It is absolutely outrageous. Yemeni government snipers murdered 12 peaceful protestors in Sana’a. President Saleh’s plainclothes thugs hurled rocks at protesters and beat those who tried to escape with steel batons. Other sources suggest that many more were killed–at least 26 people died and 500 were wounded when Yemeni forces turned on its own citizens. And our government supports this brutal dictatorship. Here is what our department of state has to say about it:
Defense relations between Yemen and the United States are improving rapidly, with the resumption of International Military Education and Training assistance and the transfer of military equipment and spare parts. In FY 2010 approximate funding for U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Yemen was $12.5 million, International Military Education and Training (IMET) was $1 million, and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) was $5 million. In FY 2010 Yemen also received approximately $5 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), $35 million in development assistance, and $155 million in Section 1206 funding.
This is wrong. We should not be sending money to a country that murders its own people. We should instead be funding Tawakul Karman, who recently received the Nobel Peace Price for her ongoing peaceful protests against this corrupt government.
It’s no surprise that the Yemeni government brutally beat and injured numerous women celebrating the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Tawakul Karman in the streets of the capitol, Sanna’a, today. This same regime, led by the much vilified Ali Abdullah Saleh, has routinely attacked, injured, and killed peaceful protesters who have dared to speak out against it. Earlier this year, the government kidnapped and detained Karman, abducting her off the street and holding her in chains for days. Immediately after releasing her, Saleh’s forces arrested the lawyer who had been defending her, Khaled al-Anesi.
Tawakol Karman is the first Arab woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and with good reason. She might be called the Mother of the Arab Spring. The 2005 co-founder of the feminist organization Women Journalists Without Chains has been leading weekly protests against President Saleh and oppression in general since 2008. In April of this year, she wrote:
We are in the first stage of change in our country, and the feeling among the revolutionaries is that the people of Yemen will find solutions for our problems once the regime has gone, because the regime itself is the cause of most of them. A new Yemen awaits us, with a better future for all.
Women are a sizeable part of the protest movement, and are visible throughout the various protest squares around the country, and on marches. Female protesters have stood atop government vehicles during protests, and faced water cannon and bullets. They have kept the field hospital running around the clock.
For this civil and entirely peaceful protest, women have been subject to tremendous abuse for a very long time. Karman’s arrest earlier this year was not the first time she had been harrassed by the 33-year regime.
On Oct 12, 2010, government forces detained and harrassed Karman and other women who had gathered to object to unjust taxation and violent suppression of dissent across the country. Women Journalists Without Chains reported:
Human rights defender Ms Tawakkol Karman was arrested and detained for three hours at Alolofi police station. She was allegedly subjected to ill-treatment while in police custody. Human rights defender Ms Bushra Alsorabi was reportedly beaten by four security men who tried to take her camera. She was hit with an unidentified object thought to be a rubber bullet or smoke projectile resulting in burns to her body and clothes. She was hospitalised in the Republican Hospital in Sana’a as a result of her injuries.
Police used their guns to beat participants, they also reportedly pointed their guns at various participants and threatened to kill them. Five other women participating in the protest were also injured, two of whom had to be hospitalised as a result of their injuries. Up to 35 persons from the Al-Ja’ashen group of displaced people were arrested during the protest and were taken to five different police stations.
President Saleh’s self-serving words of congratulations to his most famous critic were proven to be utterly false today, when his forces attacked peaceful women calling for change. Some of them argued for UN sanctions against the president and his family. Catholic Online today reports that
As these demonstrations began to grow, eyewitnesses allege that government security forces emerged and began to attack the women. Dozens of women were injured in the subsequent violence in spite of the fact they were completely unarmed and peaceful. At least 38 women have been confirmed hurt and admitted to hospitals. Doctors say they were attacked mostly with rocks and batons.
Yemenis are saying that the government’s goal is to make people afraid to protest.
The following video is dated October 9, 2011. It shows Tawakul Karman leading a demonstration against the government.
Today’s protest formed part of a Yemen-wide show of anger against the government for condoning or supporting recent violent attacks on women protesters in Taiz. Saleh supporters pelted peacefully protesting women there with bottles and rocks yesterday At least 50,000 women came out into the streets, where thugs and government hooligans harrassed and attacked them. An estimated 40 women were injured, some by batons. More than 400,000 people gathered outside the hospital where the wounded were taken yesterday, to express their outrage at a government that passively condoned this violence. Instead of understanding that its brutal policies only further inflame the discontent of its people, Saleh struck again at his people–this time hospitalizing another forty-odd women. How much blood will he spill?
