Tuesday, May 31, 2011

FAQ: what in the world is happening in Yemen? Relationship between peaceful revolution & violent clashes

Some media outlets have reported the recent clashes between government forces and armed tribesmen as clashes between anti-government protesters & government forces. This is simply incorrect. I understand that Yemen can be quite complicated and confusing, so below is a very basic frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide about the difference between the peaceful revolution and the armed tribal clashes.

When did peaceful protesters begin?
Different protests began from mid January, when youth inspired by the fall of Ben Ali's regime, took to the streets. The protests were not daily until the night of Mubarak's resignation on February 11th when youth decided to hold sit-ins and camp out until the end of the regime. These protests spread nationwide, and day by day, more people joined, until it transformed into tent-cities. Since then protesters are still camped out there. When there is a march people leave to march but then return to the sit-in site. They have not left even after clashes began.

Did peaceful protesters take up arms against government?
For the past three months, peaceful protesters have NEVER taken up arms, even when attacked.
What is the difference between the attacks against peaceful protesters by government forces & the armed clashes between tribes and government forces?
The peaceful movement and the recent armed conflict are two separate issues. The armed clashes are between government forces & armed tribesmen loyal to Alahmar.
Peaceful protesters did not take up arms since the beginning. Government security forces and thugs repeatedly attacked peaceful protesters using live ammunition and snipers, expired tear gas, batons and rocks, which resulted in at least 250 deaths and thousands of injuries. The UN said reports indicated that in the latest attacks against peaceful protesters in Taiz had been killed by "Yemeni army, Republican Guards and other government-affiliated elements who forcibly destroyed the protest camp in Horriya Square using water cannons, bulldozers and live ammunition." Hundreds have also been arrested over the weekend, while dozens of others remain unaccounted for. Despite all these attacks, protesters are still vowing to remain peaceful.
The other clashes are between armed tribesmen and the government. How exactly it started and who began shooting is unclear, both sides accuse the other of firing the first shot. What we know is that the area around Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar's house, head of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation and an uneasy ally who abandoned the president and joined his opponents. , has been in control of the sheikh and his guards for a while. They were informed that the girl's school in that area was being stockpiled with weapons by government forces. Tribesmen claimed that Saleh was using that building and others to attack Sadeq Alahmar's home. Who then started the shooting is unknown. On May 23, 2011 Saleh's forces attacked Sadeq's home. Alahmar's house when most of Alahmar brothers were gathered there. Tribal fighters came to al-Ahmar's defense and seized a number of government buildings in the Hassaba neighborhood of the capital, Sanaa, during intense clashes. Since then, clashes have continued off and on. Heavy artillery, mortars, machine guns and even air strikes (in Nihm) have been used. Clashes have extended to Nihm and Arhab.
Why did the armed clashes between tribesmen and government begin?
While promoting the revolution is certainly part of the reason that Saleh is angry against Alahmars, it certainly is not the only reason. There is a deep personal problem between both sides. Many people believe this is a personal fight between Alahmar and President Saleh, a fight of «egos».
Are all the tribes with al-Ahmar?
While Sadeq Al Ahmar is the leader of the Hashid Tribal confederation, he does not have total control over decision, as the confederation is not monolithic. In fact, it is still divided between pro-Saleh & anti-Saleh sentiments. In addition, President Saleh still has some tribal loyalty especially in areas neighboring Sana'a.
Are civilians affected? How?
Many civilians have died in the clashes, and homes have been destroyed. Residents report seeing artillery, mortars and tanks. The situation is intensified, as citizens in the area have had no electricity or water for the past four days. Families feel worried, scared, and fear for the future. Many feel trapped in their house as the shelling continues. In addition to the physical harm on citizens, there is of course the psychological trauma that children face during conflict. The truce has failed as clashes have restarted again. Locals in Sana’a have fled the fierce clashes to their ancestral villages fearing for their lives after more than 115 people were killed in previous clashes in the capital.
According to the Yemen Times «Business has been paralyzed completely in most streets of Sana’a amidst continuous power cuts and water shortages. Most commercial shops appeared closed on Tuesday in several streets of the city.
How are people reacting to the conflict?
The majority of people is naturally upset about what is happening and fears for the future. However, the reactions seem quite divided: Some are making them heroes, others are denouncing their actions.
  • Many people feel that Alahmars had no other choice but to defend themselves, given that their house was hit by a missile. Some people have sympathized to the point of joining the clashes with Alahmars. Others have sympathized from a distance.
  • Some people believe this is a personal fight between al-Ahmar and the current government. They see it as a fall-out between two friends who were very close or as karma as they view Alahmar family to be as corrupt as the President. While they do not necessarily support Alahmar side, they worry for the civilians who are caught in the middle. They think people should stay out of this tribal personal fight because « they are getting what they deserved »
  • The group in between the first and second group believes that we should condemn the attacks even if Alahmars do not have a very clean history. This is against human rights.
  • Yet others are quite upset that al-Ahmars got engaged in the violence. They see it as a trap and feel that they should have refrained from responding. Even if their house was hit, they say they should have contacted media immediately to highlight the issue and remained peaceful.
  • Some believe that for Saleh this conflict is a good way to divert attention from the peaceful revolution and focus on the clashes.
  • Some believe that while President Saleh managed to divide Hashid, the attack against al-Ahmar's house gained them support and revised the sense of kinship amongst the Hashid confederation.
Is there a civil war in Yemen right now?
No, it has not yet escalated into a civil war. It is still ONLY between tribal members & the government. The military has not joined the conflict, despite the strong attempts of the government to drag it into conflict. Peaceful protesters and citizens as a whole have also not joined. It seems that Saleh is really pushing the military and the youth to join by constant attacks against them. When and if that happens, war will start. How long it will last and what the consequences will be will depend on many local and international factors.

