To the Wehda Generation

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 3:03am

It seems like yesterday when I stood in the morning as the school gathered while I screamed the top of my lungs on a microphone saying; “Allah (God), Al-Watan (Motherland), Al-Thawra (The revolution), Tahya al Jumhoria alYemenia (long live the Yemeni Republic)”. In front of me stood long lines of middle school students, each line representing a grade, echoing at the top of their lungs the same words I said. There was a moment of power held by a promising youth who believed in the future of their country. This ritual was usually held in almost every school after the students sang along to the national anthem. Together we were strong and the fact that a girl was leading the ceremony didn’t matter then…. But, it matters now!

What happened to my motherland? Most importantly what happened to my nationalist spirit? How can faith so strong fade away?

Ironically, we are celebrating Yemen’s Unity on the 22 of May (1990, not even 20 years old yet) while the country is struggling to hold this unity together. I browse the net for news about Yemen only to see that my beautiful country, my motherland, is not only confronting separatists, but is struggling with Al-Houthi group, Al-Qaeda members, Somali piracy, and corruption (to name a few). The critiquing analysts are mostly non-Yemenis and the Yemeni sources also assure the public that everything is “under control”. Exactly like the Yemeni proverb, “Amya Tekhatheb Majnoona wal Sanja Tesma’a” (The blind titivates the crazy while the deaf listens). We are celebrating this fragile unity and to my heart, it is as if we are celebrating the birthday of a leukemia child.

Am I crazy to panic now?
I think not. Many of you – especially those who went to school to private schools in Sana’a – studied in schools where the students were from Aden, Ibb, Taiz, Al-Hudaydah, Hathramout, Thamar and Yafe’a. You were classmates and friends and, most of all, YEMENI. We are authoritatively the Generation of Unity “Al Wehda”. We might have come from different parts of Yemen and our parents’ history may have been different but they vowed to be one.

Why is it that our generation of “Al Wehda” is so mute even though we have been one for as long as we remember? Do we have a responsibility to ourselves before everyone else to protect our future? We all had beautiful dreams and some feel that they are only nightmares as time progresses, but are we putting the minimum effort to reach those dreams? Unfortunately, many of us are just watching those dreams and innocent hopes shatter, as we stand helpless to the possibility of having a new generation that is dream-less.

People always come with a story; the first begins with Al-Houthi.

As most of you know, it all really started about 6 years ago (2003). Al-Houthi is a family in the Sa’dah governorate (they are a Zaydi/Shiite family that is rumored to be rich). When we talk about “The Houthis” we are not talking about a family, but a guerrilla. The Houthis name took after the founder who has been killed. After his death, his sibling took over. They are officially known as Tantheem Al-Shabab Al-Mo’men (Organization Of the Faithful Youth). The Houthis believe they are nationalists. Their process began by recruiting youths in mosques to follow an ideology of rejecting American/Israeli polices in the Middle East. It was simple; they began by marching in protests and holding banners saying “Death to America/ Death to Israel”.

Then it got thorny; the group expanded in numbers and proliferated in strength. They began protesting the Yemeni government while asking for Al-7okm Al-Adel (Justice Ruling) according to Shiism. FYI: In Yemen, there are many Zaydi families where the sect and practices are very close and similar to those of Sunnis. The Yemeni government does not believe that Al-Houthi sect to be similar to the Shiite sects in Yemen, but akin to Iranian Shiism. In the region, it is believed that Iran is supporting Al-Houthis logistically; financially and militarily. In turn, Al-Houthis denied receiving support from Hezbollah (in Lebanon) or the Iranian Government.

Al-Houthis are attacking from one side, and then we have Al-Qaeda members and even our own Yemeni born terrorist groups, all of which are offensive from different angels. To top it off, we are failing our economy and letting everything else go down with it. We are allowing the world to watch as if we are an entertainment and, of course, Al fathi ye’mal Qadi (those who have nothing to do pretend to be much more). If we do not gain control of the situation soon, then we are asking for foreign and global involvement, which will not achieve optimum results (as we have observed previously in history). Lets not forget that Yemen is our mother and Al Oum Oum hata walou kanat Sum (A mother is a mother even if she was poisoning)

Each problem is so complex and needs exceptional attention. For example, since 2003, there have been sporadic battles between the government and Al-Houthi supporters. A simple question comes to mind, how can such a group fight the government for six years?

The answer is somewhat clear-cut. Sa’dah is a large governorate and unlike popular belief, it is not mainly desert. It is large and consists of valleys, mountains and plateaus. During the fights with Al-Houthi, the rebels have managed to escape to the mountains and hide (sounds like Afghanistan much?). Also, in Yemen, we are bound to Tribal Law. While the government was fighting Al-Houthis, the government involved other tribes in fighting Al-Houthis, which resulted in an ongoing vendetta.

The real tragedy is the unknown number of deaths (but definitely in the thousands). A large number of people are internally displaced people due to this long war. The Yemeni government states that they are taking the necessary steps to help those people and an NGO assessment of the situation is still unavailable.