Here is another video of brave Muslim feminists in Yemen protesting President Saleh.
A government that represses and attacks its own citizens loses its legitimacy. We aren’t surprised when we hear that Saleh has done it once again, but we should be a lot more shocked that we appear to be, and a lot more outraged when our own police forces brutally surpress peaceful demonstrators in Pittsburgh, target Muslims in New York, and harrass people who appear to be Hispanic in Alabama.
The women who brave thugs armed with bottles, batons, and tanks every day in Yemen deserve our respect, not only because they are standing up for their own freedom, but also because they are standing up for ours. We are all united in our desire for peace, for dignity, and for civility. I salute them.
I was glad to see that the NYTimes had the sense to publish this letter from TAINA BIEN-AIMÉ, Executive Director, Equality Now, about a recent article that misrepresented women’s rights in Yemen.
“Offended Yemeni Women Protest President’s Remarks” (news article, April 17), you noted that Yemen’s conservative customs concerning women are not legislated as in neighboring Saudi Arabia. To the contrary, in many ways sex discrimination in Yemen is sanctioned both by law and in practice.
The Personal Status Law calls for wife obedience, allows marital rape, reinforces stereotypes about women’s roles as caretakers within the home and severely restricts women’s freedom of movement. The recent remarks made by President Ali Abdullah Saleh condemning women’s participation in public protests as being un-Islamic reflects the secondary status given to Yemeni women.
The Yemeni government must not only repeal all discriminatory provisions in its law, but also take steps to end discrimination by enacting laws that will protect women and girls, like setting a minimum age for marriage and supporting women’s equal participation in public life.
The face of the Yemeni uprising belongs to a 32-year old mother of three. Tawakul Karman (also spelled Tawakkol: her name in Arabic, توكل, means “trust”) has been cheered by students and others calling for the end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh‘s autocratic regime. The activist and chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains has been leading sit-ins and demonstrations calling for greater civil rights, education and economic opportunities. Ms. Karman, who belongs to the main opposition party, Al-Islah, has also spoken out against the rise of religious fundamentalism and violence in her country.
In the 2003 parliamentary election, Al-Islah won 46 seats. As of 2010, 13 of Al-Islah’s parliament members are women, including Karman. She removed her niqāb (face veil) at a human rights conference in 2004 and since then has called for “other women and female activists to take theirs off.”
Some things that the brave protestors in the Arab and Persian worlds have taught us:
1. Non-violence is the most effective weapon against violence. As Gene Sharp notes in “From Dictatorship to Democracy”
Since 1980 dictatorships have collapsed before the predominantly nonviolent defiance of people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Madagascar, Mali, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Nonviolent resistance has furthered the movement toward democratization in Nepal, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and various parts of the former Soviet Union (playing a significant role in the defeat of the August 1991 attempted hard-line coup d’état).
People–even soldiers and policemen–do not willingly fire on unarmed, peaceful protestors. Leaders of nations that claim to be democracies have a hard time keeping themselves elected when they openly support dictators who slaughter and pillage their people. Although it took a painfully long time for the Obama administration to declare its allegiance to the democratic activists in the streets, US ties to the military and pressure probably had much to do with the fall of Mubarak and his thugs. But other nations, such as Britain, Germany, and France, have also had to withdraw their support for Mubarak and the other autocratic rulers of countries around the Mediterranean ocean and Red Sea that are currently up in arms: Libya, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen.
Today’s Times has a good summary of unrest in the region:
LIBYA There were violent demonstrations in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, for a third day. Human rights groups said 24 people had been killed across the country, although activists say the count could be much higher
BAHRAIN The army opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators, and when ambulances arrived to tend to the wounded, the soldiers opened fire again. Doctors at one hospital said that at least one person died and that four or five were critically wounded.
EGYPT Millions of people assembled in Tahrir Square in Cairo to celebrate the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak a week ago and to press the military to make good on its promise to move toward democracy.
YEMEN Yemeni media reported that four protesters died in the port city of Aden in battles with the police, and there were clashes in two other cities between people demonstrating for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
JORDAN Government supporters fought with demonstrators calling for political change in Amman, the capital, and several people were injured, witnesses said.