Disclaimer: this is a very simplistic introductory summary to the issue. This by no means is sufficient to understand the current events.

Monday, May 23, 2011

How I and probably many feel right now

Sitting here waiting for things to get worse is causing me excruciating pain. I don't know if I should write, tweet, pray or just sit here silently watching the screen while tears fall down my face.

I am not being dramatic, but i'm also not naive. The political/realistic part of me has been assessing the situation for quite sometime. Friends have warned of this, and analysts as well. I concluded that violent clashes are highly likely (view previous posts, specifically the one on 100 days after the Revolution). But the dreamer part of me hoped that the peaceful revolution would prevail. Political scientists never predicted and could have never believed that a peaceful movement could happen in Yemen, but it did. It did because we dared to dream, and we dared to hope and believe that something positive could happen.

In the past months, I hoped that Saleh's warnings were psychological warfare and that in the end we will gain our demands peacefully without a war. I hoped that the close proximity of the first brigade and the military would form a balance and cause both sides to avoid firing. I reminded myself that armed tribesmen gave up their weapons in pursuit of a peaceful struggle. Selmya Selmya (peaceful peaceful) slogans and chants filled the square changing the course of Yemen's history forever.

Today violent clashes have begun, and after police force attacked the home of Sadeq al-Ahmar his body guards responded violently. The fighting is personal between two groups that have had in-fighting for a long time. it is linked to the Revolution because Saleh sees al-Ahmars as main actors behind the Revolution whether that's true or not.

So far, the fighting is still personalized between two sides and has not yet escalated into a civil war. While tribesmen have joined, the peaceful protesters have not joined the violent resistance and remain committed to peaceful change.

Things are likely to escalate but there is a small chance they may not. We should try and not push things towards escalation and try not to announce that it's already a war. Lets not make it a self fulfilling prophecy.

In a society where revenge is rampant the consequences of the upcoming days of violence will last a very long time. I just hope that this violence does not escalate into a full blown war and i hope that the international community will speak out SOON before it is to
o late.

