On the stage, the spirit of the revolution By: Shatha Al-Harazi
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.