KUWAIT More than 1,000 stateless Arabs demonstrated in the city of Jahra demanding citizenship, with dozens of people arrested by the police, according to witnesses. The demonstration was broken up by security forces using smoke bombs and water cannons.
DJIBOUTI About 6,000 people turned out to protest against the government of President Ismail Omar Guelleh, and security forces used batons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Among the issues is a constitutional change that did away with a two-term limit for the president.
TUNISIA The transitional government approved a general amnesty of the country’s political prisoners. In addition, at least three people were injured when security forces fired in the air to break up a demonstration by hundreds of Islamists protesting against a brothel in Tunis, the capital.
2. The United States, Britain and many other so-called “democratic” nations have long supported brutal regimes that have terrorized, imprisoned, and tortured their people, and this practice has neither guaranteed stability nor made them many friends in the world.
US SUPPORT FOR DICTATORSHIP AND REPRESSIVE REGIMES IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The U.S. obviously does not support the government of Iran, but it has been very friendly and helpful to numerous other near-dictatorships in the Middle East:
Libya: A small elite benefit from most of this country’s rich oil reserves. The U.S. closed its military bases in Libya in 1970 and cut off economic and diplomatic relations with the country after it was implicated in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Relations were restored in 2005. There is no freedom of speech or information in Libya. According to the New York Times,
the Libyan government has tried to impose a blackout on the country. Foreign journalists cannot enter. Internet access has been almost totally severed, with only occasional access, though some protesters appear to be using satellite connections or phoning information to services outside the country. Al Jazeera, viewed by many as a cheerleader for the democracy movements stirring the region, has been taken off the air. Several people and intermediaries said Libyans were reluctant to talk to the foreign press via phone, fearing reprisals from the security forces.
The U.S. Department of State reports that Quadafhi has pursued a policy against Islamic fundamentalism that has potentially turned elements of the military against him. The Bush administration normalized relations with Libya in 2009 and in 2010 the U.S. signed a trade agreement with the country.
Breaking news reports about Libya on Twitter suggest that 250 demonstrators were killed in air strikes today. It is also rumored that Libyan ambassador to the UN ambassador has asked Quadhafi to step down.
Bahrain: This tiny kingdom on the Persian Gulf is a strategic asset in U.S. foreign policy. It has been a base for U.S. operations since 1947. The monarch and ruling class are Sunni, while the majority of the population are Shiite. The Sunni minority enjoys the majority of the country’s resources and civic benefits. Nicholas Kristof reports today that:
Here in Bahrain, we have been in bed with a minority Sunni elite that has presided over a tolerant, open and economically dynamic country — but it’s an elite that is also steeped in corruption, repression and profound discrimination toward the Shia population. If you parachute into a neighborhood in Bahrain, you can tell at once whether it is Sunni or Shia: if it has good roads and sewers and is well maintained, it is Sunni; otherwise, it is Shia.
A 20-year-old medical student, Ghadeer, told me that her Sunni classmates all get government scholarships and public-sector jobs; the Shiites pay their own way and can’t find work in the public sector. Likewise, Shiites are overwhelmingly excluded from the police and armed forces, which instead rely on mercenaries from Sunni countries. We give aid to these oligarchs to outfit their police forces to keep the Shiites down; we should follow Britain’s example and immediately suspend such transfers until it is clear that the government will not again attack peaceful, unarmed protesters.
The people of Bahrain have been protesting these injustices for nine consecutive days. At least 7 people have been killed and hundreds have been injured.
Egypt: The U.S. substantially supported the autocratic regime of President Hosni Mubarak, whom protestors forced to step down on February 11, 2011. For examples of the brutality of this government, see for example, this article, and also this Human Rights Watch report on police torture.
In FY 2009 U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Yemen was $2.8 million, International Military Education and Training (IMET) was $1 million, and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) was $2.5 million. In FY 2009 Yemen also received $19.8 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), $11.2 million in development assistance, and $67.1 million in Section 1206 funding.
Critics of the government, such as Tawakul Karman, have long complained that Saleh has done little or nothing to stop the rise of Al Quaeda within its borders. Protesters in Yemen began their uprising by calling for democratic reforms, but lately more of them have insisted that Saleh step down and make way for a more democratic government.Human Rights Watch reports on the violent suppression of journalists, academics, and other opinion makers who support a more egalitarian distribution of resources and civil rights in the country here..
