage to address the protesters. Each Friday the number of speakers grew, until now there are at least 80 speakers that broadcast the message over the entire sprawling protest area.
“Friday’s are special, as more people join whether for the prayers and the speeches, or just to join the sit-in. We need everybody to be updated on the revolution’s latest news and discussions, so it’s important to make sure the sound reaches everyone from the stage,” said Walid Al-Amari, who is among those who first setup the stage.
Some describe the stage as “the spirit of the revolution” given the influence and impact it has upon those at the protest. It has, however, also been the cause of conflict between the different youth movements, and some of those belonging to the Islah Party, the largest political block that makes up the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).
The JMP decided to join demonstrations at the square on Feb. 21. The Islah party took upon itself the responsibility of organizing the demonstration area. They started by organizing the stage, then went onto putting their mark upon the financial and donations committee, the protest security committee, and the field hospital. They seemed to want a role in even the smallest details of the protest camp. In March, conflicts started between Islah’s members and independents in the revolution, beginning with the stage.
“Controlling the stage means controlling the message that one delivers to the people, who have full trust in what is said on the stage, which is dangerous,” said one of the independent protesters.
According to Al-Amari, the conflict over the stage has now been solved. There are two committees that share responsibility for the stage. One includes ten of the founders of the stage, and the second arranges the program schedule and receives participants from the audience that want to share their point of view.
Various shows and discussions are held on the stage. Arrangements are announced, and sometimes humor takes over the stage. The program usually starts at 9:30 am, though it also depends upon events the day before. If there were clashes during the day before, the program starts later than usual as people are still tired.
The program has two shifts, one from 9:30 am to 4 pm, and a second from 4:3+ to 11:30 pm. The program includes a news hour that summarizes the events of the revolution in the capital and in other governorates.
During clashes with pro-government supporters or security forces, the stage plays a pivotal organizational role. It is the central point for propagating plans of resistance. Announcements are given detailing which areas are being attacked, and rallying calls are made for supporters to join their brothers at flash points. It also provides a central role in coordinating the medical tents, and the movement of medical supplies in the camp. During times of conflict, religious messages are broadcast from the stage to keep the protesters’ motivation high.
“The role of the stage is to mobilize the protesters. It’s also to lift up the spirits [of protesters]. Those people who have left their houses and have stayed on the streets since February need this spirit the most, to continue what they have started. Through the stage we manage to send out the important message of patience,“ explained Al-Amari. “It has the role of directing protesters and determines the location of marches. It is also used to respond to rumors.”
Political and academic discussions are held on the stage to raise public awareness and to share different points of views. “The stage is an institution for acceptance and coexistence between the different groups in the square. There are different religious sects, different political points of views, so a better understanding is built and past conflicts are reduced,” said Al-Amari.
The stage does not exist solely for leaders and organizers, but is also open to the people on the street who make-up the backbone of the protests. They are also given space to have their say and share their views and feelings in front of the crowds. Wedding parties have been held on stage where the groom (but not the bride) dances and gives speeches. It has been the place where engagements have been announced by the groom-to-be and the father of the bride-to-be.
A unique role played by the stage is to hold auctions. Once the motorbike of a martyr from the “Friday of Dignity” was auctioned. At another time a huge cake with the word “Irhal” (leave) written on it was auctioned off. The protesters have formed a special finance committee to handle the protests donations and distribute funds earned from auctions
The program is sometimes host to musical or other artistic events, from the singing of traditional Yemeni songs, to hip hop, to shooting video clips of revolutionary songs.
The protests at ‘Change Square’ in Sana’a, as in other ‘Change Squares’ in many other governorates of Yemen, have brought together a multitude of different Yemenis across the economic, religious and political spectrum like nothing else has before. The protest areas have become the body politic of a new Yemen that projects tolerance, patience, resistance and cooperation. And the stage acts as the beating heart of this vibrant new body.
