Modern protest in Yemen [Archives:2006/974/Viewpoint]

August 21 2006

Traditionally, since the majority of Yemenis live in a tribal and traditional culture, when something goes wrong, influential individuals in the tribe solved the issue. The conflicting parties would visit the Sheikh or the village preacher, describe their problem and abide by the agreed decision.

Today, although many parts of Yemen still use these traditional means for solving disputes, it seems that Yemenis are learning the modern means of protest. If you read the local media, especially recently, you will find that at any given time, there is at least one demonstration, strike or sit-in. Most of them are arranged by the local NGOs or associations such as doctors, teachers and lawyers syndicate, Yemeni Women's Union or local charities. Sometimes the protest is against an international issue such as the war in Lebanon or it may be a very local issue such as teachers in a certain district not receiving their salaries over one month.

Interestingly, to make the transition from a traditional style to a modern one, an in-between style evolves. The end of last year the motorbike owners gathered in a demonstration at the parliament and slaughtered a bull just like they would do in a tribe in front of the Sheikh.

Sometimes the demonstration goes out of control like when the prices rose and people went mad in the streets and started a wave of destruction. Sometimes the protest is so lame that no more than 10 people gather and their cumulative influence is discarded. Sometimes it is not by Yemenis but a protest or sit-in is carried by migrates in Yemen who are suffering from certain circumstances, resembled by the Somalis demonstrating in front of the UNHCR last year.

Even when the political parties want to convey a point they drive the people into the streets even if the people are unaware or convinced of the cause. Whether it is true the ruling political party paid people to go into the streets and demand Saleh run in the election does not matter, but the notion itself is an indication of how this style of protest can be used.

In general, the way Yemenis evolved in the manifestation of their views and expressions is worth admiring. It is very easy to carry out an apolitical demonstration anywhere in the country. Many times the result is not guaranteed compared to the old means where the disputing parties would not get out of the Sheikh's house unless they had an agreeable solution. But never the less it is a new democratic trend and it is quite promising.