Monday, 16 January 2012

From inside the Palm of a Revolution: Part III: Interview with Atiaf Alwazir

When Atiaf Alwazir began blogging in 2008, she had no idea it would one day be amongst the voices of her people in Yemen, telling the world about her country at a time when it would be at the brink of an uprising. Being a citizen journalist and blogger, Atiaf is amongst the section of her country that is perhaps amongst the sole sources of information on the events in Yemen. She is sincerely devoted to the cause of being the voice of her people, just as they are on the precipice of an uprising, as the winds of change have blown over the country since early last year. In the course of an exchange of emails, DeltaWomen had the privilege of interviewing Atiaf on the changes in her country and on her blogging endeavours. Atiaf tweets as @womanfromyemen and blogs here.

Atiaf's Blogger Profile carries this picture. 
Your country is on the brink of change. Why did it take a revolution in Tunisia and Egypt to inspire the people of Yemen?
It is important to note however, that today’s Peaceful calls for change are not a new phenomenon in Yemen. In 1962, two months before the military coup, the first peaceful demonstration was held in Sana'a.  I am happy to say that my father was part of that movement. In 2007, the Southern Movement led many peaceful demonstrations calling for reforms which later escalated to calls for separation from the north. In 2008, numerous strikes by port workers, teachers, laborers and professors took place in many cities throughout Yemen.  Activists, journalists and lawyers held continuous demonstrations for the release of political prisoners and detained journalists. Today’s peaceful revolutions are a continuation to these past efforts. What makes this current movement unique is that it is not an elite movement, and it is a youth-led peaceful initiative with mass participation nationwide. It is not just people who are politically oppressed but mainly those who are economically deprived. Previous demands called for reforms, but today’s protests called for an end to the regime. I remember my feeling the first time I chanted: “the people want the end of the regime.” As soon as I uttered these words, I turned around to check who is watching us, but I quickly realized there were hundreds of people shouting the same thing.  It was a liberating feeling to know that fear is now finally broken by all. Like the various coloured tents, the inhabitants of these tents come from very different backgrounds and share one space.

As a girl, and as a blogger based in Yemen, what are some of your biggest challenges? Do you feel threatened by anything?
One main challenge is of being arrested, kidnapped or killed like it happens to our male activists. But the other challenges particular to women are the challenges many women in the country face, the region and the world. Of course the struggle to get our voices heard, to get respect for what we say and do regardless of our gender. Of course as a woman the challenges include social pressure that what we do is not appropriate. Smear campaigns can be held against women for speaking out targeting their reputation, in a society where women’s reputation is sacred.

Sourced from
The Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian revolutions have been described as very much a "youth"-led  revolt and dependent on social media technologies like Facebook and Twitter for its success. Is that quite the same in Yemen? As a young person in Yemen, do you feel there is a difference in the Yemeni situation?
In Yemen, less than 2% of the population are “online”. With that in mind, of course Facebook and twitter were not the cause of the revolution. In my opinion social sites and the internet is never the cause of the revolution, but rather something that helps. People are the true agents of change. This however does not mean that internet has no role. It has a very important role even in a country with low internet penetration. In Yemen social media has been a great help and great tool in spreading awareness to the outside world via twitter especially in light of the fact that mainstream media is not focused on Yemen. Twitter and other social sites have also enabled activists to connect and spread more “independent” news, given that independent media is lacking. Blogger and social media activists have become valuable sources of independent news. Facebook has also helped activists organize through the various Facebook groups, some are secret and some are not.

What do you feel about the West's stance on Yemen? Do you think there is a need for military intervention?
I am strongly against military intervention. There is no one response for how the “west” has responded, as different countries have had different reactions to the revolution in Yemen.  Some European countries such as France have been more supportive and have publicly condemned the violence, while other countries such as the US continue to make confusing remarks and in addition continue to support financially the military dictatorship through military aid.

Seeing how events are panning out in Egypt, do you think Democracy will be fitting for Yemen? Is the walk up to democracy difficult?
Of course it will be fitting for Yemen, as we have a history of pluralism and various political parties.  We have a vibrant civil society, and now a strong mass movement.  What is going to be important is to strengthen the government institutions, which are the keys to a democratic state.  In Yemen, these institutions are very corrupt, and lack the independence they need. In addition, without rule of law, nothing can be implemented.  Strengthening the justice sector is of utmost importance. Of course we will face a very difficult time, and some groups from the opposition who are as corrupt and as undemocratic as the current regime, will most likely lead the country, and hence the revolution will continue for years to come.

By Kirthi Jayakumar

No comments:

Post a Comment