The Salehs will no longer own the land we love

Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, is old. Biblically old. Its hand-built tenth-century skyscrapers make for a citadel of magic and dreams. The ancient walled city was rescued by development from UNESCO, who rightfully designated it a world heritage site in 1986. It is Yemen’s most stunning and enduring mark on the world.

On the 19 September 2011 President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son bombed it. Civilisation meets savagery. Sana’a, the world’s most beautiful graveyard. Just the latest in eight months’ of atrocities enacted by the President’s relatives, who – let’s be generous – coincidentally happen to command most of Yemen’s war machinery.

That week across Yemen hundreds died as the family paved the way for the President’s return from Saudi Arabia by killing people. Most of us would bake a cake.

Around the world we watched in horror. Speechless. And on Saturday 24 September at cities across the world we stood together in silent protest – men, women, young, old, north, south, Christians, Muslims – with two aims:

Democracy for Yemen
Saleh must go.

Like everyone, we Yemenis argue. But now is not the time. Socialist or capitalist, secular or theocratic, north or south, young or old, we’ll have plenty of time for falling out in a democratic Yemen. We will even vote to decide things. We’ll argue and shout and hate. That’s democracy for you. But once a year, on liberation day, we’ll kiss, hug, pray and cry because the Salehs no longer own the air we breathe, the water we drink or the land we love.

Two aims:

Democracy for Yemen
Saleh must go.

The world must know, know, know.

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Silence Kills – Yemeni Protesters send a message in London

Silence Kills – Yemeni Protesters send a message in London.

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The face of a silent protest – London

The face of a silent protest – London.

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Silent Vigil For Yemen At Downing Street – London

Silent Vigil For Yemen At Downing Street – London.

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Yemen: From Tweets to Streets

From tweets to the streets
Silent protest in support of Yemen freedom
Saturday 24 September, 12-2pm
10 Downing Street
In the media, Yemen is too often ‘and Yemen’ – two words tacked on to the end of a sentence about Egypt or Tunisia or Libya. The full stop of the Arab Spring.
For politicians, Yemen is a slightly dull failed state. Somalia sans pirates. Good for a vote-winning-swat-al-qaeda soundbite, but not too exciting and certainly not worth doing much about.  
But the Yemen problem is real, vicious and disgusting.  To confront it is to place yourself at the very edge of sanity. Today Yemen faces a catastrophe, that many predicted. The government has turned again upon its people, shooting and bombing those who have for so long paid the price for the glittering life of a ruling family. And while the relentless peaceful protest spans all classes and sections of society, the bullet doesn’t discriminate. Protesters for democracy continue to be shot at random. Almost 8 months since the proudly peaceful protests started.  It’s Russian roulette, President Saleh style.    
It’s time the world listened. It’s time the world acted. And it will.

Scratch around a bit and you’ll find a Yemeni in every nook and cranny in the world. You don’t have to look hard – Africa, India, Europe, America, South-East Asia – we’ll be there.  

We’ve all been facebooking and twittering throughout the revolution. Doing our bit. It’s an Arab Spring Thing.  Google us and you’ll find an international virtual community alive with ideas, hope, passion and tears. Now we’ve set up social media campaign #SupportYemen, for us, for you, for everyone. Our aim is to get the world to support the people of Yemen, to support democracy as a human right and to end the indiscriminate killing.

Allowing this brutal regime to continue diminishes us all. If you ever believed in freedom, show your solidarity and join us. #SupportYemen.

In Yemen millions have been taking to the streets for months and we’re joining them. On Saturday 24 September, between 12 and 2pm, we’ll be letting our silence speak for itself, at exactly the same time, in cities around the world.

In London our silent protest is at 10 Downing Street, In front of the Prime Minister’s Office. Everyone is welcome.  Everyone.

Please bring sticky tape, thank you.

Safa Mubgar
20 Sept 2011

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Yemen: The Revolution lives!

Many analysts and onlookers have come to the conclusion that the Arab Spring has fallen prey to Yemen’s notorious political intrigues; that the Youth Revolution has been “thwarted” by Saleh and his coterie. Now that Libya is on the verge of blossoming, Western and many Middle Eastern eyes have turned to Syria, rather than continuing to hope and pray that Yemenis will also harvest the fruits of their long-suffering and resilience. Despite such pessimism, the truth could hardly be more different. For all the Saleh gimmicks, his family and loyalists with their Western-supplied security wagons, and duplicitous rhetoric; Saleh’s regime is rotten to the core, and will collapse with the autumn winds.

The democratic aspirations of Yemeni civil society will triumph over the self-serving – and ultimately self-defeating – narrow-minded clique. After decades of mismanagement during which all socio-economic indicators have been in steepening decline, the same criminal perpetrators cannot conceivably stay on. Ahmed Ali’s (son of Saleh, à la Alaa Mubarak, Bashar al Asad, and Saif al Qadhafi) command of both the Yemeni Special Operations Forces and the Republican Guard continues to brutalise Yemen and its people as Saleh recovers in Saudi Arabia from injuries sustained in an attack on his compound in Sana’a – but with customary deceit supporting his son’s hereditary dictatorship.

