Saturday, March 18, 2017

On the Friday of Dignity 6th anniversary, a look back into the day

Martyrs of Friday of Dignity - 18, March 2011.

Today marks a turning-point date in the course of Yemen's 2011 uprising. 'The Friday of Dignity' was a day when peaceful protesters endured one of the first violent crackdowns, while they marched after praying the Friday prayers in Sana'a. At least 45 protesters were killed—most of them university students and three of them children— and 200 protesters were wounded. I used to live one block away from what's got to be known later as Change Square in Sana'a and I've covered and written about the attack during the attack on my twitter and I followed the anniversaries of the date over the coming years. Midst the ravaging war in Yemen, no protest to commemorate the date was reported today. Nonetheless, I list below posts I wrote back to highlight the importance of the date and commemorate the martyrs.

-March 30, 2011: 
Interview with a young protester, a survivor from the Friday of Dignity massacre:

-March 18, 2012: 
Friday of Integrity Massacre:

-March 18, 2013: 
Dear Mr. President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi
Why? Why the 18th of March was the date for the National Dialogue conference to commence?

"Your dialogue is a betrayal to the dignity martyrs," sprays political activist, Rathwan al-Haimi in one of Sana'a's streets' wall - March 18, 2013.

-March 18, 2013: 

-October 12, 2013:
Yemen's documentary on Friday of Dignity, "Karamah Has No Walls" Shortlisted for an Oscar

-March 18, 2014: 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump fires his first bullet against the Middle East

Courtesy: lucia martinez

*As a Yemeni, I was terrified when Donald Trump won the presidency. I couldn’t express exactly what I was terrified of, or how he would have policies that would have an extremely damaging impact towards Yemen. But my instinct made me fear of a coming nightmare. I’ve had the anguish of imagining Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, versus the US, a superpower on earth.

Not long enough, last week, Yemen, along with six other Muslim-majority countries took the first bullet of Trump’s administration’s extreme nationalist and racist foreign policy in the Middle East.

Ironically, on the 27th of January, the same day of the Holocaust Memorial Day, Trump signed an Executive Order that imposes a selective ban on people from Yemen and nationals from other six countries from entering the borders of the US. The immediate reaction by US-related Yemenis was disbelief, while Yemenis inside Yemen did not care much, “as if this matters to us, we who have been living under naval and air blockade under the war,” as one friend in Sana’a told me.

Overall reaction was understanding that this is another phase of deepening the longstanding animosity and anti-American sentiments that Yemenis have for the US administration, not only in light of the US 15-year-old drone strikes campaign in Yemen that slaughtered more noncombatants civilians than combatants, but also in light of the US involvement in the ongoing conflict in the country in its support for the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes campaign. No clear condemnation statement from Yemen’s exiled president in Saudi Arabia, Abdu-Rabu Mansour Hadi, has been made yet, while former ousted Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthis’ authority in Yemen has condemend the ban.

Condemnation is not enough at this point. The least that can be said about this disgraceful order is that it is discriminatory. As a Yemeni, I’m enraged. I think of the largest Yemeni diaspora community, which is residing in the United States. I think of my Yemeni friends who recently have taken the risky and costly road to seek refuge in the US, following the war in Yemen. I think of the American-Yemenis’ tears and pain, as they are stuck in airports around the world, asked to be deported to war-torn and starving Yemen. I think of their fate and what worse reality the future holds for us.

The day after the ban was under effect, American commandos conducted a raid into Baidha province, in south Yemen, killing one local al-Qaida leader but also around 30 civilians mostly women and children. Among those shot dead was eight year old Nawar al-Awlaqi, the daughter of the jihadist cleric, the Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaqi, who was killed in 2011 by an American drone strike. Nawar’s brother, 15-years old, Abdulrahman al-Awlaqi, was also killed by a US drone strike weeks after his father.

Both former president Obama’s and president Trump’s administrations have always showed eagerness in conducting their operations in their war against terror in Yemen, but the aggression and hatred has never been as consistent as is the case under Trump’s rule. Trump’s policies show that Yemenis’ lives don’t matter and will not matter to the current US administration.

