It is the third night of Ramadhaan and the city skies are full of smoke. As the voices of imaams all over town are raised in the taraaweeh communal prayers, foul-smelling, swirling black clouds lazily reach upward to meet their clean, whispy-white brethren in the heavens. As people gather in the houses to share food and drink, to talk and laugh or quietly share in the blessings of the month, others gather in the square down by the market to plunder and destroy in a meaningless frenzy of despair. In a month of hope and spiritual journey, this pointless violence strikes a hideously discordant note.
I have chosen not to write too much about the protests here in Yemen. I am not a Yemeni- I’m merely a visitor in this beautiful and wild land- so I feel as though it is not my fight. However, reading this quote from a Los Angeles Times article by Jeffrey Fleishman on the revolution in Egypt, I couldn’t help but think that it applies a hundredfold to Yemen. Mr. Fleishman writes, “The split reveals how young activists plotting rebellion in cyberspace are disconnected from the anxieties of millworkers and laborers.” This is what I see here, as well- a group of privileged, middle to upper class young people took matters into their own hands, causing immediate discord and economic strife which is ongoing, and which affects the common people who can’t afford this disruption in their lives. The alleged success of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt agitated them into action despite the disparity in their condition and the conditions of the people in the other countries who suffered under brutal tyranny for decades. Their disgust is understandable, but their methodology in dealing with the issues is fatally flawed. Not fatally for them, with their laptops and Iphones, but for the majority of the country it is a different story, a harsh reality made more harsh now by lack of fuel, food, and safety.
Islamically, what they are doing is wrong. Many of the scholars have condemned these protests, pointing out that overthrowing the government causes more problems than it solves. The truth of this can be seen with the coup in which Anwar Sadat was assassinated and Hosni Mubarak took power- clearly the supposed “cure” was at least as bad as the disease, if not worse. And I find it irresponsible of the West to praise the protesters, when they don’t understand the culture and setting in which the protests are taking place, and the long-term effects they will have on an already desperately poor country. Indeed, if these protests were taking place in America, with thousands of people camped out on the grounds around the Reflecting Pool in Washington DC, I suspect they would not be wholeheartedly backing this show of displeasure on the part of the citizens- and yet both the Yemeni president and the American president are democratically elected. I am quite sure that, if the treatment of anti-war and Civil Rights protesters in the sixties is anything to go by, such a movement would be frowned upon by the government of the United States. While the parallel is not exact, it is close enough to make one pause and consider why the two are treated so differently by the American government.
My son walked down to the market today to buy some plastic juice cups for the children. He saw the square filled with rocks and shattered glass. He saw a restaurant broken into, the glass of the chicken roaster sprinkling the ground. He saw at least ten motorcycles burnt and twisted on the ground. He saw the carts of several street peddlers broken and burned. There was no government presence. There were no military installations or soldiers to be found. There were simply Yemenis, destroying the property of other Yemenis- their neighbors, the people they bought flashlights and food from only days before. I don’t know what caused this outburst. Indeed, it is possible, though not likely, that it was some sort of tribal violence or personal vendetta. But chances are, it is connected to the protests. And it seems to me that the Yemeni people should look at those charred, mangled motorcycles on the ground, and ask themselves if the price of this little revolution is worth it. For every child that dies of starvation or is hit by a stray bullet, for every father who is let go from work and can no longer feed his family, for every woman who is unable to get to the hospital to deliver her baby- for these people and the millions like them, the price just may be too high.