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Yemen at ground zero

“Since the uprising, Yemen has become a place where you cannot live if you want to be free. This is particularly true for women but also for all who have dreams of another life.” The picture that writer Bushra al-Maqtari paints of Yemen today, is bleak. In PEN/Opp, she explains what went wrong.

Credits Text: Bushra al-Maqtari Translation from Arabic: Ahmed Abboud September 10 2014

Like any other revolution of the Arab Spring, the Yemeni revolution has not succeeded in achieving its full demands of democracy and change, freedom, equality and dignity. It has become not only a sad disappointment, but the biggest Arab Spring’s revolutions’ failure also due to the enormity of the successive series of disappointments. The fact is the political and daily life’s scene after the revolution has not achieved what it hoped for, not only because it has turned steps backwards, but it has retuned also cruelly to square one, many years back even before the revolution. Nobody of Yemeni’s people, who ignited the revolution and dreamed of a new homeland where there would be a total break with the past and its bloody conflicts, has thought that post-revolution Yemen will turn into a tragic reality that was even worse than their darkest nightmares. And in the midst of this state of dreams and high patriotic emotions which the Yemenis have never experienced before, the revolutionists have not realized though that such wrong introductions could have such sad ends.

Amongst the first wrong introductions that has occurred in the midst of the revolution was that the revolutionists accepted to join forces with centers of power that had served the ex “Saleh” regime for many years. And despite the common national factor represented in bringing down the regime and the non-completion of political filtration based on national standards, has led to build an alliance between the centers of power and Saleh against the people. And thus, the whole regime has been reduced to one person, namely Saleh. I think that any movement that seeks making a change has been paralyzed, because the centers of power have turned the battle against the regime into a conflict amongst those centers themselves whilst seeking the first position in the regime.

The revolutionary public would call it a popular revolution aiming at protecting political powers (former opposition) from the brutality of the regime and did not care about reproducing a political façade for the revolution thinking that the political powers of the opposition could shoulder the national political project which the revolution had sought through ousting the regime of Saleh. While the public has been busy in achieving the national requirements for the elites and the political parties to be in charge after the fall of Saleh’s regime, these powers have miscalculated the whole political situation, because they have focused on the puppet theater of Saleh and given at the same time a break to the traditional political powers. In the outcome, the elites and the political parties have reproduced their problems in the midst of the revolution, and when the opportunity for them has risen, they have practiced a monopoly of the revolution’s representation and have adopted the national problems until—as it seems—“further notice”.

The sad endings have begun when the Yemenis have started, without knowing it, to accept, in good faith, half solutions for their nationwide problems which have already consumed them in order to avoid a civil war prompted by leaders of political settlement (traditional opposition) as a justification for signing the gulf initiative which has entrenched the regime of legal accountability in return for leaving office. One of the immoral consequences of this option is a waiver of the blood of the victims and the pains of the martyrs' families and stultifies their sacrifices, and the beginning of the revolution to abandon the standard value system, the right to justice and equity. These facts, which overlooked the street and dealt with it as a weak political factor, have established an unfair reality that does not lead to a new phase of national reconciliation and has not defined the concept of what constitutes a national state and the form of social contract. In the same context, the document of the outputs of the national dialogue that has dealt with national issues has not been achieved. This has not satisfied the minimal demands and hopes of the Yemenis. That document has also been a mere reflection of the elite's awareness of self-interests of parties and groups in political sharing, and has not dealt with the demands of the Yemeni citizen who suffers in post-revolution Yemen from the corruption of sharing public offices of the state in favor of long-lived leaders in the leadership of political parties and groups which are still forming the traditional centers of power that are running the political, social and economic life with new gloves.

As a result, the revolutionists have been the first to be punished and deprived of—the authority of the “national consensus”, after hitting the value system and the peaceful political impact of the revolutionists in the squares. Then, the work has begun to produce a system of terrorism of the authority through which Saleh has ruled Yemen for three long decades and intimidated the people of the idea of the revolution again or its continuation, and subjected martyrs and the injured of the revolution and their families to both very deliberate neglect and abuse which has led to the death of a number of the wounded .The consensus authority has succeeded in ridiculing the project of the revolution and its bearers through posing a logical question everyone knows with regret its answer. The question is “What has the revolution done to its martyrs?”