Nach wie vor strömen Tag für Tag tausende Jemeniten auf die Straßen der Hauptstadt Sanaa, um gegen das Regime Ali Abdallah Salehs zu protestieren. Die Situation in dem bitterarmen Land im Süden der arabischen Halbinsel wird indes immer komplizierter. Auch der Golf-Kooperationsrat, indem sich die sechs Anrainerstaaten des Persischen Golfs unter der Führung Saudi-Arabiens zusammengeschlossen haben, hat bisher keine Lösung hervorgebracht. Die Journalistin Shatha Al-Harazi, die sich bei den Yemen Times mit Menschenrechtsthemen befasst, erklärt im Interview mit derStandard.at ihre Sicht der Dinge.
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derStandard.at: Demonstranten verlangen seit Monaten den Rücktritt Präsident Salehs, bis zu 100 Menschen sind seither ums Leben gekommen, ein Ende der Unruhen ist nicht in Sicht. Vor einigen Wochen sah es so aus, als wäre Salehs Abgang nur mehr eine Frage der Zeit. Warum ist er noch im Amt?
Shatha Al-Harazi: Es sind bisher schon bis zu 300 Menschen, die getötet wurden, immer mehr kamen zu den Protesten, Beamte, Bürger und auch seine eigenen Leute. Saleh hatte gedacht, er könne sich auf seine Anhänger verlassen, die USA und vor allem auf seine Verwandten, die die wichtigsten Positionen im Land innehaben. Die Freitagsproteste, zu denen er aufgerufen hat, haben ihm aber dann doch mehr Selbstvertrauen gegeben und haben die Ausgangsposition verändert. Auch die internationale Gemeinschaft hat ihre Position gegenüber der Revolution geändert, die Angst vor Al -Kaida spielt keine so große Rolle mehr.
derStandard.at: Zeigen die Revolutionen in arabischen Ländern Auswirkungen?
Al-Harazi: Die Revolutionen in Tunesien und Ägypten haben aber auch auf Saleh Einfluss gehabt, er hat gegenüber der Opposition immer darauf beharrt, nach seinem Rücktritt nicht belangt werden zu können. Nachdem Mubarak (gestürzter Präsident Ägyptens, Anm.) nun vor Gericht gestellt wurde, hat auch Saleh erkannt, dass es keinerlei Garantien gibt, dass er nicht denselben Weg wie Mubarak gehen wird. Darum geht er nun so hart vor.
derStandard.at: Wer unterstützt Saleh noch und wie lange wird er – Ihrer Meinung nach – noch an der Macht bleiben?
Al-Harazi: Die Geschäftsleute, die von Saleh unterstützt wurden und von dem korrupten Regime profitierten und Bürger, die von der Angstmacherei der offiziellen Medien angesteckt wurden, wonach sich Nord- und Südjemen aufspalten könnten. Dazu gibt es Menschen, die Angst haben, dass Hammed Al-Ahmer, Salehs Gegner mit schlechtem Ruf, das Land regieren könnte. Und zum Schluss natürlich diejenigen, die für Pro-Regierungsproteste bezahlt werden.
derStandard.at: Was können Sie über Kämpfe zwischen Polizei und Militär sagen?
Al-Harazi: Bisher hab es keine großen Kämpfe. Die Polizei ist noch immer loyal zu Saleh und kann es sich gar nicht leisten, sich gegen die Armee aufzulehnen. Einer der wichtigsten Armeeführer ist übergelaufen und hat versprochen, er wolle die Revolution schützen. Bisher gab es zwei Zusammenstöße in der Hauptstadt, sieben Soldaten sollen getötet worden sein, was dem Regime Grund gab, vor einem Bürgerkrieg zu warnen. Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, der sich auf die Seite der Demonstranten gestellt hat, überlebte in diesem Monat bereits das fünfte Attentat.
derStandard.at: Was halten Sie von dem Vermittlungsvorschlag des Golf-Kooperationsrates (GCC), der den Abgang Salehs zu einem unbestimmten Zeitpunkt vorsieht, nach Ansicht vieler Kritiker aber Straffreiheit für ihn beinhaltet?
