The political crisis that has gripped Yemen since the beginning of February has begun to pervade every aspect of Yemeni life – even weddings.
These celebrations are usually special opportunities for Yemeni women to wear their best dresses, to paint their faces in makeup, to spend time dancing and to congratulate the bride.
Brides will often take great pains to arrange even the smallest details of their wedding. Female guests on the bride’s side will spend most of the wedding night gossiping about the bride’s dress, her makeup, the hall, the food and the songs. Other guests may recall their own weddings and compare it to the one they are attending. They will also discuss the event’s cost.
Nowadays, wedding discussions have become as political as those held in the street.
“If I knew the political situation would be like this, I would have postponed my wedding so that I wouldn’t waste money on arrangements and preparations that people won’t even notice,” said Saud Al-Ariki, a bridge who had arranged for her wedding to take place in May.
As is tradition for guests at a Yemen wedding, women will ululate for the bride whenever someone mentions her name, so as to express their happiness.
Today, so as to encourage women to ululate, other guests may call out the bride’s political position, which causes other likeminded supporters to erupt in cheers. For example, one of the guests may shout loudly across the hall, “Whoever is for the collapse of the regime, ululate for the bride!”, while another will respond to this provocation by shouting, “Whoever is with Ali Abdullah Saleh, ululate for the bride!”
“It is huge fun to have this kind of political discussion, especially when the majority of the women at the wedding are backing you up,” said Fatima Ahmed, a guest at a recent wedding.
“Weddings now have a new sort of spirit,” she continued, “though some people do get angry when you don’t agree with their opinion. But at least it’s a way of practicing democracy and freedom of expression in the simplest of times.”
Some women actually can’t stand this kind of discussion and feelings are sometimes hurt: “One of the pro-Saleh guests [at the wedding I recently attended] started to make the discussion personal and began to attack us. She then left in a huff because of the conversation,” said Ahmed.
Weddings are not the only events in Yemeni women’s lives that have become more politicized. Women’s qat-chewing sessions are becoming just as political as men’s, though some women are more tolerant of such talk than others.
“A friend of mine who started shouting for the dismantling of the regime told me that her best friend kicked her out of a qat chew at a pro-government friend’s house. Socially, this is a big shame that might not be forgivable,” said Sawsan Al-Ariqi.
One pro-democracy protester told the Yemen Times that, “My friend slapped me on the face and I slapped her back twice. I’m anti-government and she is pro. We should at least be able to respect our differences and our opposite points of view.”
Fortunately, some female qat-chewers see political discussion in a more positive light.
“It’s always political talk these days,” said Saba Al-Sermi, a regular hostess of women’s qat chews. “It’s good to explore how people think and see the world. Political knowledge would never be cultivated this way if it were not for the revolution.”
Even in schools, conversation and gossip has become political.
According to 16-year old pro-democracy protester Heba Salah, pro-government friends will call her every Friday so as to tease her about how many “millions” have gathered at Al-Sabaeen Square in support of President Saleh. Likewise, other friends will call to congratulate her on the number of protesters at Sana’a University’s Change Square.
Two weeks ago, Salah started spreading the idea of civil disobedience, telling her classmates to stop attending school until the regime collapses.
“One of the classes actually responded to my idea,” said Salah. “Most of its students stopped attending class and some began to protest in the schoolyard. Then the idea spread and even some of the teachers joined us!”
Salah then started a Facebook page calling upon her school to suspend all teaching until President Saleh steps down. The school reacted positively to her campaign and gave the students a “vacation” until the political situation improved.
But according to Salah, “The pro-government families didn’t like this. They put pressure on the head of the school to re-start all teaching. The school was also contacted by the Ministry of Education, which threatened to take its license away. So in the end, the director had to re-open all classes.”