Saturday, February 23, 2013

Yemen: The Wounded of the Revolution Neglected

First published in Al-Akhbar 

The Yemeni government has labeled the youth of its 2011 revolution ‘heroes,’ but it has provided little by means of financial and medical support for those wounded during that period. A recent hunger strike drew attention to the issue only to be crushed by Yemeni Central Security Forces, leaving more injured revolutionaries.

On 12 February 2013, Abdullah Mohammed Suroory, 23, and his colleagues woke up to find themselves surrounded by Yemeni Central Security Forces and riot police. Suroory and company had camped in front of the cabinet office in Sanaa, engaged in a hunger strike since the end of January 2013.

“When I saw the amount of security forces, I started taking pictures to document and then the security began cursing at me and saying why are you taking pictures you animals, we will crush you. We have orders from the Ministry of Interior,” Suroory said.

According to witnesses, security forces were attempting to provoke the protesters. At one point, security stepped on some of the protesters’ feet and verbal arguments escalated.

Although a law was decreed to provide healthcare to all those wounded in the revolution, many injured revolutionaries have not received any of it.MP Ahmed Saif Hashid, an independent with close links to the Yemeni left, was camping with the group and tried to intervene. A security official quickly hit the MP over the head with a baton, causing Hashid to fall to the ground. Security forces continued their beating of Hashid, then other demonstrators, ultimately using teargas at close proximity.

At least four protesters, including the MP, were hospitalized. According to writer Arwa Othman, security forces briefly obstructed the departure of the ambulance.

The events led some to believe it was an assassination attempt on Hashid. Abdul-Rashid al-Faqih, head of al-Hewar organization, echoed their concerns. “What Hashid faced was not an accident, it was a premeditated and planned murder attempt,” he said.

Some members of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) believe this was a direct attack on them. “First, it was an assassination attempt against Yasine Said Noman [YSP secretary general], now MP Hashid,” said Haroon Abdul-Rahman, a YSP member. “This is similar to what happened to Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid [2].”

The surprising attack on the hunger strikers demands a serious investigation. Local media reported that Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa apologized to Hashid, and ordered the interior minister to form an investigative panel.

The night of 12 February, following the attack on the hunger strikers, a caravan of supporters from the city of Taiz arrived in solidarity with the wounded protesters, chanting slogans against the interior minister and calling for regime change.

Origins of the Hunger Strike

The sit-in at the cabinet office increased in size on 2 February after the death of Mohammed al-Ariqi. During the 2011 revolution, Ariqi was injured when he was run over by a military vehicle in front of al-Shab School in Taiz.

Like so many of the wounded, Ariqi was neither medically treated nor compensated financially by the government. Two years later, when Ariqi died from complications, protesters were furious.

After his death, a group of injured revolutionaries camped in front of the cabinet office, calling on the government to provide them with their rights for financial compensation or treatment abroad. On 5 February, protester Muneef al-Zubairi set himself on fire in protest of the lack of care by the Yemeni government for wounded revolutionaries.

Although a law was decreed to provide healthcare to all those wounded in the revolution, along with $152,000 allocated from the state budget for “compensation for martyrs and wounded,” many injured revolutionaries have not received any of it.

“We didn’t believe the words of the previous government and we don’t believe the words of this government. They make promises, but do not implement them,” said Samir, a 17-year-old who was promised medical treatment abroad.

“We are not affiliated to any party. This is why they are ignoring us,” said wounded protester Jameela.

We didn’t believe the words of the previous government and we don’t believe the words of this government.
Local newspaper al-Oula reported that although there is a committee tasked with treating wounded revolutionaries, the Ministry of Finance paid 2 billion Yemeni Riyals to al-Wafa Foundation, an organization that is affiliated to the Islah Party, to provide medical aid.

The foundation denies these claims. Shawqi Mamoun, head of the Martyrs’ Families Administration Council at al-Wafa, told the Yemen Times that the foundation has not received any money from the finance ministry. The role of the foundation, according to Mamoun, is to coordinate between martyrs’ families and the ministry.