Al-Harazi: Ich war gemeinsam mit vier jungen Demonstranten zur Konferenz in Riad (Hauptstadt Saudi-Arabiens, Anm.) eingeladen, als der GCC noch nicht von seiner scharfen Rücktrittsforderung abgerückt war. Katars Außenminister sagte damals, die Initiative wäre klar auf Salehs Rücktritt ausgerichtet. Die Jugend hat diesem Vorschlag zugestimmt, Saleh hat ihn abgelehnt. Daraufhin änderte die GCC ihren Plan. Jetzt, wo mehr als 300 Demonstranten getötet wurden, wird weder die Jugend noch die Opposition einer Straffreiheit für Saleh zustimmen.
derStandard.at: Saleh hat die Rahmenbedingungen des GCC akzeptiert, solange diese “verfassungsgemäß” sind. Was bedeutet das?
Al-Harazi: Das heißt, dass er nicht zurücktritt, sondern eine Art oberster Führer wie Khamenei (iranischer Machthaber, Anm.) wird. So könnte er mit Ehre aus dem Palast gehen und auch rechtlich nicht für seine Verbrechen angeklagt werden.
derStandard.at: Haben Sie selbst die Proteste unterstützt?
Al-Harazi: Ja. Ich habe Saleh persönlich getroffen und ihn zum Rücktritt aufgefordert.
derStandard.at: Können Sie uns die Atmosphäre in Sanaa beschreiben?
Al-Harazi: Die Demonstrationen begannen an Universität von Sanaa, dann sind die Oppositionsparteien dazugekommen und dann die jungen Leute. Die Jugend macht etwa 70 Prozent der Bevölkerung aus, wir sprechen von kaum zwei Prozent davon, die zu Beginn dabei waren. Bis jetzt ist ein großer Teil der Bevölkerung unentschlossen oder hofft auf einen dritten Weg, der aus friedlichem Übergang und Dialog besteht. Die Jungen sind am schwersten davon zu überzeugen, die übrigen Bewohner stört vor allem die Wirtschaftskrise und der Mangel an Basisgütern wie Öl und Gas. Diese Menschen wollen vor allem ein schnelles Ende der politischen Krise.
derStandard.at: Wie frei kann die Presse in Ihrem Land arbeiten?
Al-Harazi: Freier als in jedem anderen arabischen Land mit Ausnahme des Libanon. Aber natürlich werden Journalisten, die gegen Korruption anschreiben, von der Regierung angegriffen. Außerdem sind wir im 21. Jahrhundert, da ist die arabische Welt alleine kein Maßstab mehr, wir wollen die uneingeschränkte Freiheit. (mhe, derStandard.at, 19.4.2011)
Sanaa — Yemeni women activists are responding combatively to the media war waged by Yemeni state media this week to denounce female participation in the country’s widespread protests.
Sparking the row, President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Friday criticized gender intermingling during the demonstrations in a televised speech delivered to thousands of pro-regime supporters.
“I call on them [the joint meeting parties] to reject the mixing of sexes as it’s forbidden by Islam,” Saleh urged in Sanaa.
State-run television channels in subsequent days hosted several men who allegedly defected from demonstrations in Tagheer (Change) Square, the epicenter of Yemen’s unrest, because of female behavior there.
“I used to see men getting inside their tents, sharing poems or whatever. That bothered me a lot, as it’s a big shame,” a self-proclaimed member of one women protection committee said on the show, which was later posted on YouTube and publicized on social media sites.
“Once I saw some girls mingling with some male protesters,” the member said. “Then they took a taxi and left the protest together. I informed the security committee but they did nothing. They said it’s not the time to address this kind of problem.”
Saleh’s state media mechanism has sought to appeal to the religious and socially conservative Yemeni majority through its criticism of female involvement in the unrest. State-run news websites continue to pursue a defamation campaign against the women demonstrators. They publish photos of females mingling with men in Tagheer Square, some holding discussions in academic tents with men chewing Qat — a natural amphetamine pervasively used among men in Yemen.
“As a girl I can’t isolate myself from the society and not participate in what’s happening only because men in my society chew Qat and are not used to hosting women during their chewing sessions,” Sara Gamal, featured in one of the photos, told Al-Masry Al-Youm, while insisting her participation in political discussions with male counterparts does not violate Islamic rules.