This is a virus and is not part of our heritage or the culture of the Yemeni people,” he told reporters. “It’s a virus that came from Tunisia to Egypt. And to some regions, the scent of the fever is like influenza. As soon as you sit with someone who is infected, you’ll be infected.
Kuwait: Bedouins peacefully demonstrating in front of a mosque were drawn into a violent scuffle with special security forces and operatives. Arab Times reported that 1500 special security forces and 500 operatives got involved, and that 20 people sustained injuries while about 60 people were arrested. Apparently before this fight broke out, women protesters met with Assistant Undersecretary for Public Security Major General Khalil Al-Shemali. Many Beduoins, considered to be stateless Arabs, have claimed Kuwaiti citizenship, but the government has rejected their requests and claimed that their ancestors came from elsewhere. It launched a crackdown on the Bedouins, who may not obtain drivers licenses, birth or death certificates, or marriage contracts, in 2000. There are about 100,000 stateless persons living in Bedouins, many in abject poverty.
The U.S. Department of State reports that
The United States is currently Kuwait’s largest supplier of goods and services, and Kuwait is the fifth-largest market in the Middle East. U.S. exports to Kuwait totaled $2.14 billion in 2006.
Djibouti: While today’s NYTimes reports that only 6,000 protesters demonstrated against the government in this country (see above), the Financial Times states that, according to oppositions leaders, more than 30,000 people protested on Friday against the rule of Ismail Ghuelleh, who nullified a constitutional tw0-term limit so that he could stand for office again last year. According to a protestor interviewed by the FT, the people have come out into the streets to demonstrate against “dictatorship, bad government, lack of democracy and dynastic succession.” According the U.S. Department of State:
The government established a minister for women’s affairs and is engaged in an ongoing effort to increase public recognition of women’s rights and to ensure enforcement. The government is leading efforts to stop illegal and abusive traditional practices, including female genital mutilation. As the result of an ongoing effort, the percentage of girls attending primary school increased significantly and is now more than 50%. However, women’s rights and family planning continue to face difficult challenges, many stemming from acute poverty in both rural and urban areas. With female ministers and members of parliament, the presence of women in government has increased. Despite the gains, education of girls still lags behind boys, and employment opportunities are better for male applicants.
This report also states that
The Djiboutian Government has been very supportive of U.S. and Western interests, particularly since the Gulf crisis of 1990-91 and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. President Guelleh continues to take a very proactive position against terrorism.
Tunisia: Civil resistance and pro-democracy demonstrations led to the ouster of Tunisian PresidentZine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011. Fed up with high unemployment, little freedom of speech, corruption,and food inflation. They began on December 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire.
The U.S. has regarded Tunisia as a friend and stalwart ally for a very long time–the U.S. State Department boasts that the relationship goes back 200 years. Through the U.S.-North African Economic Partnership (USNAEP), designed to promote U.S. investment in, and economic integration of, the Maghreb region, and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which aimed to foster economic reform projects while adding bilateral and regional projects for education reform, civil society development, and women’s empowerment, Tunisia received more than $4 million in assistance from the U.S. from 2001 to 2005. Amnesty International paints a much darker picture of Tunisia before the uprising. It charged that the government of had misled the world about the states of human rights in and observed
In their efforts to prevent the formation of what they call “terrorist cells” inside Tunisia, the authorities have been responsible for arbitrary arrests and detentions which breach Tunisian law, and have forcibly disappeared detainees, used torture and other ill-treatment and tried, convicted and sentenced people using unfair proceedings. In addition, they have tried civilians before military courts and produced little evidence to substantiate the charges.
Pro-democracy protestors in all these countries have bravely withstood tanks, assault weapons, tear gas, and beatings. People died tragically when government forces attacked them, but the military and police forces in these countries eventually backed off for a complex set of reasons. The most important of these reasons is that the soldiers and police were finally unwilling to slaughter unarmed, peaceful protestors. Another significant factor is that the United States, which has historically supported these unjust regimes, threatened to withdraw their support if the government did not stop killing their citizens.
I am hoping that President Barak Obama will stand up for democracy in a way that few of his predecessors have done. But I am obviously not just hoping silently. I am speaking out here on this blog. I hope that you will also speak out in support of democracy everywhere, including in our country. On this, please see Paul Krugman’s excellent editorial about the threat to democracy here at home.
