Single sex protests preferred by Saleh
Yemen: like marriages, should protests be single sex?
Female anti-government protesters from Al-Tagheer Square in Sana’a have submitted a criminal charge of defamation to the general prosecutor’s office against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The charge has been made against the Minister of Information, Hassen Al-Lawzy, the head of the Yemeni Public Corporation for Radio and Television, Hussein Moqbel Ghuthem, and the directors of Yemen, Shaba, Eman, and Aden television channels. The complaint was for libel and slander because of the president’s accusation that the mixing of men and women in ‘Change Square’ is un-Islamic.
Following Wikileaks revelations of President Saleh’s taste for fine whiskey, he is not known for his piety among Yemenis.
Thousands of Yemeni women marched on Saturday and Sunday against President Saleh in the capital Sana’a, in one of the largest protest marches witnessed since they erupted in early February.
“We participated in the peaceful demonstrations beside our brothers in Al-Tagheer Square since early Feb. 2011. We were practicing our rights of expressing our opinions in a civilized way via peaceful demonstrations as granted by Yemen’s constitution,” said a protester in ‘Change Square’. “After Friday prayers, President Saleh accused us of mixing with men in a manner forbidden by Islam in front of 5,000 people in Al-Sabeen Square.”
On Friday, President Saleh in a speech called on the “Joint Meeting Parties to use their conscience and to join the dialogue in order to agree on one decision for the sake of the security and stability of this nation. I call on them to reject the mixing of sexes as it is forbidden by Islam. The mixing of sexes is forbidden in the Al-Jami’ah Street.”
In a march on Siteen St., well-known female activists mingled with male protesters as a response to the President’s speech, to show that there is nothing is wrong in practicing their rights. Some female protesters offended by the president’s speech were assaulted by soldiers from the 1st Armored Division and had their cell phones and cameras confiscated according to a statement from HEMAIA, a coalition of lawyers and activists. HEMAIA condemned the assault on peaceful female protesters.
“These assaults are what the corrupt regime wants to happen to the protesters. The protesters do not need a testimony on their behavior,” read the statement. HEMAIA demanded that leaders of the JMP take the necessary actions to stop these kind of assaults on protesters by JMP members.
Summer Ali, one of the protesters at Al-Tagheer Square, said that the president has always been using women’s rights to promote himself, but is now speaking against what he said in his electoral speeches. “Wasn’t he [Saleh] the one who suggested 44 seats for women in a parliament among 267 male parliamentarians last year to get out of his political crisis? Isn’t that the kind of mixing that he now calls forbidden? Does he only pick the standard that suits him when he needs them?”
Frieda Al-Yaremi, the first female to join the protesters at ‘Change Square’ in February, said that women in Yemen’s conservative society need to revolt twice: first against the regime, and second against a hypocritical society.
The role women in the protests that began on Feb. 3 was initially limited. Activists expected that the government and the General People’s Congress (GPC) would respond violently against the protests. This fear initially lead the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) to call on its female members not to joint the protests and stay at home. However, on the same day the GPC encouraged its supporters to take to the streets in response to the opposition. The GPC rally was protected by the military, and they bussed in women and girls to show their support for the ruling party and its president.
The face of the opposition protests have now changed. Anti-government demonstrations in Sana’a now include four large tents especially for women. Here they can eat, pray and sleep away from the male protesters. During the day, many hundreds of women attend the protest, and are as vocal as their male counter-parts.
On the first day of the protest, 30 men came to set up their tends outside Sana’a University. On the second day, Farida Al-Yarimi, a 47-year-old mother of two girls and three boys set up her tent at the protest. This shocked many in Yemen’s deeply conservative society where it is considered illegal to sleep in the same area as men unknown to the woman. However, over the coming weeks, many more women joined the demonstration, and they are encouraging others to do so.
“I knew what I did wasn’t expected, but one of us had to start doing something. When I first came here I expected the worst, but it was great. The way the men protected me and secured the tent was good. Even traditional tribesmen don’t look down at us now. This revolution has brought back the good behaviors of the past,” reflected Al-Yarimi on her experience.
Al-Yarimi’s family joined her two days after she set up her tent, and she has since become a leading female protester. Most female protesters are over 40, as many Yemeni families are still preventing their daughters from participating in the demonstrations.
Azmi Beshara, an Arab intellectual, has said that a new civilized culture has emerged in Change Square that has moved the country forward 10 years in only a few months.