In response to Saleh’s remarks, Yemeni female demonstrators on Saturday submitted a defamation suit to the general prosecution office against President Saleh, Minister of Information Hassan Al-Lawzy and head of the Yemeni Public Cooperation for Radio and Television, Hussein Ghuthem. The suit includes charges of libel and slander.
Critics of the regime say the head of state, in power for three decades, is resorting to any means necessary to retain power.
“Saleh contradicts himself. At the beginning he wanted to scare the Yemeni women, saying that if his regime withdrew, the Islamists will make Yemen another Afghanistan where women have no voice or rights,” said Arwa al-Faqeeh, a female activist involved in the defamation suit who has been camped out at Tagheer Square. “But now he is trying to act Taliban himself by denying our rights in making change in the streets along with our brothers.”
“He should be the last to talk about Islam or the Yemeni female honor and manners. He is a two-faced man that shouts for the constitutional legitimacy but, once we practice our constitutional rights, he accuses us of being un-Islamic!”
Al-Faqeeh and her fellow activists also arranged large marches in Taiz, Aden, Ibb and Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. Civil society activists, moreover, coordinated a mixed march in Sanaa to deliver a message to Saleh that women have nothing to hide in demonstrating beside men. And the Islamist Islah Party, the country’s largest opposition bloc, arranged marches strictly for women.
But some Yemenis, even those women dedicatedly involved in the pro-democracy movement sweeping the nation, suggest Saleh’s remarks are impacting the mentality of the unrest.
“Saleh led us to a dangerous way of thinking,” said female activist Samia al-Hadad. “He succeeded in making us relate the honor of women with the fact of mixing with men in general activities.”
“The regime is playing a strong psychological game against the revolution and the protesters in Change Square,” said political analyst Ahmed al-Zurqa. “The president knows how sensitive the stereotype of the Yemeni women is from an ethical point of view. He meant to cause defections in the square.”
But the condemnation of female involvement is not only having a psychological effect. During the mixed march in Sanaa, defected army soldiers who vowed to protect the revolution, along with members of Islah Party, beat several female demonstrators. On Tuesday, those same activists arranged a march to the general prosecutor’s office to submit a criminal suit of violation and assault.
“The soldiers came from tribal and Islamist backgrounds and are sensitive towards female participation,” said al-Zurqa. “They still have the stereotype of segregation that doesn’t suit the revolution.”
Following the attacks, President Saleh held a conference with Yemeni women in which he said his remarks on Friday were interpreted inaccurately. He believes, Saleh told the activists, women are half of Yemeni society.
“We do not suspect our mothers, daughters or sisters. Women are too honorable to say anything about,” Saleh said, denying he suggested women were pursuing inappropriate relations with men. “When we talked and said ‘why are you mixing?’ — that is because of our worry for our daughters, sisters and mothers from mobs and anarchists.”
Throughout the country, people often discuss the Islamic view on women in Tagheer Square. In discussions among ordinary Yemenis, people commonly deny women the right “for any reason” to sleep in a public tent.
One protester sparked recent controversy by delivering her baby in one of Tagheer’s female medical tents.
“How can a woman dare to open her legs that way to deliver a babe in a street?” a pro-government citizen said. “This is a shame that makes me disrespect the women who protest in Change Square.”
The recent announcement of a marriage engagement between two Yemenis who met during demonstrations over the past nearly three months has also visibly revealed the discord between state media and progressive activism.
Anti-government media and protesters alike reacted to the marriage announcement with happiness and appreciation, saying the relationship started in a respectful environment. The state media apparatus characterized the situation as shameful evidence that women sleep in the square seeking husbands.
But, despite conflicting reports on the reformation of gender views, many female protesters confirmed to Al-Masry Al-Youm that the protests have created a new culture of relative gender equality in Tagheer Square.
“The culture we created in the square is more like a miracle in which tribesmen, soldiers and civilized people respect us,” said activist al-Faqeeh. “The square is unlike what we were used to before the revolution started.”