Yes, yes, it’s all very wonderful (and I sincerely mean this) that Tawakul Karman has been released from prison. And I admire and respect her call for greater freedoms of expression and for her leadership of Women Journalists for Change. It’s hard to stand up to a government that forces women–look at them–to shroud themselves from head to toe. Look, it’s currently the fad in academic feminist circles to defend the veil and to stand up for it, which is kind of weird.
Obviously, women, all women, everywhere, ought to have the freedom to wear a veil if they want to, and I can understand the sense of freedom that one might have while walking around anonymously in public.
But the problem is that there we are not talking about women making the choice to wear the veil, but rather about a culture in which women who choose to take the veil off are made to feel like sluts. Imposing the veil on women is an ancient way of manipulating and controlling women in public.
Are the women in the photo above, Tawakul Karman’s supporters, wearing the veil to dodge police cameras or for cultural reasons? Either way, they are wearing it out of fear, fear of what would happen to them were they to show their faces and bodies in the world. Are women are wearing the veil because they “choose” to, or because they fear what will happen to them if they don’t? Karman shed her veil. Her followers may not have the luxury to do the same.
Just so you know where I stand, I think that the idiot-brained American bigots who have shamed Muslim women and girls in this country for wearing the veil are uncivilized barbarians and assholes who ought to be fined, jailed, and made to do long and tedious hours of community service for their crimes. And the French! The French have always been stupidly self-centered about their culture. If a woman wants to drape herself in black, let her. If she likes to cover her hair, so be it! We don’t go after Orthodox Jews who cover their hair with wigs. Why harrass Muslim women? Let people be as they wish to be, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. And no one is hurt by my neighbor’s headscarf.
In response to more than 5,000 protesters, many of them women, Yemeni authorities released activist Tawakul Karman yesterday, but quickly arrested lawyer and human rights activist Khaled Al-Anesi, who had been defending Karman. Al-Anesi was arrested as he tried to reach the attorney general to explain why Karman’s arrest was illegal. Security forces rushed him and carried him, along with a number of other human rights activists, to prison.
Both Al-Anesi and Karman are reported to be in good spirits and hopeful for political change. Speaking at a rally after her release, Karman said,
We will continue our struggle until regime change happens in our happy country. We will defend order in our country, we will defend the system, the constitution, the law. The Jasmine Revolution will continue until the entire regime goes.
Karman is pressing for President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has dominated Yemeni politics for more than 30 years, to step down. Parliament has recently considered changing the rules of terms limits, which would allow Saleh to appoint himself president for life.
More than 1000 civilians protested the crackdown on freedom of expression outside the office of the general prosecutor. Among the protesters was Naif al-Qanes, a leader in JMP and the chairman of the political administration in The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. He was beaten and arrested this morning. [Source: Hood].
Where these protests for greater freedom of expression in Yemen will lead is hard to say. Saleh is clearly concerned, if not frightened by the civil unrest and the outrage that his government’s arrest of Karman has sparked. This morning’s New York Times reports that President Saleh, perhaps in response to these civil protests, has raised military salaries and cut taxes in half. A “Jasmine Revolution” that would bring about greater civil liberties and a more democratic government would certainly be a good thing, especially if such a government were able to rid itself of Al Qaeda in the region. The current administration in Yemen makes a show of cooperating with the US, but has not so far managed to rout the group out.
Yemen is a poor country governed by tribal powers and characterized by powerful, traditional cultural patterns. It is an unlikely spot for the blossoming of calls for greater civil rights, freedom of expression, and greater civil liberties for women by women. Tawakul Karman has blossomed here, and inspired thousands of women to follow her. She leads an organization called “Women Journalists without Chains” in a society in which women are frequently silenced and shut away.
To say this is not to argue that American women, many of whom voluntarily enslave themselves to men for economic or emotional reasons, are significantly more enlightened. Nevertheless the educational, political and economic freedoms for women are much greater in this country than they are currently in Yemen or many other Muslim countries. That American women fail to make use of these freedoms is quite another problem for a later discussion.
We are talking about Yemen. We are talking about a culture in which women are expected to remain silent and in which we see women speaking out and calling for greater freedom of expression. This is important. I am writing about it because I am hopeful and because I admire this activist. I remain troubled by her affiliation with Islah, an apparently fundamentalist party that would subject the country to a narrower, Muslim (Shariah) rule of law. I worry that the rise of this party could set women back. But for now, this woman is not stepping back.