It’s no surprise that the Yemeni government brutally beat and injured numerous women celebrating the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Tawakul Karman in the streets of the capitol, Sanna’a, today. This same regime, led by the much vilified Ali Abdullah Saleh, has routinely attacked, injured, and killed peaceful protesters who have dared to speak out against it. Earlier this year, the government kidnapped and detained Karman, abducting her off the street and holding her in chains for days. Immediately after releasing her, Saleh’s forces arrested the lawyer who had been defending her, Khaled al-Anesi.
Tawakol Karman is the first Arab woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and with good reason. She might be called the Mother of the Arab Spring. The 2005 co-founder of the feminist organization Women Journalists Without Chains has been leading weekly protests against President Saleh and oppression in general since 2008. In April of this year, she wrote:
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. A new Yemen awaits us, with a better future for all.
Although, or perhaps because Yemen is one of the worst places on earth to be a woman, Yemeni women have played a significant role in the protest movement against this patriarchal regime. As a recent essay in Al Jazeera explains:
Women are a sizeable part of the protest movement, and are visible throughout the various protest squares around the country, and on marches. Female protesters have stood atop government vehicles during protests, and faced water cannon and bullets. They have kept the field hospital running around the clock.
For this civil and entirely peaceful protest, women have been subject to tremendous abuse for a very long time. Karman’s arrest earlier this year was not the first time she had been harrassed by the 33-year regime.
On Oct 12, 2010, government forces detained and harrassed Karman and other women who had gathered to object to unjust taxation and violent suppression of dissent across the country. Women Journalists Without Chains reported:
Human rights defender Ms Tawakkol Karman was arrested and detained for three hours at Alolofi police station. She was allegedly subjected to ill-treatment while in police custody. Human rights defender Ms Bushra Alsorabi was reportedly beaten by four security men who tried to take her camera. She was hit with an unidentified object thought to be a rubber bullet or smoke projectile resulting in burns to her body and clothes. She was hospitalised in the Republican Hospital in Sana’a as a result of her injuries.
Police used their guns to beat participants, they also reportedly pointed their guns at various participants and threatened to kill them. Five other women participating in the protest were also injured, two of whom had to be hospitalised as a result of their injuries. Up to 35 persons from the Al-Ja’ashen group of displaced people were arrested during the protest and were taken to five different police stations.
President Saleh’s self-serving words of congratulations to his most famous critic were proven to be utterly false today, when his forces attacked peaceful women calling for change. Some of them argued for UN sanctions against the president and his family. Catholic Online today reports that
As these demonstrations began to grow, eyewitnesses allege that government security forces emerged and began to attack the women. Dozens of women were injured in the subsequent violence in spite of the fact they were completely unarmed and peaceful. At least 38 women have been confirmed hurt and admitted to hospitals. Doctors say they were attacked mostly with rocks and batons.
Yemenis are saying that the government’s goal is to make people afraid to protest.
The following video is dated October 9, 2011. It shows Tawakul Karman leading a demonstration against the government.
Today’s protest formed part of a Yemen-wide show of anger against the government for condoning or supporting recent violent attacks on women protesters in Taiz. Saleh supporters pelted peacefully protesting women there with bottles and rocks yesterday At least 50,000 women came out into the streets, where thugs and government hooligans harrassed and attacked them. An estimated 40 women were injured, some by batons. More than 400,000 people gathered outside the hospital where the wounded were taken yesterday, to express their outrage at a government that passively condoned this violence. Instead of understanding that its brutal policies only further inflame the discontent of its people, Saleh struck again at his people–this time hospitalizing another forty-odd women. How much blood will he spill?
When he learn? And when will he step down? More urgently, why is the President of the United States seeming to cooperate with this criminal regime? Although the US has officially called for his resignation, recent events, including the drone strike that killed Anwar Al-Alwaki, an American citizen, in Yemen, suggest that this administration has deepened its commitment to this corrupt government. The US allegedly doubled military aid to Saleh’s government last year.
Here is another video of brave Muslim feminists in Yemen protesting President Saleh.
A government that represses and attacks its own citizens loses its legitimacy. We aren’t surprised when we hear that Saleh has done it once again, but we should be a lot more shocked that we appear to be, and a lot more outraged when our own police forces brutally surpress peaceful demonstrators in Pittsburgh, target Muslims in New York, and harrass people who appear to be Hispanic in Alabama.
The women who brave thugs armed with bottles, batons, and tanks every day in Yemen deserve our respect, not only because they are standing up for their own freedom, but also because they are standing up for ours. We are all united in our desire for peace, for dignity, and for civility. I salute them.