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The revolution is uniting Yemen

April 10, 2011

THE revolution in Yemen began immediately after the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia on January 14. As I always do when arranging a demonstration I posted a message on Facebook, calling on people to celebrate the Tunisian uprising on January 16.

The following day students from Sana’a University asked me to attend a vigil in front of the Tunisian embassy. The crowd was shouting: “Heroes! We are with you in the line of fire against the evil rulers!” We were treated roughly by the security forces, and we chanted: “The night must come to an end” — the mantra of the revolutionaries in Tunisia.

The demonstration was astonishing; thousands turned up, and Sana’a witnessed its first peaceful demonstration for the overthrow of the regime. “Go before you are driven out!” we cried.

That night student and youth leaders visited me, along with the human rights activist Ahmed Saif Hashid and the writer Abdul Bari Tahir. We agreed that we could not let this historic moment pass us by, and that we too could spark a revolution. We decided there was to be no backing down, despite the repression we knew would come. The rallies grew daily, even though the government deployed thugs against us.

After a week of protests I was detained by the security forces in the middle of the night. This was to become a defining moment in the Yemeni revolution: media outlets reported my detention and demonstrations erupted in most provinces of the country; they were organised by students, civil society activists and politicians. The pressure on the government was intense, and I was released after 36 hours in a women’s prison, where I was kept in chains.

After my release I continued to demonstrate. Invitations were sent to all parties — including the people of the south, the Houthis in the north, the tribes, trade unions, civil society organisations and the army — to join the peaceful student revolution and demand an end to the regime.

We encouraged them to overlook their differences and assured them that Yemen would be better off without Ali Abdullah Saleh; that the Yemeni people could resolve their own problems, including the war in Sa’ada, the issue of south Yemen and the question of terrorism. We believe we can establish a civil state with the rule of law. This was the message in the first weeks of the revolution.

Around the country in places like Ta’az, Aden and Al-Hadidah, tents sprang up for vigils, copying Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Hundreds of thousands poured into these “squares of liberation and change”. With the inclusion of all sections of society, the revolution had outgrown the student movement.

So what happens when the regime falls, as it must? 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. We are not blind to reality, but the fact is that the revolution has created social tranquillity across the country as the people put their differences to one side and tackle the main issue together — no mean feat, given that there are 70 million weapons in Yemen.

In five years my country has witnessed six wars, but now the people’s guns are silent; they have chosen peaceful change.

Despite the fact that hundreds of protesters have been killed by the regime, not one police officer or security agent has been killed by the masses. Even Ma’arab, the most unruly and turbulent province, has witnessed its first peaceful demonstrations.

Violent tribesmen who have fought each other for decades have come together in “liberation squares”; blood feuds have been forgotten. When snipers killed more than 50 protesters and wounded 1,000 on the Friday of Dignity, it was the young who arrested the culprits; not one was attacked or injured, despite the anger and the blood that had flowed in the streets.

For the first time people in the south stopped calling for separation, raised the national flag and demanded an end to the regime. It’s been truly historic. The country is united.

Saleh’s regime carried out 33 years of rule through blood and corruption. We have brought it to its knees through our determination, and through the steadfastness of our young people who have confronted the bullets of the regime with bared chests. With politicians and members of the army standing beside us, our success will go even further.

We cannot let the bogeyman of Al Qaeda be used to stall historic change; Saleh invokes this threat in an attempt to cling to power, as if he is the only one capable of bringing stability and tackling terrorism. It would be foolish to believe his lies.

Let us be clear: the Yemeni revolution has already brought internal stability to a state riddled with war and conflict. I call on the global community to support the peaceful revolution as it did in Tunisia and Egypt. I call on the United States and the European Union to tell Saleh that he must leave now, in response to the demands of his people. They should end all support for his regime, especially that which is used to crush peaceful opposition — tear gas canisters have “Made in America” on them. They should freeze the Saleh family’s assets and those of Saleh’s henchmen and return them to the people.

If the US and Europe genuinely support the people, as they say, they must not betray our peaceful revolution. It is the expression of the democratic will of the overwhelming majority of the people of Yemen.

— Dawn/The Guardian News Service

Tawakkol Karman chairs Women Journalists Without Chains. She is a human rights activist and leader of the popular revolution movement in Yemen.