100 Days, Yemen's Greatest Revolution

** I wrote this post twodays ago, but due to internet cut i could not post it. It now seems that violence is not only likely, but has begun :(

These 33 years have been a nightmare for the Yemenis. We are still sleeping and sometimes we still have this recurring nightmare, but most of the time we are having good dreams where we see the new Yemen. Sooner or later we will get up from bed and this nightmare will be over FOREVER.

There are some people who are complaining that the Revolution has failed or that it won't go anywhere. I don't know what will happen, but I know one thing this revolution has achieved so much even before the end. It changed the life of so many Yemenis. It has touched us in many ways, and there is simply no turning back from here.

Afraid no longer: for years Yemenis were afraid to speak out for fear of being harassed, threatened, or imprisoned. Now, people on both sides are openly speaking their mind. A walk down the alley in my neighborhood confirms this. I hear people discussing politics, constitutional legitimacy, civil rights, and discussing Saleh in person, something that would have been so rare in the past.

New found nationalism: for so long, Yemenis did not feel a sense of nationalism. More important than our “Yemeniness” was our tribe, family, region etc. Many Yemenis often asked their fellow Yemenis abroad “why do you want to come back to the country? There is nothing here for you”. The remarkable courage of the young protesters as they approached water canons and tanks with no weapons has changed people's image of themselves. The determination at the square, the creativity and the hope has given Yemenis a sense of belonging to a new Yemen. In the past, the Yemeni flag sometimes irritated people as they associated it only with the president. But today, the Yemeni flag is everywhere. It has emerged as the winner in this revolution as both sides are competing for who has more flags. Today at the square when the national anthem comes on, people respectfully drop what they are doing and stand in respect. Men and women, young and old, people from different regions, and tribes who have revenge issues between them, are now standing side by side to honor our beloved Yemen.

A new truly united citizenship has emerged: Citizens from Sa'ada have joined protesters in Aden, protesters in Taiz have joined their brothers in Sana'a. A new found citizenship has emerged. This mixing of people has created a new textile a new web of citizenship

Awareness-raising many seminars on a daily basis are happening at the square on various topics relating to civic participation, civil state, democracy, human rights, women's rights etc. More importantly, the fact that people come from different backgrounds has forced them to implement what they are learning. Many arguments erupted in the square between different groups, which I feel is a healthy phenomenon because it forced people to implement what they learned and to practice the terminologies learned.

There are of course many concerns at the moment:

Violent conflict including the likelihood that violence may erupt at any moment. The government continues to distribute weapons to its loyalists hoping to incite the other side for conflict. In addition, the physical proximity between the military and the first brigade is becoming closer and intensifying tension The likelihood that Saleh and Ali Mohsen use the tribes to fight their personal “war” seems very possible.

GCC initiative: As long as the President and his entourage are still in control, change will not occur. The GCC plan could be the beginning of the problems not the end. Yes a political solution could help solve Yemen's problems without conflict, but only if it was well-intentioned and did not serve the President. Whether he signs or not is irrelevant if we can not guarantee implementation. The GCC initiative has too many holes and its just too ambiguous. With a President that excels in political maneuvering, an ambiguous document just serves to empower him. In addition, there are no guarantees that after the 30 days he will leave. He might make excuses similar to the many he made before signing the GCC plan. Finally, the two months to prepare for elections are simply not enough and violate the election law which requires at least six months of preparation for the elections.

Economic woes: Over two months of unrest in Yemen has more than doubled the price of some basic items including food and cooking gas. Anger about the price increases have been building for weeks. At the same time, the value of the Yemeni Riyal has plummeted, deepening the economic strain. Banks are very low on dollars. New Yemeni currency is floating around, a terrible sign of possible future inflation. Saleh will leave the country with no money, high inflation, and dwindling oil resources. Will average citizens blame the current government for the economic crisis and price increases or will they blame pro-change protesters?