This imperious idiocy is not restricted to Saleh’s family: the Sa’udi royal family, who fear Yemeni democracy and demography, are supporters of the would-be dynasty. That hope to maintain Yemen as a Principality of Sa’udi Arabia, leaving the next generation of their family to find a solution to Sa’udis’ (and Yemenis’) demands for democracy and good governance. The West, too, for all its calls for Saleh to surrender power, has buttressed his rule by knowingly building 2 Praetorian Guards (commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed, and his nephew Yahya), and watched while they were used treacherously to suppress tribal militias. As the West knows well, without a prior purge of Saleh’s family and yes-men from such key security and administrative posts, any handover will be nominal, not substantive. Despite knowing this, and that Yemen’s existential problems will worsen under the same (mis)management, the West has not sanctioned them as they have in Libya, nor referred Saleh’s slaughtermen to the International Criminal Court. Severe strictures have been aimed at al-Qadhafi and al-Asad, but no Get Going Soon cards to Saleh yet?!

Yet in some senses, the length of this bloody revolution has been a blessing in disguise. While Saleh has fashioned ungoverned spaces where he hoped ”Al Qaeda” would spring up, the Youth Revolution have created other spaces free of his misrule. In the small micro-climates called Change Square, the Youth have revived the civil society that flourished briefly after the 1990 Unification, before being crushed under Saleh’s jackboot. Sworn tribal enemies co-operate; undergraduates educate their illiterate fellows; political concepts and systems are debated – sometime fractiously, but without bloodshed. This self-seeded democracy has accomplished what years of Western aid projects failed to do (mostly because they were bled dry by regime “contractors”.) A democratic future is one in which al Qaeda has neither place nor welcome; where Yemenis do not look for expensive counter-terrorism aid from the West (knowing that it will be deployed against political opposition); and where the people work for the common good, rather than to line their coffers in far-off lands. It also requires the Opposition politicians to pull together as democrats, rather than compete to replace Saleh’s clique with their own – squabbling over the spoils.

Despite continuing brutal provocation and increasing poverty, the Yemenis have resisted the urge, and the goading, to violence. They have maintained their steadfastly pacific and democratic aims. They bickered throughout the summer over elections to the promised National Transitional Council, debated the extent of malign Saudi influence and meddling, the merits of Confederation vs. Federation; but all with an unshakable belief that going back to a feudal kleptocracy is no longer an option.

In the absence of any international interest, the Youth of the Yemeni Revolution continue their call for the cleansing of all remnants of Saleh’s Regime. In the dim candle light of every evening they prepare for more massive marches in their “Thawrat Al-hasm” – Decisive Revolution – alluding to a decisive victory, bearing the Libya events and example in mind. “Al-hasm” is a word which could imply both a resolute deduction as well as a victorious finale.

The West has been behind the curve of history too often in the Middle East. Libya has shown that the World has the conviction to back a people against a dynastic despot. Let Yemen’s Arab Spring be next to fruit; as the Prophet said: “Faith is of Yemen, and wisdom is Yemeni.”

Yemen is on an irreversible path to the kind of freedom that has no precedent in the Arabian Peninsula, but is essentially unremarkable in a country with a growing indigenous population, rich in human potential and endeavour, and a proud historic and geostrategic foundation.

The democratic, social, and economic challenges are without a doubt enormous, but as someone once whispered in my ear: “It’ll be tough and unpredictable – or the United Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

Safa Mubgar

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Ali this and Ali that ….

The National Council of the Peaceful Revolution has stalled before take-off. Disagreements over party quotas were put before national interest; rumours of Fifth Column positions caused fatally divisive mistrust. God willing, such bickering can be set aside, and the coalition can move forward to challenge Ali Saleh’s endlessly repeated Constitutional Legitimacy with a more representative Yemeni democracy. (Constitutional it maybe; legitimate he is not.)

After a few words from the Beloved Leader (sponsored by the Al Sa’ud), in which he undertook to hold elections (no mention of constitutional legitimacy, though) within three months, Gen Ali Muhsin gave a speech in a similar manner to Ali Saleh’s presidential speeches, complete with Yemeni flags and Italian suits, rather than the general’s more accustomed combat uniform. While President-for-life Ali Saleh promised, unconvincingly, to return to Yemen and hold elections, Ali Muhsin counselled against such a journey. He suggested that it would result in Ali Saleh sharing Mu’amr al-Qadhafi’s fate: ending up like a rat in a hole (juhr al-far.) Ali Saleh meanwhile continues his defiant speeches clinging to a version of reality that his countrymen no longer recognise; a menace they no longer fear.

In an appeal to Ali Saleh’s patriotism (which was long ago subverted by his greed), Ali Muhsin called on him to act in the interest of Yemen; an appeal that all the political elite would do well to consider, now and after the elections.

On which cheery note, Eid mubarak!

Safa Mubgar

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