Kids protest ‘Just for fun!’ [Archives:2003/09/Viewpoint]

February 3 2003

It is always a healthy process to demonstrate and to make voices heard. The demonstrations that took place all over the world against the possible war on Iraq have resembled a healthy way for people to describe their ideas peacefully in large numbers.
However, part of what happened on Saturday in Sana’a was a mere disaster. Children as young as 9 years old were taken out of their school classes to the street. They along with government employees were driven to the street to carry out anti-war demonstrations. The kids were given flags of Palestine and Iraq, and the ruling party (GPC), along with photos of President Saleh and signs condemning the US administration.
One’s first impression of the protest was of little children with their school costumes running around, joking, jumping here and there, bugging drivers and others, and making ridiculous noises.
Children who are nine, ten or eleven years old cannot have a broad understanding of what is going on and cannot present the public’s opinion. Those kids were taught how to say slogans but don’t know their meaning.
I asked one of those kids when I was on my way to work that day “Why are you here protesting?” I expected an answer like “We do not want war” or “we protest the US”, but what I got was a straight-forward innocent and clear answer: “To just have fun!”
Observers know that President Saleh’s position is anti-war, but why get students out of their classes to supposedly claim that we have massive protests and anger against the possible US war?
My opinion is that those students should have benefited from their day in class while letting their parents protest based on their own will. They may accompany their parents, but they shouldn’t protest alone. Protests are useless unless they are driven from the free will of the protestors. You cannot claim to have demonstrations and public anger when you are forcing children out of school to take part.
It is also not logical to give them GPC flags or the president’s photos to carry. Is the demonstration against war or in support of the president and his party?
What happened simply reiterates the editorial I wrote recently concerning the lack of free and impendent public protests in the Arab world, because most protests are organized by the state.
Yemenis are against the war, but the government should allow people to speak for themselves instead of pushing them around telling them what to do.
Freedom to protest does not mean taking people out of work. What it means is to allow them to demonstrate when they want and the where they want.
That it is real freedom.