Regardless of whatever happens after this, Yemen will not be the same. This Revolution is the greatest in Yemen's history. This peaceful revolution is an intellectual, cultural and social revolution. The extent to which these elements will be part of the new Yemen is unclear at this point, but the effects of the revolution will remain imprinted in people's psyche forever. A new movement has begun, and can never be reversed. Change will not be easy, and it will take at least 20 years to reach what we want, but we have to start with the first step, and this is it.

I believe that what people experienced at the square has changed them forever and it will carry on individually for a long time. This is the beginning of real change. A grass roots change that incorporates an intellectual and cultural aspects in addition to the political one. I foresee that the many youth movements in the square will transform into social movements in the future. Some may pursue a political route, others will remain watchdogs on politicians. Civic engagement will continue thanks to these three months. I just hope that the violence that is likely to occur, will not put people in a dangerous long war. Lets pray for the best.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Unity Day

Saleh often shows off about his success of unifying the country, especially with large military shows on May 22, 2011, the date of unification. Since unity, the actions of the government have done nothing to implement real unity. Stolen lands from Southern people, rampant corruption and unemployment in the South have only served to intensify grievances. Government has been insincere in addressing these grievenes which resulted in a movement to call for separation. While many activists in the North spoke about southern grievances it was not enough to put pressure on the government. People in the South felt alone for what they perceived as the silence of their brothers and sisters against injustice.

This Revolution served to address some of these wounds. Yemenis felt an affinity to "Yemen" like never before. Unity celebrations filled the squares of change. The only thing that jeopardizes unity is Saleh's regime. A new Yemen with justice, equality, and decentralization is the only solution to maintaining unity in Yemen.

Some photos from pro-change unity day celebration in 60 road in Sana'a. To see the full gallery click here

Friday, May 20, 2011

Yemen: tied for 3rd place in the Arab Revolutions

Media Sensation no longer The "Arab Spring" is wonderful and a dream come true. Watching the events unfold in Tunis and Cairo made us all feel part of the revolution. However, by the time Yemen's turn came, another “Arab Revolution” was not as exciting as the first time it appeared on television. Not only is it not as exciting, but we are also competing with a country that has more action to offer its viewers (Libya). Then after that, another country started competing with us over action, death, and arrests (Syria). Viewers world wide quickly forgot about Yemen.

Lessons learned Protesters in Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt turned to each other for advise. Slogans were borrowed, songs, tactics and ideas. Like his people, Saleh also borrowed from his counterparts. The Yemeni government repeated some of the same tactics used in Egypt and Libya of baltagya or hired thugs, defaming protesters, and inciting the role of al-Qaeda. However, Yemeni government had time to learn from the mistakes of the other leaders. For example, instead of completely shutting down internet, the Yemeni government just slows it down with frequent on-and-off cuts, this way no one is blamed for “censorship”.

Of course, President Saleh watched or was at least informed about air strikes on Libya which most likely mellowed the Qadhafi potential response in Yemen. However, President Saleh also watched Mubarak and his family being tried, which surely made Saleh hold on to power even more, and negotiate for his immunity, which most protesters rightly do not accept. Hence, creating a deadlock. How could he leave when he watched what happened to the others? But how can the people agree for immunity after all that has happened?

It's taking too long Because we watched the Tunisian and Egyptian example, Yemenis feel that our revolution is taking too long. “Three months compared to 18 days” is a common complaint heard at the square. We need to remind ourselves that peaceful revolutions normally take much longer than 18 days and that the Egyptians and Tunisians are still struggling to this day.
Gandhi's independence movement lasted 30 years from 1915 – 1947 and the People Power Revolution in the Philippines which ousted President Marcos lasted three years from 1983 to 1986. So lets put things in perspective in order to be happy about what we have accomplished so far.