The Yemeni citizen, who has been drifted by losses and wars and rancor over more than 33, has been dreaming of that new reality where he will put an end to the miseries of his living conditions. The continued deterioration of the economic situation has taken a dramatic turning point, especially when the consensus government, which came after the revolution, has not done any compromises through taking economic measures to reduce poverty, unemployment, increased poverty and lack of food security that struck almost half of the population, according to the last report by Chatham House on Yemen. At the time when the fat cats have become fatter than ever, especially the revolutionary ones which allied with centers of influence and power, poverty and sweeping the middle class have become the most prominent and concrete achievements of the consensus phase after the revolution.

In return for the disastrous economic life of the Yemeni citizen, the fragile state has not been able to impose its authority on the conflicting political powers. The sectarian clashes have, therefore, escalated in Sada, Omran, and Al Jawf between Al Houthis, Salafis and the reform party. Those clashes have resulted in a real humanitarian disaster: killing and injuring a large number of citizens (about 1,000 dead and 2,000 injured) and the displacement of many people (more than half a million emigrants). This has happened as a result of wars fomented by sects’ kings and war generals for political gains or confirming their centers of influence and demarcation of new political map in line with manifestations of regionalization, as well as the continuation of the demonstrations in the south claiming disengagement from the north and al-Qaida’s activities and Sharia’s Supporters. Yemen has become a fertile soil for hardline religious elements of the Salafiya Jihadiya and al-Qaida which have exercised their operations in major cities. The country has witnessed the biggest wave of assassinations of political and military leaders who have been active in various governorates where al-Qaeda, which has become more active after the revolution, has carried out heinous massacres of tens of soldiers in the military areas and within the Ministry of Defense building.

If the sectarian wars, al Qaida’s attacks on civilians and the continuation of assassinations and the explosions of electricity lines and oil pipelines are the most prominent scenes in the stage after the revolution. This situation has contributed to the continuation of human rights’ violations by the state such as arbitrary detention of political activists without trials in the southern governorates under the pretext of fighting terrorism, the restriction of the freedom of expression and breaking into television channels and suing a number of journalists and the closure of some newspapers.

In this confused situation of post revolution Yemen, the women have been the most vulnerable to repression, despite their effective participation in the revolution And their attendance has been antagonized by hardline religious parties and groups; it has not been long before they have been excluded from political participation which has been reduced to a number of women of the elite. On the other hand, any effective law on human rights or the rights of women and women's blood money which is half that of a man, have not been modified. The outputs of the national dialogue in respect of women have not been at the level of ambition and the sacrifices of women. And there have been no efforts to create popular awareness as to human rights and the status of women. (In this regard, it is worth mentioning a poll conducted by the Independent, British newspaper in early 2012 indicates that Yemen is the worst place for women to live in on the face of the globe.)

Since the uprising, Yemen has become a place where you cannot live if you want to be free. This is particularly true for women but also for all who have dreams of another life. A place filled with the smell of fear, death and terror: a place where if you are not cautious and walking in any dark alley, you will get a bullet in your heart and will not know the identity of your killer either. Then you will never find out if that killer belongs to any party or any religious group, and why did he kill you in the first place? This place will not enable you to write a single word with the freedom you have dreamed of without expecting the gallows that seek your head, and if you did write something, will you be able to find out who hade the money to exercise the luxury of reading? Yemen after the revolution is not the place, which you and your colleagues have long dreamed of while you have been crossing the lines of death, the roadblocks of hatred believing that you can change your fate, because you have the will to live. The post revolution Yemen is not the place in which you can live freely, love, write and dream of happy endings that suite you. Post revolution Yemen is a place for your voice and your voices where you can train on screaming again and refusing oppression, death and ugliness.

Despite death and ugliness in post revolution Yemen and their heavy costs on life itself, and taking into consideration the motives of the revolutionists to judge themselves and even condemn the revolution and feeling all disappointed by the way things have ended in order to reach a “Yemen of big ruins”, we have no role in the elaboration of this end. However,I still believe that the revolution is the most beautiful thing that has happened to the Yemenis since long decades, because we have tried a little how to be free.

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