On the second anniversary of the revolution, government officials lauded the bravery of the “youth” during the revolution. They described the “martyrs and wounded protesters” as heroes in their speeches, yet they have done nothing for them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Resilience of the Wounded Revolutionaries - Photos

Almost two years have passed since the revolution. Many today who participated in the mass movements are feeling disappointed by the lack of "change" in the system.

One example is the lack of medical care given to the wounded protesters. Although a law was decreed to provide health care to all victims of the revolution, many have not received any treatment or compensation. Others were promised to travel abroad seeking medical treatment but that has not been implemented.

Hence, many wounded protesters and their supporters began a sit-in infront of the Cabinet at the end of January. Then on February 2nd more people joined after the death of Mohammed Al-Ariqi, (photo below), a protester who was injured on the 24 of May 2011 when he was run over by a military vehicle in front of Al-Shab School in Taiz.

After his death a group of injured revolutionaries camped in front of the Cabinet office, calling on the government to provide them with their rights for financial compensation or treatment abroad and at noon on February 5th, Muneef alzubairi a poet and supporter of the injured protesters set himself on fire protesting lack of care by the Yemeni government to wounded revolutionaries. 

At noon today, Muneef alzubairi set himself on fire, protesting the lack of care to wounded revolutionaries by the Yemeni government. Photo by Hamdi Radman

Wounded protesters and their supporters camped outside the Cabinet Office since end of January 2013. 

On February 5th, 2013 the “Black bloc” of Yemen joined the march to support the wounded protesters 

On February 12, a day after the celebrations to commemorate the second anniversary of the revolution, Central Security forces surrounded the sit-in site and attacked peaceful protesters on hunger strike, with batons and tear gas causing the hospitalization of at least four protesters.

Member of Parliament Ahmed Saif Hashid in the intensive care unit in Al-Jumhori Hospital in Sanaa, while supporters and journalists flocked around him

Supporters of the wounded Mohammed Albalaghy and Musa Alrammas lie in Al-Jumhori Hospital after attack on February 12, 2013.

Khalid Ahmed Hussein holds a photo of his 7 year old daughter who was shot during a protest while looking out the window of her home.

Wounded Poet Hussein Abdulkarim, often entertains the sit-in with political satirical poetry . He was wounded twice in 2011, once by a bullet wound and suffocation from tear gas. 

The IV tree gives life to the protesters on hunger strike.

Signs from left to right read: “Revolutionary Muhammed Salem Basindowah (prime minister): you betrayed.. wounded from the revolution” “Mr. Prime Minister, the demand of the wounded revolutionaries is medical treatment, not besiegement” & “you exceed expectations with your besiegement just as you exceed expectations in your negligence of the nation”. 

As their plight has not gained much media coverage, activists turn to social media to spread information. 

In solidarity with the injured protesters, artists and poets, such as Ahmed Asery above joined the camp for a night of entertainment.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Revolution 1.0 has ended & Revolution 2.0 has begun

I have been informed by my friends, by facebook posts, and by the media that today February 11 marks the second anniversary of the "start of the revolution".  I  was previously informed that January 15 was also the anniversary.  Other dates come to mind as well.  Personally, I don't care which day was the "start" of the revolution, what matters is that it happened.  I don't even mind going back to the peaceful protests in the South in 2006 to count that as the start of the revolution.  I don't mind having many days to remember the revolution and honor the martyrs who died for the hope of a better tomorrow, and to honor the many hidden heroes of the revolution.  Maybe all of these days should be days to remember.

The first months of the revolution were amazing, and indescribable feelings engulfed many of us.  A strong belief in the power of "us" against the unjust corrupt regime gave us the strength to continue.  We felt proud, and more importantly, a sense of happiness that we have regained our dignity, and found each other.

Those of us who have dedicated our life to speaking out about injustice, those of us who  felt betrayed by the system, those of us who went to bed hungry, those of us who were tortured in prison, those of us who couldn't find a job, and those of us who had to face the corruption of the government on a daily basis, were ecstatic that this day has finally come.  We all went out dreaming, and refused to wake up from our dream.