Guerrilla Journalism

This clip by Yemeni film maker Sarah Ishaq gives an idea about the role of citizen journalists in the Yemeni Revolution. Many Yemenis feel responsible to spread information about the Revolution to the world, a feeling that has turned many into citizen journalists.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

While Yemen's President Holds On, Youth Activists Plan Their Next Steps on Facebook

This Q & A was published on Movements.org

It has been three months since youth took to the streets in Yemen. As President Saleh goes back and forth about whether or not to accept a deal for a brokered resignation of power, camps in city centers throughout the country show no sign of dissolving.

While they wait - and continue to protest - what are Yemen's pro-democracy youth activists up to? As the Yemeni based activist Atiaf Alwazir describes in this Q & A, they are making heavy use of Facebook groups to form plans for what will come next and to organize one another so that, if the time comes, they can most effectively put those plans into place.

Atiaf was born in Sana but left when she was 1 years old. Her family lived in various places before settling in the U.S., and she recently returned to Yemen in order to get involved in the pro-democracy and human rights activism there. She runs the blog Woman From Yemen.

Q: What compelled you to become an activist in the first place?

A: Many reasons. One is that as an NGO worker i've dealt directly with social, economic, and political problems that face Yemen for many years. Anyone working in development will quickly realize that the root cause of Yemen's poverty is the corrupt government. Second, human rights violations were so rampant in Yemen, and this is something I have always been outspoken about. Third, my family background: my father is a historian who has written extensively about Yemen, and my uncles as well. Due to their outspoken nature, they had to live abroad. Growing up in that environment influenced me. I felt that i was lucky to get the education i got in the US, and that i had a duty and responsibility to give back to Yemen.

Q: Only 2% of the population in Yemen has internet access. How has information about protests spread through Yemen?

A: In many major cities there are "sit-in" sites that have turned into "mini cities" for the protesters. The areas have tents, vendors, and seminars. People are camped there and have been there for three months. So decisions to march are spread via the stage at the sit-in site, and mainly via SMS and Facebook.

Between cities, protesters are trying to coordinate using phone calls, Facebook, and SMS messages. For example deciding what to name a Friday (every Friday has a name) many groups chat to discuss it from different cities to try to unify the name nationwide. Sometimes one city decides and others follow.

Yes, only 2% of the population has internet access, but the majority of young activists find ways to get online. As an example, it's now 1 AM and practically everyone I know is on Facebook. i'm part of at least 14 Yemeni groups, discussing the revolution, organizing, suggesting ideas. These groups all have around 1000 members - not many compared to the number of people in the street, but many of them are leaders and activists. There are different groups - one is called the group for coordination, where people can share ideas on how to run things and what to do next. One is for creating and finalizing the "youth demands" document (now that it's finalized group is not as active). One is a women's revolutionary group talking about women's issues (the role of women in the revolution, and how to guarantee women's rights post revolution), then others are groups associated with specific movements or youth coalitions discussing activities related to them at specific city squares.

The role of media is very important in this revolution, like the other revolutions it was inspired by, to make people aware and help in coordination.

Q: If Saleh were to give in to youth protesters' demands tomorrow, what would you want to happen? Who would lead?

A: The demands are quite extensive and detailed - it includes the fact that a transitional government should lead the country. and they should not be part of the former regime. and that later fair elections should be held after electoral commission is changed & electoral law amended. This was signed by over 150 groups and coalitions in the squares around the country

Q: Have youth activists learned from the lessons of Tunisians and Egyptians when it comes to planning for the transition?

A: We here are watching that closely...and I think because we have more time here, on the one hand it's taking too long, but on the other hand it's giving people the time to network and organize more than in Cairo and Tunis. It's clear to many of us, that the revolution is ongoing even after Saleh leaves the post-revolution will be the longer and harder struggle

That's why in some of the group's mission it says that they will be working during and after the revolution, in order to protect the revoultion from being hijacked...and to make sure that demands are met.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Creativity of Yemenis at the square

This tent is made up of empty red, white, and black bottles forming a Yemeni flag. This idea should be exported to the West as a new form of recycling, don't you think?

