Foreign Policy Blogs

The Voices of the Yemeni Revolution

The following is an interview that I conducted with an inspiring young female Yemeni activist. Despite being in Canada, Yusra A. has become a valuable asset of the Yemeni Revolution, inspiring her generation to follow in her foot steps and build a better Yemen. From her hometown of Halifax she has been relentlessly fighting for democracy and human rights, giving a voice to those who had none.
This is what she had to say on Yemen:
(For security reasons, Yusra wished to disguise her real identity)

FPA: What would you say is your role within the Yemeni Revolution?


Yusra A: I am a pro-democracy activist and a human rights advocate; my role is to try to denounce all human right violations committed by the government, bringing awareness to the world.
I try to reach international media by translating news from Arabic to English; everything that is happening whether it is news reports or photos and videos to show what is actually happening in Yemen.
I use social media as it is considered to be one of the fastest ways to spread news, Facebook and Twitter mostly.
I also use Yemen Rights Monitor blog which is a non-partisan neutral body that records human rights abuses in Yemen and monitors the local situation. The group aims at preventing further violations by publishing records along with news from local sources.
Aside from working in different areas in the electronic world, I organize pro-democracy demonstrations in Halifax, Canada every week.
Since the start of the uprising in Yemen I have been trying to educate people on the situation in Yemen since local media in Canada and the US for that matter barely makes mention of anything. We either give out speeches during the protests or hand out brochures with the current events happening in Yemen along with showing photos of Saleh’s regime victims to spread awareness between people. I also try to help out in the humanitarian aspect of the revolution by holding fundraisers or joining in organizing donation campaigns, with a team of people, such as We Are All Abyan Campaign to help the displaced people of Abyan in Aden. In addition I am a member in the Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC).

FPA: Despite being a patriarchal and conservative society, women are playing an increasingly visible and important role within the revolutionary movement. Why do you think that is? What has changed?

Yusra A: I think that women have been playing a very important yet minor role in Yemen since before the revolution but no one paid attention to them. It is true that they shined more during the Revolution because now it’s not only a couple of females doing something and raising their voice, it is a whole nation doing it. They have decided to step up and say no to silence; they decided that it was time for them to raise their voices and express their opinions. Because Yemen is a male dominated society, everyone was surprised to see females participating in the sit-ins and marches. And not only did they take part in it, but they were standing in the front rows. I think that the Revolution has shattered a lot of misconceptions on what a woman should or shouldn’t do. People in Yemen have gained a certain perspective on things, they are aware now of one inherent right to express oneself. Females stood by the men every step of the way, through their struggle they became citizens, they too eared the right to decide.
We are equal and we should be treated equally.
But not only did Yemen surprise the world with its wave of feminism; it also proved that despite its many weapons, Yemenis were willing to implement change peacefully and responsibly.

FPA: What role do you think women will play in the future?


Yusra A: I see a very important role for women in the future. Yemeni women are able to play leadership roles in Yemen. We are a country that was after all once ruled by Bilquis and Arwa, the famous Queens of the Arabic Peninsula.
Today, the Yemeni Revolution has proven that females were not only active participants but that they were also able to lead and mobilize crowds. I believe that they will have high positions in the civil state that we seek; they might even reach the highest top of the power pyramid. I also believe that women will be much more involved in rebuilding the country they have fought to defend.
That is something not only can I see, but I can feel as well.

FPA: As a pro-democracy activist and a human right advocate what would you like the international community to know about Yemen?

Yusra A: I would like to tell the international community that we are not terrorists and that we do not support or condom any terrorist attack. I would also like them to realize that Saleh is playing up to their fear by leading to believe that Yemenis are violent, jihadist entities with no moral compass. Yemenis are a caring and proud people. They were once the jewel of the Arabic Peninsula, educating the Arab World in its many universities. Al-Qaeda is a fabrication of the regime, we all know it. It is time for the West to open its eyes and smell the roses so do speak…
Saleh created al-Qaeda to assert its hold on Yemen, pinning all wrongs on the group, banking on western fear to increase its personal wealth.

The international community should realize that it is one of our basic rights to protest and fight for our dignity and freedom. We have been silenced for the past 33 years and we cannot bare another day of repression under Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule.
We are asking the international community to stand by the people of Yemen and support our fight for freedom. We too want to build a modern civil state where the rule of law prevails and where all people are treated equally.

FPA: The media has paid very little attention to the many human rights violations committed in Yemen. Why do you think that is?


Yusra A: Yemen lacks the basic life essentials, let alone the means to deliver pictures and news onto the internet or use the modern means of communication and documentation.
Most people do not have access to the technology or simply have had their electricity cut off by the government. The daily killings of innocent civilians in Arhab, Taiz or Abyan are still going unreported for the most part as we do not have the resources required to cover such events. Very much like in Syria the government is doing its best to prevent witnesses and documents to see the light of day. The fact that many Yemenis are illiterate only makes matters worse. Silence has been the rule for so long that people find it still difficult to speak out against the regime’s many crimes.

The regime is trying very hard to hide its violations against the protesters and the civilians. Propaganda is everywhere: the State TV, newspapers etc… Saleh followers are shutting down all those who dare reveal the truth. A while back the government burned down Allaw Firm and The National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms Hood offices in Sana’a, which housed the largest library of human rights violations in Yemen; that is just one example of silencing the truth.

There is a blackout in the media when it comes to Yemen. It seems that only al-Qaeda is a source of interest, not the mass graves or the unlawful arrests.
The media are actually playing into Saleh’s hand by focusing their attention on the fallacious claims of the government and not covering the peaceful revolutionary movement.
However, this is what our job is, to bring out the truth. We try so hard to show the international community all the crimes committed against the Yemeni people by the regime. We are very much hoping that the world will come out of its trance and see the regime for what it is: a fascist, repressive autocracy led by a vicious dictator.