The administration sends a clear message that it’s legitimate to rip Yemenis from their right to free mobility, while mercilessly bombing them in their homes. Giving this inhuman situation, we should all worry about the backlash.

*This article was first published in the Swedish Institute of International Affairs' online magazine, on 30-01-2017.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Yemen’s 2016, the Year of Massive Atrocities

For million of Yemenis, the year 2016 is certainly marked by the prolongation of massive atrocities; including the world’s apathy over the atrocities in Yemen. As 2017 begins, Yemen’s war enters its third year; and no end seems in sight for my home country, except more suffering lying ahead.

Yemenis could have found some glimpse of hope in the start of next year if they were not living under a blockade, if they were not being bombed at funerals, schools, hospitals, or if they were not dying in a slow death manner with preventable diseases as the health care system fell apart, or if they were not starving to death, or if they were not internally being uprooted from their homes, or even if their outcry was not falling on deaf ears.

This fills me with rage. My rage is one without scream or tears; it’s beyond me. How can one of the world’s poorest nations handle the hell of being caught between the Saudis’ power-machine and the Saleh-Houthi alliance’s aggression, as if life was not already harsh in Yemen? Even before the ongoing war in Yemen, nearly half of Yemen’s population were living under the poverty line. I vividly remember growing up in Sana’a and fantasising having milk and nuts which we couldn’t afford or having only yoghurt and bread for lunch for many years. Yemen was repeatedly ranked at the bottom in the Human Development Index. Yemen even failed to achieve decreasing the hunger rate, which was one of the UN’s millennium goals.

Today, the war has killed over 10,000 people since March 2015, in which one in three Saudi air raids hit civilian sites. Over half of Yemen’s 26 million population are going hungry. Health facilities are barely functioning with the lack of medical and surgical supplies. Every day passes, the human cost of the war goes higher, while no gains made by any of the warring parties. Or perhaps, the only result made is devastating the lives of million of innocent civilians caught in this raging war. These civilians are my family, friends and friends of friends.

I lost count of my relatives, friends and friends’ relatives who have died in the wake of the catastrophic humanitarian situation. I am even terrified of what the future holds. I think of my mother living in Sana’a who with the start of the war started to take half a pill of her daily one pill medicine for her high blood pressure because of the medicine shortage in the country, my aunt who passed away from cancer as the health care system in Yemen collapsed, and my best friend who weekly writes me as he got displaced from Sana’a to Taiz then to Aden and telling me how he’s surviving with only one meal per a day. They all ask, “why nobody cares about us? We’re facing hell in Yemen. What wrong have we done to deserve this?”

I know what wrong Yemenis have done. Our fault is that we are poor who are torn between saving our sick children or feeding the others, let alone of extensively televising and tweeting our tragedy like in other places, i.e. in Aleppo. Those who dared to let the words out are silenced; in the most horrific censorship case is that assassination of Yemen’s great investigative journalist, Mohammed Al-Absi ten days ago. This is well-explained by the fact that the Houthis are the second leading abductors of journalists in 2016 after the Islamic State. That is, Yemenis continue to suffer from a multi-faced evil. Our ordeal is summed up in Thucydides’ saying: “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

Fatigued by the war, we might not make it to the day when we realise human rights groups’ call for establishing an independent international committee that investigates the war crimes in Yemen - and presumably, later on, punish the war criminals. The devastation is immense and not all the atrocities are caught in cameras. The year 2016 meant a living nightmare for millions of Yemenis; facing a slow death in total despair.

The UN says that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is one of the worst in the world, and Yemenis will tell you it is worse than bad - it’s hell on earth. Innocent civilians are trapped in unwinnable, pointless and endless war – the Saudis won’t ever accept a defeat by one of the world’s poorest countries and the Saleh/Houthis’ alliance would fight till the last drop of blood and won’t surrender ever. What’s even more tragic is that London and Washington keep ignoring calls of halting arms sales and support to the Saudi-led coalition that is enabling the killing in Yemen. Only a miracle can end this war. The year 2017 can hold an end to Yemen war if that miracle was realised - only if the international community’s morality and conscious were awaken demonstrating more efforts to stop the war and proving that Yemenis’ lives have a value.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Another Aden Bombing

A black day in Aden! The city mourned nearly 40 killed people today after a horrifying suicide bomber attack earlier today. North is ravaged by Saudi-led coalition air strikes & south is ravaged by terrorism. If anything still unifies the two regions, it is pain & violence. RIP!

