Protesters in Yemen Vow to Stay on Streets
By Laura Kasinof
The New York Times
September 2, 2011
SANA, Yemen — Seven months after Yemen’s political uprising began, with the threat of civil war still looming, defiant protesters continue to take to the streets in the tens of thousands every Friday to call for the government to step down. They vow not to stop until their demand is met.
“We are going to stay here even if there is a civil war,” said Abdul Rahaman Abdullah, a military officer, after participating in prayers with thousands of protesters on Friday afternoon on 60th Street, a major thoroughfare in Sana, the capital.
On Friday, Mr. Abdullah was part of a large group of men underneath a bridge from which, months ago, supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh shot at protesters below. Now anti-Saleh graffiti decorates the bridge’s concrete columns.
“It’s been seven months and we are going to stay here even if the rest of the world doesn’t stand with us,” Mr. Abdullah yelled, followed by shouts of “God willing” from those around him.
Men, women and children gathered in a cordoned-off area on 60th Street and sat on decorative prayer rugs, listening to an imam preach about their “blessed revolution.”
The imam shouted from the bed of a pickup truck, “We are a peaceful revolution from the beginning to the end.” In conservative Yemen, where religion is inextricably tied to political life, Friday’s sermons draw the largest number of those who want to show their support for the antigovernment movement. The local news media reported large protests in major cities across Yemen on Friday.
“Our goal is big and takes time,” said Nadia Abdullah, 27, a business student who has been protesting along with her peers for months. She stood in front of the section of the street set aside for women to pray separately from the men. Small boys selling water bottles made their way through the sea of black abayas, the traditional head-to-toe dress for women in Yemen.
“We need to escalate,” Ms. Abdullah said. “But how? Really, I don’t know how. But we must.”
Her concerns are echoed by many. Yemen’s revolution has stalled, and protesters admit that behind-the-scenes political maneuvering or war will most likely decide the fate of their country. Mr. Saleh has been undergoing medical treatment in Saudi Arabia since June, when he was severely wounded in a bomb attack inside the presidential palace. The economy continues to falter during the political stalemate, making life even more difficult for people in Yemen, which was already the poorest Arab nation.
Yet the protesters refuse to quit.
“Which is better?” asked Jamal al-Sharabi, 28, a protester who drives a taxi because he could not find a job after graduating from college with a degree in English education. “For us to be here one year, two years, three years, or for us to live our lives under this corrupt system? They think if Saleh transfers power we will go back to our homes. No, we won’t. We won’t go home until the will of the Yemeni people is realized.”
The worshipers added an extra prayer for protesters who were killed in recent weeks in the city of Taiz, in Yemen’s central mountains. They then burst into chants against the government. Some went back to their homes and others walked back to their tents at an antigovernment sit-in, about a half-mile away, that spread out from the main gates of Sana University.
Sitting along the side of the road, Naji al-Sabahi, a protester, said he had left his job six months ago to start camping out with the protesters. He said he would continue to do so, summing up the resilience of the protest movement with a well-known Yemeni saying: “Patience is beautiful.”