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‘I want to leave Yemen’

Yemen
Activism
yemenprotest.jpg

Sana'a, Yemen's capital city, rocked by protests during the Arab Spring, 2011. Sallam under a Creative Commons Licence

Mohammed Al-Qalisi, studying Radio and Television journalism at the University of Sana’a, is despondent due to the sporadic nature of lectures. Nineteen years old and brimming with ideas and a passion for working in radio, Al-Qalisi feels inhibited and blames it on the current political situation.

‘I want to leave Yemen; there is nothing,’ he tells me. ‘Look at my university, it’s a mess. What am I supposed to do?’

He is referring to the seemingly unending internecine warfare between the government led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the opposition party of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and a Shia rebel group, the Houthis, part of the Shia Zaidi, a branch of the Shia Imamiya of Iran.

Since July this year, Yemen’s security situation has deteriorated. In September, the Houthis gained control over the capital Sana’a. They have since extended their presence in southern, coastal areas of Yemen, which traditionally belonged to Sunni tribes, al-Qaeda backed militias and government forces.

On 1 November, the UN brokered an agreement between the government of President Hadi, former president Saleh and the Houthis, led by Abdel Malek al-Houthi..

But amid suspicions that Saleh and the Houthis were conspiring against the government, the coalition fell apart. The US imposed sanctions on Saleh, and two Houthi commanders, freezing all their assets in the US.

Their power in the capital is obvious, with youthful members guarding official buildings. Twenty-year-old Atul Hassan, dressed in traditional garb and armed with a sword as well as a rifle, stands guard at the entrance gate of Sana’a’s Military Museum.

He comments: ‘With Abdul-Malik al-Houthi [the rebel leader], we can be assured of a stable and powerful government.’ He adds: ‘before the Houthis, people were lacking a voice, and were without rights.’

Whether on TV or in protest squares, Al-Houthi’s speeches have consistently carried the message ‘we are with the people,’ and astutely appealed to the needs of ordinary Yemenis.

Maryam Al-Junaid, a 29-year-old student of Hospital Administration at the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a, commented: ‘In the past, people didn’t follow the Houthis. But ever since they took over government buildings in the capital, people trust them.’

But Zakariya Dhaman, a radio presenter with a local radio station, says that while Abdul Malik Al-Houthi’s speeches appeal to him, he condemns the group’s activities.

After intensive clashes in late September, local news reports and social media were ablaze with images of the rebel group plundering homes, mosques, medical and engineering colleges, and the houses of several TV station employees in the capital.

Disgruntled residents complain that during the fighting, government military officers abandoned their positions to the Houthis.

‘Where is this coming from? Definitely, they are being influenced by another power,’ a Sana’a resident told me, on condition of anonymity. By another power, he was referring to former president Saleh.

Amid such political turmoil, radio presenter Dhaman thinks it’s impossible to predict what will happen next. Many will agree with him.

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