Yemeni women keep fighting dictatorship

This video is called Yemeni women continue protests.

By Ramzy Baroud:

Women: The stars of Yemen’s revolution

Monday 01 August 2011

When President Ali Abdullah Saleh desperately tried to quell Yemen’s popular uprising he appealed to tribalism, customs and traditions. All his efforts failed and the revolution continued unabated.

When Saleh denounced women for joining men in demonstrations in Sana’a – playing on cultural sensitivities and a very selective interpretation of religion – the response was even greater.

Thousands of women took to the streets, denouncing Saleh’s regime and calling for him to go.

The immediate popular response was notable for its level of organisation and decisiveness.

It was also interesting because most of the women demonstrating did so while wearing the niqab.

Fully covered Yemeni women have continued to inspire, if not fuel, the revolution which started in February.

Without their active participation and resilience in the face of violent crackdowns, one wonders if Yemen could have held on for so long.

The role of Yemeni women in the revolution should significantly challenge any ideas of Arab women that are based simply on statistical or superficial criteria.

Freedom House’s 2010 report on women in the Middle East said that Yemen had not made any significant progress on women’s rights in the previous five years.

Most international reports examining the standing of women in Yemen – whether in education, health or any other field – have consistently been bleak.

Yet in revolutionary Yemen women are more than equal to their male peers when it comes to articulating their demands for freedom, democracy and equality.

Yemeni women have not simply broken the stereotype regarding what truly “radical” women in a traditional society should be, they have also challenged all sorts of academic takes on the subject.

No famous feminist or NGO has been responsible for mobilising the women’s activism.

Entire societies are deconstructed and reduced into simple data, which is filtered, classified and juggled to fit into precise criteria and clear-cut conclusions.

Public opinions and entire policies are then formed or formulated based on these conclusions.

Most Washington-based think tanks, regardless of their political leanings, tend to study distant societies only for the sake of producing definite answers and recommendations.

But providing an all-encompassing depiction of a society like Yemen’s, whose internal dynamics and complexity necessarily differs from any other’s in the region, would be most unhelpful for those eager to design policies and short-term strategies on the go.

Arab revolutions continue to tear down archaic beliefs and misguided understandings, challenging the wild theories around Arab peoples and their supposed wrangling between secularism and Islamism.

Despite all of this, the self-seeking objectifying of Arabs continues in Western media.

Under the all-inclusive title “The Arab World: The Awakening,” an article in The Economist in February attempted to describe the upheaval currently under way throughout the Arab world.

Interspersed with such predictable terms as extremists, Islamists, strongmen and so on, the inane analysis made way for equally silly conclusions.

It suggested that the West’s decision to accommodate dictatorial regimes in the Middle East was motivated by a mix of despair and altruism: “The West has surrendered to this (Arab) despair too, assuming that only the strongmen could hold back the extremists.”

While words such extremists, fundamentalists and terrorists may have their own special ring to Western audiences, they could well mean something entirely different to Arabs.

Listening to the Arab media’s coverage of ongoing revolutions, one may not even encounter any of the above terms.

At times they can be entirely irrelevant when trying to understand the movement sweeping the region.

The Libyan rebellion is another example to note here.

Revolution and war in Libya have ignited a heated debate among Arab intellectuals on the use of violence and foreign intervention – although barely in support of the Libyan regime.

Arab revolutions are attempting to examine larger issues that have tremendous impact on all aspects of life.

They are actively confronting the suffering caused at the hands of local dictators supported by Western and other foreign governments.

But Western media and intellectuals continue to seek only easy answers to complex questions.

In doing so, they follow the path of the same superficial, stereotypical and predictable discourse.

While Arab societies discuss democracy, freedom and social justice, Western writers continue to follow the imagined paths of al-Qaida, Islamists, moderates and extremists.

In all of this they are embarking on yet another futile hunt, which will not yield any concrete answers, just more misguided policies.

Ramzy Baroud is the editor of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story is out now on Pluto Press.

“Yemeni youth movement is the best hope for democracy”, writes Tik Root: here.

Saudi Arabia’s Draft Counterterrorism Law a Setback for Human Rights: here.

Yesterday the Egyptian military and security forces attacked protesters on Tahrir Square in Cairo to clear it and bring protests to a halt: here.

Legal charity Reprieve urged Egypt’s military prosecutor today to grant an immediate amnesty to prisoner Adel Gazzar: here.

13 thoughts on “Yemeni women keep fighting dictatorship

  1. Crowds tell Saleh to step aside

    YEMEN: Hundreds of thousands poured onto the streets of major cities and towns across the country today, demanding that the country’s embattled US-backed president step down.

    Defying the scorching summer weather and the dawn-to-dusk fasting hours during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan the crowds waved Yemeni flags and chanted slogans against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

    Sanaa protester Gamal Gaber said that no-one would leave the rally “until we topple Saleh and all his regime members.”


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