Now It's Yemen's Turn

The Voice of Yemen's Next Generation

Democracy Revolution

Yemen's capital, Sana'a, is quiet ... for now.


The storm started in Tunisia when demonstrators threw president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali off of his throne. Although thrones belong to kings, it made no difference to the people of Tunisia. Zine El Abidine had been clutching to his position for decades, as had President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and as does President Ali Abdullah Saleh of my home country, Yemen. Democracy was intended for these Arab states and many others, but in reality the “democracies” are just cloaks under which hide monarchies.

Saleh has been president of Yemen for over thirty years. For a long time this hasn’t been a problem for many Yemenis, because Yemenis have always been said to be good followers. During the reign of Ahmad bin Yahya Hamidaddin (1948-62), for example, people believed that the king had control over Jinns (genies) because his voice came from a speaking box, or what we call a radio. Today it is education that allows us to use our minds and think critically, which I believe is the solid reason why Sana’a—the capital of Yemen—is currently hosting demonstrations that call for a change of government. Unlike their predecessors, the people, especially the young generation, are now more educated and are unwilling to blindly follow along without critically considering the situation that surrounds them.

Sadly, Yemen has held the title, “the poorest Arab state” for a long time. Poverty in Yemen is deeply rooted in corruption. A small example is the management of our oil. Crude oil has been privately sold in large amounts to foreign companies by those in power, where the money gained is said to “go to Swiss bank accounts.” I experienced a different kind of corruption firsthand. I remember the shock I had upon applying for a governmental college grant so that I could go to the United States for college. After submitting all of the needed paper work, I was laughed at and left to face the reality of the selection process. As I left the Ministry of Higher Education the door guard, who saw the fury expressed on my face, informed me that I needed to have a good insider connection to earn a scholarship. As he was talking to me a well-dressed student was awarded a full-ride scholarship to a foreign college simply because he had a personal letter of reference from President Saleh himself.

Recently, educated (but devastated) Yemenis have been protesting so that they might bring the system-wide corruption to an end. They protest to have jobs after college and to have the right to live in a more developed country, at least compared to its neighbors. They protest to live in the democracy they were promised and most importantly to put an end to government lies.

Recently, Victoria Clark, writing in The New York Times, quoted a former government minister's comments about President Saleh: “When he speaks to you he gives you his full attention and you are the only one in his world. He is very, very intelligent and he has a unique memory and he is not a blood-thirsty person—but he is the best liar on this earth.”1 For instance, in 2005 he promised to not run for president again, but then changed his mind. And recently Saleh asserted that he will not run for office again in 2013, nor will he allow his son to succeed him. In return, he asked the alliance of opposition parties to call off a rally planned for Thursday, February 3.

They didn’t. Approximately 40,000 people gathered in front of Sana’a University that day. The rally was well controlled and absolutely nonviolent, contrary to what had been anticipated. Opposition parties did not attempt to exploit the rage generated by the events in Egypt and Tunisia. At noon the rally organizers politely requested that the 40,000 participants roll up their banners and go home.

I once read a personal opinion by a commentator on the Internet. He mentioned that the opposition in Yemen will not lead us anywhere close to the result that protesters in Egypt and Tunisia have achieved. He suggested the reason was because the entire government in Yemen is an extended family from which the main opposition party, led by the powerful al-Ahmar family, is only a branch. I partially agree with him, which is why the furious rally on February 3 was merely a gathering of lost screams.

At this moment I have no hope of a major change for the better, especially when there are still many uneducated people who strive only to put food on the table for their families—they have no energy left to attempt to understand what democracy means. With hope paralyzed, I still full-heartedly wish that the current demonstrations in Yemen bring about a serious change for the country, without creating a power vacuum. I wish for justice to be implemented and for corruption to be ended.

Watching from the United States all that’s happening in Yemen, I feel a mix of happiness and concern. I am happy to know that finally there are free minds that are capable of thinking for themselves. I am delighted to learn that my people are seeking a better life, and saying, “Yes we can!” However, I am concerned about my family being caught in the midst political unrest if current events escalate. Sustaining our family of nine members is already heavy of a burden for my father, let alone when things get disordered. I also have a concern for the country as a whole, for if the government falls, a pursuit of power by Yemen's different tribes might turn into a bloody civil war.

Besides the vigils and solidarity rallies we held for Egypt and Yemen here at Earlham College in Indiana, I personally use Facebook to spread awareness of the situation. But with the rest of my time, I get carried away by my course work for my major in peace and global studies—a major with which I hope I to spread peace and positive change in Yemen and elsewhere.

Middle East, Yemen