Photos courtesy: Aden City

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yemen's war destroys lives - even beyond its own borders

Thousands have died and the economy has been derailed. For those abroad, including
embassy staff and students, that means no money.

*At the Yemeni embassy in Beirut, a DIY kitchen stands in the hall to the left. To the right, on the ground, a few pillows lay, leant on by a group of young men in their early 20s.

The young men are Yemeni students who have taken the embassy as a shelter for more than two years. I met them last month, but they did not hold any hope my interviews would solve their plight.

Nothing has improved for the students, even after Middle East Eye’s coverage last year; in fact, their misery has only grown larger.

The 76 students, some of their country's brightest, came to Lebanon on Yemeni scholarships in 2014 - but have received no financial support since. They were forced to go to classes and survive on their own in pricey Beirut.

With no financial support from the ministry and with families struggling with the raging war in Yemen, it has been impossible for the students to afford basic expenses including food, accommodation and medicine.

The makeshift kitchen for students in the Beirut embassy (MEE/Afrah Nasser)

Out of helplessness and protest, the students have turned to the embassy for refuge, and sleep in its empty rooms. The embassy has not been able to help them more than that - the embassy’s staff also have not been paid for nearly a year.

The humanitarian tragedy of Yemen war is not only seen in the raging famine in the country, but it is also felt beyond its borders. Yemenis dependent on stipends from Yemen’s public institutions are left to suffer.

Yemen’s economy has been in major decline, as the various rival groups fight over control of the central bank. Unpaid salaries for civil servants is the latest symptom - more than a million people have not been paid for three months, a situation that has had a catastrophic impact on millions of households.

Yemeni diplomatic staff have the same problem - whether in Lebanon, Malaysia, Sudan, Morocco or beyond. This comes after the Houthi-run Supreme Political Council, which controls the central bank, decreed that all embassies were their enemies and cut salaries.

Clearly, the economy has become a bargaining chip between the Houthi-Saleh alliance on one hand and Abd Rabbuh Hadi’s internationally recognised government on the other.

The embassy’s staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity stressed that it has been extremely difficult for the students and the embassy staff to file complaints to the “right” authorities, as there are a growing division and power struggle between Saleh and the Houthis’ newly-formed cabinet and the internationally recognised Hadi government-in-exile.

Both students and the embassy staff in Beirut express great despair.

"We were granted the scholarship because we were the country’s brightest students, then to end up in this agony is devastating,” said Ahmed al-Hamadi, a 24-year-old electronic student.

"Many students have mentally collapsed and some were put in jail because they were unable to afford the expense of renewing their student’ residency. From a bright student, you end up facing starvation and being regarded as a criminal."

No money, more problems

Students find it difficult to focus on studying when their empty stomachs churn, and the costs of accommodation and transport constantly haunt their thoughts.

Lebanese laws make it also impossible for the students to work. “It is illegal for anyone in Lebanon with a student visa to work," said Ali al-Ramim, 25, a mechanics student. "We could be caught, then imprisoned, subjected to deportation and a $5,000 fine."

All warring parties are blamed for the staff’s unpaid salaries and unpaid financial support to the students.

A photo of the students recently in the embassy in Beirut (MEE/Afrah Nasser)

“The division in Yemen’s government has also divided Yemen’s crumbling economy which should have been impartial, and we are the ones paying a high price,” one embassy staff member said.

“Today, when Yemenis are not killed by rockets, starving to death inside the country, or being displaced at a refugee camp in neighbouring countries or somewhere else, humiliation and despair accompany those who are abroad.”

“This war has caused horrific damage in every corner in Yemen, from Hadramout to Saadah and it also hunts those who escaped the war,” Mohammed Othman, 23, an electronics student said. 

*This article was published first in Middle East Eye, today.