Currently, Al-Houthis are supporting secession of the South because they are trying to politically antagonize everybody against the government. As a radical group, they have no interest in the future potential of the country but merely in shaking the government in order to win. Al-Houthis aren’t the only people supporting a split, but other political parties and groups are promoting such madness, only to advance their own agendas. It became a game of politics while the real people become imperceptible.

Many of us remember the Civil War of 1994. Personally, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening but it was obvious that there was war between the North and South of Yemen. I would hide in my house before sunset because most of the firing began after dark. We had to tape the house windows in a particular way to guarantee (or hope) that if an explosion were close then the glass would not fly around and hurt us. My whole family would gather in one room as we watched rockets fly around. It was definitely a family bonding experience but at the expense of happiness and safety because all the adults were scared as we sat clueless. My family, school, and every other important institution in my life taught me that this war was juvenile because we were all Yemenis and we could push past those small differences.

The second story (example) is that of the Somali refugees and piracy.

The problem began in the early nineties, when the Somali state collapsed. Refugees flooded the cities and villages of Yemen, mainly those that are closer to the Arabian Sea but as time passed, they became dispersed everywhere. Refugee camps were mainly in Kharaz (South of Yemen), Mayfa’ah (in Shabwah), and other similar locations.

Another question comes to mind, if the refugee problem has been an issue for such a long time, why should we be in trepidation now?

The Somalis have merged and integrated very well with the Yemeni culture that it is so hard to simply pull them out. The numbers have been recently increasing, where the current estimate of Somali refugees is 650,000 (not including immigrants). UNHCR was helpful, but the aid is very limited especially since the incident of September 11th. Western countries are austerely shutting down their doors in front of the refugees.

Lets not forget that Yemen is also the home for a large number of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Sudani Refugees. Yemen has become also a home for tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees after the American Invasion of Iraq. There are also a smaller number of Palestinian refugees who have resided in Yemen since 1948. Why cant we listen to our own proverbs: “Ya 6abeeb 6eb nafsak wa khali 6eb lal Nas” (If you are good doctor, then you should begin by curing yourself)?

It’s a combination of all three; the convention of Geneva of Refugees in 1951 obliges Yemen to receive the refugees and treat them in a humanitarian matter, we can not control the situation and in the community we have welcomed them as an integral part of us. Sadly, those Somali refugees face hunger, poverty and mal treatment (xenophobia). As we say, jaza’a al ma’rouf saba’a kefouf (the return of a favor is multiple slaps). Who can we blame for this? The international community for not being so firm on finding a solution? The Somali people for not being able to reconcile and build their own country? Or we should we stop blaming and start learning??

When the British first colonized the South of Yemen, their pretext was to overcome piracy in the region. It is as if history is repeating itself and we all know that Al Muslim La Yolda3’ Maratayen (The Muslim doesn’t get fooled twice). If we break, then we are risking a new foreign involvement in the area to “prevent piracy” or to “fight extremists”.

After all of this, could we become the new Somalia? What country will be generous enough to take us all in? What will happen to our homes and lands? How about distant family and friends (you know, the ones in different governorates)? What happens to all the families with children? What are the hopes of them actually receiving any education? What are the hopes of them not witnessing war or not loosing a family member due to political involvement? Where does the pain and hate go? There are already no opportunities for people to have a good life, why should they suffer even more? Why make things worse instead of try to make them better?

It is truly a very difficult time and my heart cannot help but shrug in fear due to opaque path. Today we face not one issue or two. We are facing multiple fierce obstacles in the face of our Arabia Felix such as Al-Houthi in the North, Southern Separatists, Al-Qaeda presence, Refugee overload, Security Threats, Economic deprivation, unemployment, the return of Yemeni immigrants (due to the current world economy), and a sharp population growth. Desolately, women barely contribute as a solution to any of these factors and represent a large number of the victims in each of the mentioned categories. With a 65% illiteracy rate amongst women, they will continue to suffer, especially if the situation becomes worse where they are not equipped to face any challenges without the presence of “men”.

This is a time to remember that before Islamic rule, a woman, the Queen of Sheba ruler of the Sabayan kingdom, ruled all of Yemen. She was strong, beautiful and a democrat who controlled and successfully lead fierce tribes. After Islam (around the 11th century), Queen Arwa bint Ahmed ruled after her husband Al-Mukaram Ahmed Bin Ali died. She united most of Yemen and ruled for 35 years. I am not suggesting that the next leader be a female, but I am proposing for women to be more active and to understand their own given rights even if it means looking back at history.

It is time for our generation...Men and Women… the “Wehda Generation” to stop sitting hopelessly waiting for the older generations to do the fight for us. It is time for us to be the active masters of our own future. Even Tony Blair admits that in the Middle East, peace is “defended by them [citizens] and not by us [Foreign involvement or politics]”. We need to address the problems and slowly move towards solving them. If we stay united, I cannot predict or guarantee a satisfactory outcome, but it is a compensation to put our own lives into action where we are the initiators of our destiny rather than being front seat audience (or in some cases – back seat audience).