SANA’A, Apr. 17 — Female anti-government protesters from Al-Tagheer Square in Sana’a have submitted a criminal charge of defamation to the general prosecutor’s office against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The charge has been made against the Minister of Information, Hassen Al-Lawzy, the head of the Yemeni Public Corporation for Radio and Television, Hussein Moqbel Ghuthem, and the directors of Yemen, Shaba, Eman, and Aden television channels. The complaint was for libel and slander because of the president’s accusation that the mixing of men and women in ‘Change Square’ is un-Islamic.
Following Wikileaks revelations of President Saleh’s taste for fine whiskey, he is not known for his piety among Yemenis.
Thousands of Yemeni women marched on Saturday and Sunday against President Saleh in the capital Sana’a, in one of the largest protest marches witnessed since they erupted in early February.
“We participated in the peaceful demonstrations beside our brothers in Al-Tagheer Square since early Feb. 2011. We were practicing our rights of expressing our opinions in a civilized way via peaceful demonstrations as granted by Yemen’s constitution,” said a protester in ‘Change Square’. “After Friday prayers, President Saleh accused us of mixing with men in a manner forbidden by Islam in front of 5,000 people in Al-Sabeen Square.”
On Friday, President Saleh in a speech called on the “Joint Meeting Parties to use their conscience and to join the dialogue in order to agree on one decision for the sake of the security and stability of this nation. I call on them to reject the mixing of sexes as it is forbidden by Islam. The mixing of sexes is forbidden in the Al-Jami’ah Street.”
In a march on Siteen St., well-known female activists mingled with male protesters as a response to the President’s speech, to show that there is nothing is wrong in practicing their rights. Some female protesters offended by the president’s speech were assaulted by soldiers from the 1st Armored Division and had their cell phones and cameras confiscated according to a statement from HEMAIA, a coalition of lawyers and activists. HEMAIA condemned the assault on peaceful female protesters.
“These assaults are what the corrupt regime wants to happen to the protesters. The protesters do not need a testimony on their behavior,” read the statement. HEMAIA demanded that leaders of the JMP take the necessary actions to stop these kind of assaults on protesters by JMP members.
Summer Ali, one of the protesters at Al-Tagheer Square, said that the president has always been using women’s rights to promote himself, but is now speaking against what he said in his electoral speeches. “Wasn’t he [Saleh] the one who suggested 44 seats for women in a parliament among 267 male parliamentarians last year to get out of his political crisis? Isn’t that the kind of mixing that he now calls forbidden? Does he only pick the standard that suits him when he needs them?”
Frieda Al-Yaremi, the first female to join the protesters at ‘Change Square’ in February, said that women in Yemen’s conservative society need to revolt twice: first against the regime, and second against a hypocritical society.
The role women in the protests that began on Feb. 3 was initially limited. Activists expected that the government and the General People’s Congress (GPC) would respond violently against the protests. This fear initially lead the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) to call on its female members not to joint the protests and stay at home. However, on the same day the GPC encouraged its supporters to take to the streets in response to the opposition. The GPC rally was protected by the military, and they bussed in women and girls to show their support for the ruling party and its president.
The face of the opposition protests have now changed. Anti-government demonstrations in Sana’a now include four large tents especially for women. Here they can eat, pray and sleep away from the male protesters. During the day, many hundreds of women attend the protest, and are as vocal as their male counter-parts.
On the first day of the protest, 30 men came to set up their tends outside Sana’a University. On the second day, Farida Al-Yarimi, a 47-year-old mother of two girls and three boys set up her tent at the protest. This shocked many in Yemen’s deeply conservative society where it is considered illegal to sleep in the same area as men unknown to the woman. However, over the coming weeks, many more women joined the demonstration, and they are encouraging others to do so.
“I knew what I did wasn’t expected, but one of us had to start doing something. When I first came here I expected the worst, but it was great. The way the men protected me and secured the tent was good. Even traditional tribesmen don’t look down at us now. This revolution has brought back the good behaviors of the past,” reflected Al-Yarimi on her experience.
Al-Yarimi’s family joined her two days after she set up her tent, and she has since become a leading female protester. Most female protesters are over 40, as many Yemeni families are still preventing their daughters from participating in the demonstrations.
Azmi Beshara, an Arab intellectual, has said that a new civilized culture has emerged in Change Square that has moved the country forward 10 years in only a few months.