Academic/Policy Papers

Welcome to the Land of Liberty

I know that the fight for freedom always has a price. I come from a revolutionary family, where my grandfather was beheaded for calling for change, my father and uncles imprisoned at a young age.

I moved back to my beloved country six months ago. My husband and I live in the same house where I was born. We sleep in the same room where my parents used to sleep, and now I’m engaging in a revolution just like my grandfather did in 1948.

Like my grandfather, I am filled with hope for the future. Watching experiences unfold in Tunis and Egypt provided people with the hope that tyranny can come to an end with the will and power of the people. Entering the square in Sanaa, feels like a new Yemen. From one entrance, a large sign greets the people: “Welcome to the first mile of dignity.” On the other side, a sign reads: “Welcome to the land of liberty.” The square fills people with utter hope.

The square is also a land of change, a land of resilience, and a land of unity. Saleh’s 32 years survived by dividing people. In the last month however, different groups came together in one place calling for an end to Saleh’s corrupt military family rule. Socialists, Islahis, Houthis, liberals, men, women, children, unemployed, judges, academics etc are all sharing one space, eating together, chewing qat together, and strategizing for the future. Well-known musicians such as Abdulrahman Al-Akhfash are joining, photographers documenting history, wedding ceremonies being held in the square, and activists raising youth’s awareness by daily seminars. It is truly a remarkable civic experience, one that costs less than a USAID grant, and takes less time to implement. It is a time of internal strengthening of the population.

Most importantly, the culture of fear is breaking. For years Yemenis have been ruled by fear of speaking out, fear of potential chaos, and fear of independent thought. This fear has been broken. Everyone is talking politics, young and old in every cornor are expressing their opinions openly. It is a great first step for change. Whether this revolution succeeds or not, there is no turning back from this point.

But every revolution comes with a price to pay. As I waited outside the hospital yesterday, I wondered how many more deaths we will we see before change occurs. For me, the attacks were unfortunately expected, and I also expect a lot more if the international community does not strongly condemn the attacks and if the US does not make its aid conditional upon Yemen’s respect for human rights.

To honor the martyrs, we need to work hard on protecting this revolution from being hijacked. Despite the sacrifices Yemeni people made in the past revolutions, what eventually materialized was years of a brutal military dictatiorship, which is not the change they hoped for. Today, we need to protect this revolution from turning into a military coup, a civil war, or a chaotic mess. This will only work if different groups come together including: youth, JMP members, members of civil society organizations, tribes, and businessmen, to develop a strategic plan for the future and a specific roadmap for change that forsee independent institutions which protect and guarantee individual rights and freedoms even in the worst case scenario.

Some initiatives have started along this path, and I sincerely hope it continues. I believe that the ruling “chair” can corrupt even the best of humanity. Our work will not end when Saleh leaves, it will be a new challenging beginning. Freedom will depend on the strength, power, and determination of the people to work together for a better Yemen.

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