Only in Yemen April 6, 2011
Yemen’s famous king Taban As’ad, nicknamed Tub’a, passed by the city of Yathribwhile on a business trip to Al Sham [Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon today] . There he left his son for business purposes, and continued on his journey to Al Sham. On his way back to Yathrib, he received news that his son had been killed over a difference with another businessman. Vowing revenge, he mobilized an army against the people of Yathrib. A war ensued between the Tub’a of Yemen and Yathrib; a very strange war. Fighting would break out during the day, but in the evening the people of Yathrib [who are Yemenis] would send Tub’a and his army food. Tub’a was amazed, he had seen nothing like it before.
Generosity, like blood, runs in the veins of Arabs. Indeed it was the most worthy mark of a man. So paramount was this trait that no distinction was made between guest or foe, both were welcomed with lavish hospitality. The Arab poet captures the generous mood of the time, “I am a slave to my guest so long as he is my guest.” And Arab historians document Bedouins lighting bonfires on hilltops at night to guide wandering strangers to their tents. Some even went as far as to burn aromatic wood to guide blind wanderers, for surely they deserved their share of Arab hospitality. Whether the experience of Tub’a with the Yemenis of Yathrib was fact or fiction is up for debate, but generosity has always been synonymous with Arabs. After the advent of Islam, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would affirm this social trait as a religious obligation through his instruction, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be hospitable with his or her guests.”
I was reminded of this noble trait while viewing a video of a middle-aged woman in chador wandering among the tents of the revolutionaries in one of the many Squares for Change in Yemen. I watched as she wrestled with her chador while attempting to pull a cart holding a 5 gallon plastic container filled with water. A male revolutionary strolled up to buy water from her. As he approached her, she silently filled a glass and handed it to him. After drinking it, he reached into his pocket for some Yemeni riyals. She shook her head at the money, and continued her mission to quench the thirst of the revolutionaries. In awe, the refreshed youth returned to his friends and pointed to her saying, “She is bearing water for the Thuwaar [Arabic for ‘the revolutionaries’].” His fellow revolutionary asked, “By Allah, is she?” He said, “Yes,” and raised his hands in prayer saying, “May we all be granted victory.” Water, a basic human right, is a commodity in Yemen and a running faucet is a spectacle in Yemeni homes. So, you can understand the intensely generous gesture of the “Yemeni water bear-ess.” [click here for her video and yet another video]
Indeed the Squares for Change in Yemen have been, in many aspects, described as places of revival of extinct Arab values. Even the sign to the entrance of the ‘Change Square’ in San’a reads, “Welcome to the first kilometer of dignity.” Kilometers that witnessed the once reputable Yemeni generosity that was buried by crushing poverty under the Saleh regime. There emerged once again a trait thought to have remained for the most part imprisoned within the hard covers of history books.
There have been reports of women turning their rations of flour into bread for the revolutionaries; bread on which they carved the message “Irhal [Arabic for ‘leave’]” for President Saleh, and a reminder to the revolutionaries of their un-negotiable demand. Their demand for a Saleh-free Yemen. Breads that nourished the bodies as they did spirits with motivational messages like “Stand firm O youth of Yemen.”
Tents and blankets poured out of homes and set up in the Change Square. Youth have been seen wandering the square with blankets to cover anyone huddling in the cold Sana’a air. At the onset of the protests, food was scarce. So neighboring homes cooked large quantities and distributed them to the protesters, seeking out and giving priority to the needy. Pretty impressive for a nation with an estimated 60% under the poverty line. Another family brought in a cake and auctioned it off to the financially stable. The proceeds were then distributed among the impoverished revolutionaries. Just when it seemed that Yemenis had given it all, they surprised us further by not only finding space in their hearts but their homes. A young couple offered to demolish the wall between their home and the hospital to increase capacity for the injured.
Yet, all this pales in comparison to the generosity of Yemeni society in overcoming their tribal divisions to unite in their cause to overthrow a regime that has suffocated them all without exception. An armed society that has abandoned its estimated 50 million weapons to march in a peaceful protest crying “Selmiyyah! Selmiyyah! [Peaceful! Peaceful!].” And armed society that has offered its bare chest to live bullets shot from their Yemeni brothers on the other side. This in accordance with the Qur’anic principle, “Were you to stretch forth your hand to kill me, I shall not stretch forth my hand to kill you, for I fear God the Lord of the Worlds” (Qur’an 5:28). It is they who have offered martyr after martyr for the revival of the once renowned Arabia Felix; like the deathless inspiration of the Phoenix that repeatedly rises from the ashes.
With this they surpass their own expectations and that of the international community who had composed a bloody scenario for their revolution. They amaze today as they did Tub’a centuries ago.
As freelance journalist Iona Craig tweeted from Sana’a yesterday, “Protesters march ended with riot police and demonstrators waving goodbye to each other as they headed back to the camp site. Only in Yemen.” Yes, only in Yemen the birthplace of the Arabs.
by Dr. Almas
Winner of the 2010 National Film Making Competition in Yemen March 31, 2011
In 2010 the British Council in Yemen ran a national film making competition called Zoooom. The aim was to find Yemeni amateur filmmakers with talent, determination, original vision and a passion for film making as a way of life.
This is the film that won the competition. For details please visit the blog associated with this film which is entitled The Gift Maker
Neighborhood Support Committee March 30, 2011
In the face of the current attempt by the Saleh regime to take Yemen down the route of “Civil War”—or at least make it seem as such to the media and hence the world—it has attempted to arm disgruntled neighbors around the squares where protesters gather, and encouraged them to take on the task of protecting themselves against protesters. That coupled with the fact that neighbors around these squares do have grievances of their own, esp. in regard to easy and free access to and from their homes. Neighborhood Support Committee aims to prevent Saleh regime plans of inciting a Civil War in Yemen, quell the fears of the neighbors, address their grievances, and bring about unity between all Yemenis.