Inside the Yemeni flag tent

Why are you monitoring us?

This post is directed to specific people I know who spend so much of their time monitoring activities and reporting back to security apparatus in Yemen. Although I completely disagree with what they do, I must say, I admire their determination and hard work, especially these days when so many people are vocal about their opinions.

Yes, I'm talking about you

I know you are reading this

I know you are forwarding this

I know you are paid to watch me

I know you are paid to catch me

I see that change is necessary

You see change as destructive

You think I'm naive

I think you are selfish

I want equal rights

For you its all about what the sheikh likes

In the mirror what do you see?

will your children find your name amongst the heroes of history?

Or amongst those who supported tyranny?

I often wonder why you choose to do this?

I don't know if it's for fame, money, or glory

Or is it really an ideology?

Like every opinion, this one too will have two sides

And we are both spokesmen for our side

I now see that while you are against me

You may not be against our country

I wish you could see the same in me

Because in the end, we are both Yemeni.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My love oh Yemen Song

Yemeni Talent is rising & youth are expressing their emotions and feelings towards the Revolution through various means. My love oh Yemen is one of the latest revolutionary songs by Watany Initiative.
Song writer & Singer: Ahmed Khalid
Lyrics: Majid al-Jabry

Align Center

Friday, May 13, 2011

Photos: Friday May 13, 2011

On Friday May 13, 2011 pro-government and pro-change protesters went to the streets in the usual Friday show of loyalties. The pro-change protesters called this Friday, Friday of Decisiveness and loyalty to Sa'ada. Hundreds of thousands of pro-change supporters gathered in 60 street to perform Friday prayers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11 attack on peaceful protesters in Sanaa

Bullet sacket, May 11, 2011

Today at 4:00 pm, led by some prominent activists, a group of youth decided to march. It wasn't a majority decision but nevertheless they marched from 20 street to Kuwait street with the intention to head to prime minister's office and hold a sit-in there. Around 5:30 p.m. near the “Blood Bank” on a side street off zira'a street, they were attacked by men dressed in military uniforms (who they really are is still a subject of discussion) with heavy gun fire and tear gas. Firing continued off and on until around 11 p.m. Sometimes it was very heavy and continuous gun shots, sometimes it was sporadic. So far, according to medics at field hospital & media committee 9 confirmed deaths, 10 in critical condition, 286 wounded by gun shots, and 300 wounded by tear gas. The death toll will likely increase.

To view the photo gallery with more photos of today click here.

Photos of May 10, before, during, and after the march

On March 10, protesters went on a short march around the square. My gallery on posterous shows events before, during, and after the march. For a glimpse of what's in the gallery, here are two photos.

Before the march

man reading under Yemeni flags

During the march
protester asks, where is the diesel?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Square of Change in Sana'a: an Incubator for Reform

Published in the Arab Reform Initiative

“Welcome to the land of liberty” (Photo by Benjamin Wiacek

Yemen has witnessed widespread protests and sit-ins throughout the squares of change for the past three months. These squares became incubators for change and the birthplace of a new political culture. The time spent at the square has given protestors the time to network, organize, engage in awareness raising activities, engage in honest dialogue, and agree upon general principles. While the focus at the beginning was solely on political reform, the interplay between different actors on the ground has forced individuals to begin discussion on social and cultural change as well, as a holistic approach. These terminologies are being tested on the ground. While this gave the movement an opportunity to mature, the longer this political deadlock lasts, the higher the chance of violence, especially by the circle around the President who will try to protect their own interests. The interplay between various actors on the ground will determine the future of the movement, and the country’s future direction.

This eyewitness report is by a Sana'a based researcher who was involved in the protests since late January 2011. While the protests are nationwide, the paper will focus only on the square of change in Sana'a.

Click here for the full report