FPA: What is your take on the GCC proposal?


Yusra A: Unfortunately the Gulf countries preferred to stay on the Yemeni regime side rather than support the people in their plight for democracy.
Although to be fair, Qatar and Kuwait recognize the right of the Yemeni people to choose their leader and they took measures against the Saleh Regime.
Saudi Arabia fears most of all that the Yemeni Revolution will spill over its own borders and destabilize the monarchy. Saudi Arabia has always tried to keep some level of instability in Yemen to better ensure its own supremacy; a real democracy right next door to them is something the royals are not willing to put with.
Broadly speaking the Gulf initiative does not even meet 50% of the Youth’s demands and unless all our expectations are met, there is nothing really to talk about.
One cannot negotiate when it comes to creating a civil right state where people’s right and dignity are guaranteed.
Besides how can the youth be expected to sit at the same table as those who have murdered and slaughtered innocent civilians…and all for the sake of power!!
In addition, the Gulf Initiative grants Saleh and his family immunity, do you really think one should be guaranteed to stay un-trailed after so many killings and human right violations?

FPA: Do you believe that a peaceful transition of power is still possible after President Saleh declared that he would never resign?

Yusra A: Despite Saleh’s statement, the Yemeni regime is almost collapsing and what is now left in the country are the military. Yemen is now de facto under military rule.
Since President Saleh departed for Saudi Arabia the situation in Yemen has degenerated further. The state has no real civil institutions. Yemen does not even have a legitimate government: a few months ago Saleh sacked his entire cabinet and since then he did not appointed a new one. The officials have an unknown fate and our Vice President is merely a puppet lost without his master….
Only the military remains….and then again for how long?

If there should be a peaceful transition of power then power should be handed to the Yemeni people. For more than 2 months now, Hadi refused to take any real decision, he did nothing to stop the killing of protesters and he certainly did not try to level things out with the Opposition. Instead he chose to hide behind President Saleh, saying that only he was truly in charge of it all.
The only time he actually tried to do something, no one paid attention…as if they knew that it was all a farce.
When Hadi told the Republican Guards to withdraw from Taiz, Ahmed Saleh who rules the corps, reused point blank to cooperate.
To this day, Taiz lives in terror, with snipers on its roof tops and the tanks in its streets.

We as the youth call on the people to support the Transitional Council which was formed by the Youth Council in order to give it full legitimacy and facilitates the exercise of its duties. In the event of the full collapse of Saleh’s regime, the Council would prevent the creation of a power vacuum which could engulf the country into further chaos.

FPA: Do you think that there is a “double-standard policy” when it comes to Yemen and the crimes of the regime?

Yusra A: Yes, I believe most countries dismiss Yemen’s plight as they would rather put their political interest before that of the people.
Crimes in Arhab, Taiz, Abyan and even Sana’a have been put aside as the international community prefers to fuss over the al-Qaeda dossier…
The West does not realize yet that al-Qaeda in Yemen is a creation of the Regime. Didn’t President Saleh warn that Abyan would fall if he was forced out? How can he be so certain if he wasn’t the one pulling the strings?
But the crimes which were committed in Yemen will not go unpunished. We will pursue those criminals and we will trial them. Silence is also a Crime.

I appreciate the United Nations High Commissioner Mission to Yemen but I hoped that they actually took more time to speak to the independent youth in the Squares. The Secretary General of the United Nations envoy visit was a good step to unveil some of the regime crimes but the report that was submitted did not meet our full expectations. I would like the United Nations to take more harsh decisions against the Yemeni regime just like it did in Libya and Syria.

FPA: Do you believe that enough humanitarian help is given to Yemen?

Yusra A: No, I don’t think that any humanitarian help is being received by the needy people of Yemen. If any help was sent by the international humanitarian organizations it was processed by the regime and therefore never actually reached its destination. All the Abyan IDPs relief efforts were set up by youth groups, relief campaigns and some businessmen; never something organized by the government or by the humanitarian NGOs.

With the world now turning its attention towards the Horn of Africa crisis, people and organizations will give priority to this region, forgetting that in Yemen too people are suffering.
No one is truly helping Yemen at the moment.

FPA: Do you believe that the government manufactured the fuel, water and power crisis in Yemen to create chaos and misery?

Yusra A: I strongly believe that the government caused this crisis. When you actually think about it, who is in control of the ministries? Who has the ability to cut out power and water? Why is it only when a UN envoy comes to Yemen that people get the electricity back on and that whenever they leave we revert to a total blackout? Who is in charge of all this?
Obviously the government is.
Regarding the fuel crisis, it is pretty much the same story. The government order for the tankers within reach of the capital to be stopped. How come the capital was left with no petrol and diesel when the gas stations in Aden suffered almost no interruption in supply?
Well, quite simply the government wanted to starve Sana’a in order to punish its residents for ever wanted to topple the regime. Because if Sana’a falls then Yemen falls.
But people are not fooled by the lies of the regime.
No matter how many new crises the government creates, it will never reach its goal of discouraging protesters.
The regime tried to prove to the people that without Saleh everything would collapse and that only his return would guarantee a return to normal.
Sadly for the government, Yemenis are not that easily fooled.

FPA: What are your hopes for Yemen?

Yusra A: I hope to see a democratic modern civil state that respects human rights and international conventions to maintain the security of the region. I hope to see an educated Yemen with no corruption, less poverty and unemployment. I also hope that children will not have to beg in the streets anymore and that they will go back to the classrooms where they belong. Yemen will certainly be as I wish when the abusers are gone. I want it a civil state, a state that respects its people, a state that respects the rights of its people and contribute to the development process of the Middle East.
I want Yemen to become a pillar of peace.

 

Author

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.

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