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Inside the revolution: The bloody reality of Yemen’s uprising

Thu, Jun 16, 2011

By Yazeed Kamaldien
The Big Issue (South Africa)

Yazeed Kamaldien, theatre reporter, was hunkered down in Yemen throughout the country’s four-month uprising. In this exclusive report, he tells us what it’s like to be on the inside of a bloody revolution:
It’s been a few months since the Yemen “revolution” started in mid-January and as a journalist following this story I’ve spent nights interviewing anti-government protesters, moments photographing their murdered comrades and wondering in between when things are going to turn happy.

The truth is that revolution sounds terribly romantic from a distance. It’s a word that has all the connotations of seeking justice, freedom or fighting for the right to life. These are all causes worth tweeting, blogging and facebooking about because it makes interesting status updates and images that speak to a collective, raw humanity. It’s simple. We want to live. We will protest for that right. And we will show the world how we do it.

Revolution becomes this idea wrapped in an inspiring package along with clenched raised fists, expressive vocal chords and tons of catchy slogans. Lately, it has painted the town red across the Arab world. Revolution is definitely the de facto in-thing among university students across Yemen. It seems inspiring.

But revolution on the ground is ugly and brutal. It results in bloodshed. It makes life terribly uncomfortable. No T-shirt can prepare you for this trip.

Asking a nation to stand up and challenge its ruling regime is asking for upheaval. It’s asking that Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after taking power in 1978. It’s also asking all his cronies, allies and tribal network to give way for change. Of course, they’re not going to give in that easily.

The effect of nationwide protests against Saleh’s rule has brought this already poor and underdeveloped nation to a frightening halt. Fixing this mess will take more than just a bit of government reshuffle.

Yemen’s currency has weakened against international denominations since the uprising began, thousands of workers have been fired or suspended and the economy has been bleeding vital foreign investment. International and regional funding partners and donor organisations have put projects on hold. That’s the last thing that Yemen and its mostly poor and uneducated 24 million citizens need.

Frustration coupled with uncertainty has also made the capital city Sana’a, where I am based, a much quieter place at night. We don’t socialize as much as we used to on the glittering Hadda Street, which kept us entertained with its young hipsters, coffee shops, restaurants and other forms of sidewalk entertainment.

Yet revolution is also tragically beautiful. One night I stayed over at the newly dubbed “Change Square.” This is the area outside Sanaa University in the capital city where the anti-government movement has set up its sit-in demonstration. Staying over was a chance to connect with the students.

There were no quiet moments as the few thousand that had set up their tents debated, sang, socialized, danced. When I did eventually settle into one of the tents it was heartbreaking to hear some of the students in their naïve, honest, young, optimistic voices talk about the Yemen that they dream of.

Opposition political parties supported the university students when they started their Tunisian-flavored street protests in mid-January. They joined the students in tents at Change Square in mid-February when they said they were not going home until President Saleh leaves. But the students told them to back off when these same political parties wanted to hijack their cause and gain international clout at negotiations for a transfer of power. The students have said numerous times that they do not want opposition parties representing them. Rather, they want to speak for themselves to a newly elected leadership council – which they have said should include their representatives – on how to run the country. They have proposed that a transitional government should be set up until presidential elections are held to ensure that the people’s choice rules.

The opposition, led mainly by Islah party, is much more decisive. It wants an opposition-elected and not publicly elected leader in the presidential seat. President Saleh has meanwhile mobilised millions of his supporters to also take to the streets and they have called for his reign to continue until his elected term ends in 2013.

**StreetWise magazine is proud to provide WorldWise content republished by the International Network of Street Papers’ independent Street News Service. This service features stories submitted by the 100+ street papers around the world in an effort to raise awareness for homelessness and bring a voice to the underserved.

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