But along the way, we had many nightmares.  One, is the control by some of the hardliners within the "opposition" Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) against the independent youth.  This was problematic because many in the traditional political parties were part of the same regime as Saleh.  Their goals were more personal, they were there for power grabbing, we were there for change.  This was evidence by the  troubling signs such as as their attempt at censorship in the squares, beating and "arrest" of independent protesters, media propaganda, and sometimes "barring" women from marching.  The joining of General Ali Mohsin was another sign that changed the equation and tainted the principles of the revolution. It was a point of contention among protesters, and divided many. Following this there was an incident when women were beaten for marching with men.

These were extremely troubling signs, that cost the movement.   protesters feared that protesting these actions publicly would help certain political powers to take advantage of "the division" amongst protesters.  This something some regret today.

Then there was the biggest blowback, and the stab in the back to the youth revolution: the signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council's plan, under the support of the "international community".  The plan gave immunity to Saleh & many in his regime.  Adding insult to injury, the plan stated that there will be a "one man election" and that the next president would be Saleh's vice president-Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi.  The transitional government is now made up of a division between traditional opposition parties and the former ruling party.  Each using this "limited" time for more power grabbing, putting in place people on "their" side, and as one of my friends said: "some of them are stealing as much as they can before they leave".

Surprisingly many people accepted this plan, but a great majority of independent youth did not.  Those who protested were called "spies" or "unpatriotic".

Today however, many of the same people that had accepted the GCC plan as the only viable option, and even voted for President Hadi have now began protesting again.  Many average Yemen have began losing hope in this government, fearing that it is using the same tactics of nepotism and corruption as the former regime.

With the upcoming national dialogue conference where millions of dollars will be spent, and where the process itself is believed to be flawed and lacks inclusiveness, revolutionaries have began to protest loudly vowing that they will never stop until there is change.

Of course not everything was bad, there have been many positive effects of the revolution that has impacted cultural perceptions and has broken down barriers to fear.

But one aspect that I have found most extraordinary is the number of friends I have made in this revolution.   I am most grateful to the revolution for introducing me to amazing individuals that I had the honor of meeting and befriending.  To all of you I say thank you.

But this is not a simple matter about just friendships, but it's also a matter of expanding and empowering the "independent" voice in Yemen.  For years, many of us felt alone, felt "odd", and when the revolution started we were relieved to find each other.  There were many others with similar ideas, hopes and dreams.  We were not alone and won't be anymore.

The past two years has strengthened our bond.  Unlike the political parties, we didn't know each other, we didn't have the training they had, but the past two years has began that process, and with time we will be a force that can change this country.  People often criticize the independent youth movement for it's lack of organization, (I do as well), but we have to remember that it's a new born movement that will grow with time.  The road is long and bumpy, and the coming years will be the toughest, but one day we will get there.

The bonds that were created in the revolution have enabled the start of Revolution 2.0.  While Change Square is still occupied by protesters, it has somewhat lost it's spirit.  The new revolution has begun, but this time in front of the cabinet, where wounded protesters have been camped and many are still on a hunger strike.  The lack of fancy equipment at the sit-in, and the spirit of hope, filled with music and poetry is reminiscent of the early days of the revolution.

Anyone who has lost hope should visit these extraordinary individuals, then you will regain faith in the power of the people.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Caricatures highlight perceptions on Yemen's transition

Rashad Al-Samii brings the Yemeni flag to life, where intra-political power struggles are crushing the average citizen.

The forgotten wounded protesters of the revolution are the subject of Hilal Al-Muraqib's caricature, with the word "dialogue" written across the young man. (The arrow says revolutionary youth)

Kamal Sharaf portrays the powerless citizen in the wake of powerful armed groups in Yemen -At a checkpoint soldier asks harmless citizen"do you have weapons"? while he ignores the powerful armed men.