Yemen: A Women's Revolution Inside The Revolution

Since the beginning of protests in Yemen, women there have not only been taking off their veils, they’ve been giving speeches and confronting Islamists.

(Medill DC)
(Medill DC)

SANA'A - Nearly every day, Kawkab al Thaibani puts a bright scarf around her head, kisses her one-year-old son goodbye, and takes two buses to the other end of Sana'a, to University Square. Protesters have come together here since February, peacefully calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

She comes here to visit her husband, a lawyer and human rights activist, Khaled al Anesi. Since the protests broke out five months ago, he's been living in a tent on the square. And he says he's not leaving until the demonstrators get what they've been asking for. But Al Anesi is also afraid to leave the square, convinced that it offers him protection, after receiving several death threats. Indeed, Kawkab al Thaibani had to move back in with her mother after men came looking for her husband at their home.

As an aid worker, human rights activist and freelance journalist, al Thaibani spends most of her day documenting what happens in "Freedom Square." When asked if she sees herself as more of a demonstrator or a journalist, she replies that she can't make out the difference anymore. "We are Yemenis, and we can't get away from that. I saw the massacre, and it was the turning point in our lives."

Many Yemenis hope that the uprising won't only be the turning point in their lives, but also that of their country. Demonstrators created a mini version of the Yemen they would like to see: tents provide shelter to both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Islamists and seculars, men and women from tribes all over the country. They've developed their own code of behavior, criticize the state media, and reaffirm the advantages of democracy.

There are 17 other similar tent cities like it in Taiz, Aden, Ibb, Hodeida, Hadramaut and other provinces.

"When you come to the square, you're looking at the new face of Yemen" says Raja al Thaibani, a photojournalist who has been documenting the revolution since April. She was surprised when she found out that many women on the square do not cover their face with the traditional niqab and that they give speeches about human rights and freedom of the press. And that men listen to them.

Everywhere, the big question is whether or not President Saleh will be returning to Yemen. He was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical care in June, after he was severely injured in a rocket attack.

Either way, the opposition already has pushed for wide-reaching changes. "This revolution has altered the Yemeni mentality," says al Anesi. "It's given Yemini people the belief that there can be peaceful change. That's what we're committed to: people continuing to fight peacefully without weapons or violence."

One of the particularities of the opposition movement in Yemen is that, for the first time, women are part of public life. "One woman, who could neither read nor write, told me she felt as if she being educated -- just from having been exposed to life in the square," says al Thaibani.

In fact, one of the first leaders of the movement was a woman: Tawakkol Karman, a human rights activist and co-founder of the organization "Women Journalists Without Chains." She regularly leads demonstrations and rallies. While Karman lives on the square in a tent, her three children have moved in with their grandmother. She misses them, but she says "what I'm doing here is for my children, it's for all future generations of Yemeni children. It's the price to pay for our freedom."

Feminist Wamid Schakir came to the University Square twice to encourage women to take part in the political process. She wants to draft a charter that would guarantee women a place in the country's new power structures, but worries that the Islamist wing of the Islah Party -- the most powerful party in the opposition coalition – will try to keep women out, thus undoing any progress that has been made so far.

Physically blocked

Yemen still has a long way to go, warns Nadia Abdullasis al Sakaf, the editor-in-chief of the Yemen Times, one of the few independent magazines in the country. "It's difficult for us to change our country and our culture overnight," she says.

Dschamila Radschaa, a former adviser to the Foreign Minister says some women have had problems because they mixed with men. Radschaa resigned in the wake of the March 18 massacre. She was among a group of demonstrators that was attacked by Islahis party members. The attackers didn't want women marching alongside men. "They physically barred the way so we couldn't continue marching, and fired shots into the air to scare us," she says.

Despite everything, she hasn't stopped protesting and is delighted about the growing political consciousness of Yemenis. "No matter what happens, no president will ever again be in office for 30 years, not after this revolution," she says. "They've turned everything upside down, and all the precious things hidden inside have come tumbling out."

But a lot of things are going to have to change for the ideals of the revolution to become reality. Some people want Saleh to sign the agreement drafted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that would bring about his resignation. Others say that the GCC agreement won't serve anything and would only change the president, not the whole system.

Mohammed Abu Lahum, a former member of the government party, believes that the GCC Agreement offers the best prospects for a peaceful solution. After the March 18 massacre, Lahum left the government party and founded the Justice and Construction Bloc. He hopes that it will be a centrist party that will draw members from the entire political spectrum.

Regardless of ideas or ideology, the common breakthrough is that people are learning to think for themselves, and to view propaganda with a critical eye. They also realize that they actually have some power of their own. That's why Kawkab al Thaibani is no longer afraid, and why she is prepared to sacrifice time spent with her husband and son. "Yemen went through a difficult phase, but now I'm getting a sense of our national unity," she says. "I'm proud to be Yemeni."

Read the original article in German

Photo - Medill DC

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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