How Yemen deals with the film and anti-US protests
Last updated: September 29, 2012
The main coalitions at Change Square did not call for the protest, believing that ignoring the offense is the best Islamic response to the film, reports Shatha Al-Harazi, winner of Hillary Clinton’s Vital Voices Award.
50 US Marines were dispatched to Sana’a on “Mohammed the messenger of Allah” Friday, as a response to the violence that has gripped the Muslim world.
Nationwide protests accrued in Yemen provenances against the anti-Islam film “the Innocence of Muslims” that provoked Muslims to start anti-American demonstrations in many Arab and Muslim countries.
The protest in Sana’a demanded new laws that would respect all the prophets and apostles, not to offend them or the holy sites and create disincentives for both abuse towards the holy sites and to avert a rift between nations that embrace all religions.
The Friday lectures following prayers had different messages. Some were spreading the culture of violence to stop the “enemy” which is in this case the US, while others were calling for peace, reminding of prophet Mohammed’s behavior towards such insults.
On the second day in a row protesters demonstrated in front of the US embassy in Sana’a. Directly after the Friday prayer, people took off to the embassy from the al-Ferdos mosque. Around 2000 Houthis came to join the protest.
The security forces were now better prepared to stop the protesters from breaking into the embassy. Some people thought that this readiness should have been applied on Thursday instead, when four protesters were reported dead and almost 40 others injured by security forces. Tear gas and water cannons were used to spread the crowd.
According to the Ahrar al-Tagheer coalition one protester was shot by the Marines in Friday’s demonstrations.
On Thursday few had de facto seen parts of the 14 minutes video, but on Friday more people were motivated by curiosity to watch it. Before the Libyan and Egyptian protests, Yemenis were not even aware of its existence. They were busy by the defense minister’s assassination attempt that left seven dead on Wednesday.
The general reaction to the film among Yemenis is sympathy with those who protest and condemn it. But on the other hand the majority are against the violence.
The results of the protests were contradictory. Protesters demanded on the first day an apology by the US government, and escalated to demanding the expulsion of the ambassador. At the same time, President Abd Rabbu Mansuir Hadi apologized to the American government.
“Those who are behind are a mob that are not aware of the far-reaching plots of Zionist forces, especially those who made a film insulting the prophet,” said Hadi.
But for some Yemenis the US is the other face of “Zionist forces” in Yemen.
Hadi also warned that such acts could have a negative impact on what he called the good relationship between Yemen and the American people, according to the Yemeni News agency Saba.
However, political analyst Mohamed al-Sharabi said that these demonstrations will not change the Yemeni-American relationship, as it was not called for by the Yemeni government. In fact, it simply helped to justify the American troops’ presence in the country.
Furthermore, President Hadi has been a useful ally to the US administration in countering terrorism and fighting Al-Qeada. President Obama won’t endanger their relationship, especially this close to the upcoming presidential elections.
The military intervention in Yemen is what provokes Yemenis the most. Although the state department said that Washington has nothing to do with the film production, some protesters believe it was produced as a way of justifying American military presence in Yemen.
And the chant “Death to America” is not new in Yemen; it’s a popular slogan that children in school sometimes chant in protest during religious gatherings, or whenever there is an outcry against violence directed towards Palestine or Iraq.
In those same protests there is another popular chant, “O, Jews: Khaybar, Khaybar. The army of Mohammed will return,” referring to what happened in the year 629 in the west Arabian Peninsula when Mohammed and his followers defeated the Jews living in the oasis of Khaybar.
The US is always seen as the strongest ally of Israel, therefore, these two chants are somehow interlinked in religious-related protests. In 2006, the chant became a slogan for the Shiite sect in Yemen, the Houthis, who used to be fought by ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Neither the chants nor spreading banners by Houthis made Change Square much of a real provoking act to the American diplomats in Sana’a. However, since news of the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” broke out, the same chant became louder and this time posed a serious problem.
The protest that was first called by the Houthis leader on September 12 turned into something bigger. Many participated without knowing about the Houthis call, sensing it was a religious duty to join.
Reports say around 10,000 protesters marched to the American embassy on the first day. Although many reports described it as a spontaneous rally, Amran Ali, a member of al-Somod coalition, told You Middle East that the orders were clear from their leadership to break into the US embassy.
“These American have crossed all the lines, we wanted to kill any of them but unfortunately they left before we caught them,” he said.
A protester who wore jeans and t-shirt told Your Middle East that “Only protests that end with violence make headlines,” justifying the violence at the US embassy in Sana’a. “The Americans who think they rule the world, that they can kill us in our land and then insult our beloved prophet should realize that they are facing a nation of over 6 billion Muslims around the world.”
The Islah leader Abdulmajed al-Zandani, who is classified as a terrorist by the US, said in an interview with a local newspaper, “this is time for rage”.
Usually Houthis and Islah collide in sectarian conflicts that at one point escalated into a war, lasting for almost seven months in Haja and a year in Damaj. Yet, the hate for the US has united them.
“Today is not a day where we stop to think whether Houthi or Islah called for the protest and anger, the prophet doesn’t belong to one sect, his love unifies us, and if they thought they can differentiate us by sectarianism they should know by now how mistaken they are,” said a protester.
The main coalitions at Change Square did not call for the protest, believing that ignoring the offense is the best Islamic response to the film.
“We know that such a protest won’t end peacefully, people are driven by anger and we had previous information of the possibility for a riot,” said Adel Shamsan, the head of Change Square Media Center.
Other activists condemn the violence by both protesters and the security forces. Some even accused the ousted president’s thugs to be responsible for the violence since Saleh’s nephew remains at the head of the Central Security. President Hadi indicated that “the defection in the armed forces” was the reason behind the mob.
Videos by Change Square Media Center show the Central Security forces leaving their locations and joining the protest.
“One of the soldiers called on me to break into the embassy and destroy the cars, he even said if it was not for the security uniform I am wearing I would not stand watching,” said Shohdi al-Sofi, a protest photographer.
Change Square protesters condemned the mob saying that Yemen has embarked on a civic education since the 2011 revolution and the country is committed to peaceful means.
“We are not in favor of the US, especially after exposing the truth about the American drones role in killing so many civilians in Yemen,” said Ahmed al-Rufaidi from Change Square.
“But we lost over 2,000 lives in the Arab Spring by Saleh’s thugs and we kept being peaceful, it does not make sense that after almost 20 months we give that up.”
Shatha Al-Harazi is a recipient of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award. She is a social media activist and a political and human rights journalist. Shatha has reported from the front lines for a number of international news sources. She met face-to-face with ousted President Saleh in February 2011.