Western politicians view the people of Yemen today through one lens; a lens Edward Said calls “Orientalism” and what we call today Neo-Colonialism. Unfortunately, what spews out of their mouths are narcissistic views that reek of the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ stench. In an interview with the Yemen Observer the USA’s Ambassador to Yemen says with selfish concern,
We want to see a peaceful transition; we want to see Yemen moving forward to a new reality, but it’s got to be done in a way that maintains some kind of system and some kind of peaceful transition, and so far, saying that the masses are on the street, it doesn’t give us anything to work with, because we don’t know what those people want. [Yemen Observer]
Let me tell you Mr. Ambassador who “those people. . . ” are? They are the beggars of Yemen who have perhaps run, hobbled, and shuffled in humility towards your car as it stopped at a traffic light. Begging you for change to secure their only meal for the day, did you ever see them? They are the children of Yemen who abandoned school to take on what your country internationally condemns child labor? They are the “child brides” of Yemen who raise your country’s TV ratings. But did she ever tell you that she was sold because her impoverished family could not afford to pay off their debt, or find a means to put food on their table; all this while her president is one of the richest men in the world? Did you per chance wave at the children of Yemen climbing mounds of trash looking for scraps of food to quiet their growling stomachs?
Maybe you saw the suppressed tears of a widow on the narrow streets of Yemen, with child at her hip and another holding her hand, knocking at strangers doors asking for hand-downs for Eid? Or maybe you were witness to a young woman being sexual harassed in public by sons of government officials, only to be brushed off and declared “guilty of being out in public.” “Surely it was all her fault. She should have stayed home.” No dignity for the women of a nation once by three queens, at a time when Yemen was called “Arabia Felix” [Happy Yemen]. Today, Yemen is sad.
Mr. Ambassador “those people” are Yemen’s 60% of unemployed youth, desperate for jobs, and the employed living on $2 a day. Surely, you must have seen them line up for hours at your embassy’s gates. Or maybe you’ve seen them in the US, waiting on US Immigration to glance favorably on their applications for asylum. Their stories pregnant with torture, deprivation, persecution, oppression, and injustice. You must have seen them as US airport security roams its hands over their bodies, gloats at their naked images as they go through body scans, and rummages through their luggage. Those that western media points their fingers at whenever they hear a ‘bang’. They are the youth of Yemen illegally crossing into Saudi Arabia in search of a better life, despite the perils of border security and life as illegal immigrants. They are the youth of Yemen living abroad in every nook and cranny of the world, out of despair that Yemen would ever value them and envelop them in her embrace.
“those people. . .” are the people in the southern part of Yemen whom Saleh spun hostility against by calling them “separatists” because they refused to be treated like second, third, and fourth class citizens. They dared to protest when he entitled himself to their lands and resources—as if they were his personal spoils of war. Theirs are the lands that Saleh opened up as breeding grounds for Al Qaeda, and their waters for pirates. Al Qaeda in Yemen has a tag that reads, “Made by Saleh.”Among “those people . . .” is the Hirak movement of the south sprouting out of despair in a united Yemen or one that would ever be Saleh-free. “those people. . .“ are the Houthis in Yemen, against whom Saleh has waged six civil wars literally blowing them back to the stone age; depriving them of any identifiable feature of modern day society.
“those people. . .” are the farmers of Yemen abandoning their coffee crops that Ottomans once exported through the port of Mocha to the world. Those lamenting their agricultural prominence among their neighbors with arid lands, and surrendering their fertile lands and depleting water sources to grow the worthless stimulant qat. “those people . . .” are the sailors of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean who are short changed for their catch, that are exported to fill officials pockets while their families and their people starve.
“those people. . .“ are Yemenis drowning in corruption of legendary proportions. Its tentacles spare no foreigner or national. “Welcome to Yemen the land of bribes” is the message that travelers to Yemen at all international airports and seaports are welcomed with. And government offices are notorious for draining the life out of Yemenis, for any official paper they are entitled to.
Mr. Ambassador, do you still not know “what those people want” ? Let me break it up for you in terms you understand, “They want the right to freedom, justice and pursuit of happiness.”
By Dr. Almas