Following steps must be taken:
1) Form a committee of members (both men and women) with good social skills who are dedicated to the above objective.
2) Make sure committee members are trusted among the neighborhood—strangers to them will make the task more difficult.
3) Women in the committee will help facilitate and address concerns of wives and children in the neighborhood—as Yemenis we all know that Yemeni women inside homes are a strong and affecting factor.
4) Listen to the neighbors grievances and make a note of them—literally take notes in their presence.
5) Apologize for all the hardships that they claim to have faced—do not try and defend the protesters actions and get into confrontation with them. Apologize, their space, privacy, calm and stability out of necessity has indeed been invaded—there is no denying that.
6) Educate about the objectives for the current uprising of Yemenis all over Yemen and the world. Have proof—videos, newspaper clipping, etc local and international—to show them it has indeed gained support.
7) Educate about the future implications of a Yemen free of this regime, and that they and their future progeny will benefit from it.
8 ) Educate about plans to transform revolution to topple regime into full blown civil war.
9) Raise awareness that their safety is as important to the protesters as it is to them, and that they are related. Let them know that offering their rooftops to thugs with snipers, and to carry out operations against protesters affects them as much as it does protesters. They are vulnerable to the live ammunition and nerve gas that they are using in the area.
10) Grant them free and easy access in the neighborhood by recording their names and providing to all search points in the area. Friendliness and welcoming gestures to them at the checkpoints absolutely crucial.
11) Guarantee that they will not be searched, but also explain that searches are to guarantee their safety as much as that of the protesters. But form log of names of people in the neighborhood to keep promise and provide to search points.
12) Set up tents at a distance from houses for free and easy access from and to their homes.
13) Support local shops inside the square by encouraging protesters to buy from them, and families of protesters as well.
14) Make a list of their needs, and create a team to help them cover those needs.
15) Kindness to their children—provide sweets, toys etc.
16) Visit them to see if they are doing well, or if they need help.
17) Keep them updated of impending attacks on the area, and guidelines and tips of what they can do to help. Include them in the objectives of the revolution.
Developed by Dr. Lamya Al-Mas
It took Zen El Abidene Ben Ali 23 years of failed leadership, a young and desperate man burning himself alive, and throngs of Tunisian protests on the streets among whom many were killed and wounded by his security forces to finallyunderstand. In his most popular speech “I finally understand” he said,
O people of Tunisia—both in Tunisia and abroad. I am addressing you all. I admit that the current situation in Tunisia calls for profound and comprehensive change. I finally understand you. I understand you all: the unemployed; the needy; the politician; and those asking for more freedoms. I understand you all.
Similarly, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak addresses Egyptians out on the streets who managed to inspire him as they did the world,
I am addressing all of you from the heart, as a father to his sons and daughters. I am both grateful and proud of you for being the symbolic generation calling for change to the better, for dreaming for a better future, and making the future.
Even mentally deranged and crude Moamar Al Qaddafi who managed to isolate Libya and Libyans from the world, had some words for the Libyan opposition. His speeches have oscillated between magnifying himself to hyperbolic degrees to abasing Libyans and calling them rodents, drug addicts, international relief beggars, and finally traitors for calling on the international community to impose a no-fly-zone on Libya.
As for Yemen’s Saleh, which ironically in Arabic means among other things ‘adequate’, has been anything but; he hasyet to directly address the protesters who are asking for him and his regime to step down. By protesters I mean those out on the streets in 12 cities in Yemen, who don’t belong to any political party. Those who have sacrificed their blood to their cause, and whom Saleh claims are being taken advantage of by parliamentary opposition parties. Those he has on different occasions called drug addicts, murderers, power seekers, civil and tribal warmongers, Al Qaeda loyalists, Islamists, separatists, secessionists, and traitors to external forces such as Israel and the USA. Those on whom he has assumed illegitimate and incompetent leadership for 33 years, only to catalyze their nation’s decline to below every standard measure of development. Whose state coffers he has emptied into his personal bank accounts leaving Yemen today bankrupt, consequently making it the poorest country in the region. What is there left for him to say? There is no doubt that he is suffering, among other things, from a crisis of trust in anything Saleh.
So, he has settled with: 1) speaking about protesters rather than to them; 2) Appearing in edited and televised scenes in which he delivers speeches to his paid loyalists; 3) Expressing disinterest in nominating himself for another term, while simultaneously cautioning that his absence would plunge Yemen into irredeemable chaos [what chaos can possibly compete with his poor legacy in Yemen?]; 4) Spinning conspiracy theories of tribal, secessionist, Al Qaeda and other imaginary conflicts; 5) Revising his plans to step down, times ranging from the end of 2011, beginning of 2012, the elections of 2013, to indefinitely; 5) Hiring thugs and mobilizing security forces to kill protesters on the streets and then declare national days of mourning for victims. Saleh is an obsessive-compulsive liar and only understands the language of the ‘Janbiyyah’ [dagger] hence his tactics in dealing with the current crisis in Yemen. Even if he wanted to address the peaceful protesters otherwise, he in earnest wouldn’t know how.
Saleh has proven that he is an inadequate component for the establishment of a civil society in Yemen. He has literallyreached his expiration date as have other dictators in the region. Hence, his new message to the protesters sent as usual through a third party, “I tell those who appear in the media asking others [meaning him and his regime] to leave, to leave [my] Yemen.” Saleh finally understands that he cannot co-exist with the tides of change sweeping over Yemen, asking for freedom, justice and dignity. Simply put, it’s Greek to him.