28. März 2011
A massive explosion hit an ammunitions factory today in the town of Jaar, Abyan, among rising fears that Islamist extremism will be used as an excuse for President Saleh to stay in power.
Maha* told us that 160 people have so far died due to the blast, many of them women and children. Yemeni people expect the government to announce that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is behind the incident, although most believe it is a plot by the government. According to people on the ground, government soldiers had left the factory, leaving it open for locals to raid. The blast took place while the civilians were inside the factory. “Yemenis think this is one of Saleh’s plays to prove to the international community that Yemen will descend into chaos if he steps down,” said Maha. “Saleh is playing the Al-Qaeda card.”
Safe hands could be a woman’s hands: protesters support Amat Al Alim Alsoswa for president
President Saleh now appears on television daily to make statements about his intentions. The latest reports show that he withdrew an offer to step down within 6 months, saying that he will only leave if he can turn the country over to “safe hands”.
Speculation that those hands could be female has increased over the last few days. Although many at first identified Tawakkol Karman as a strong option for change in Yemen, support has increased for another candidate: Amat Al Alim Alsoswa. Alsoswa is famous for being one of the only women to reach high government postings in Yemen. She was educated in Egypt and the USA, and became Yemen’s first woman undersecretary for the Ministry of Information, first woman ambassador to the Netherlands, and first woman minister for Human Rights. She is now Director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States. “Alsoswa is very respected in Yemen,” said Maha. “Yemen has been ruled by queens before, and those were the best times this country knew. It would be great for us to be ruled by a woman in modern times. I doubt that it is possible, but who knows; during a revolution, miracles can happen.”
Women’s role in the protests is changing day by day. Women have begun to stay overnight in Change Square, sleeping in tents. Such practices would never normally be accepted in Yemen. Some Yemenis express their concern over Facebook: “One protester wrote on Facebook that he respects all the women who have joined the revolution, but that he does not like the fact that women are staying in the tents,” said Maha.
Discontent with international intentions
Certain segments of the Yemeni society have expressed their wish for the international community to ask Saleh to step down. After observing the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Yemeni youth leaders expected a stronger reaction from other governments in support of their drive for change. The revolutionaries continue to reject Saleh’s claim that the country will descend into civil war, should he step down. They emphasize that, although there are a predicted 60 million guns in Yemen, the revolution has been peaceful from the beginning.
Sandstorm increases difficulties in Sana’a as revolution drifts towards stalemate
A huge sandstorm hit Sana’a yesterday, where people are still protesting by the thousands in the streets. Young people in Change Square are wearing masks and struggling to breathe in the dust-filled air. The sandstorm began on Sunday, and is predicted to continue for three days. Maha, our contact in Yemen, says it is one of the strongest she has seen. Some schools have stopped teaching due to the sand, but protesters remain undeterred.
Other sections of the population are beginning to lose their optimism. “Yemen will collapse economically before it collapses politically,” commented one Yemeni professor. Prices have increased exponentially since the beginning of the revolution. Maha estimates that the price of gas has gone up 50%. Gas is now hardly available outside the black market. “I do not know how they are surviving,” Maha said of the large number of Yemenis who live in poverty. Many of them live on less than 1 US dollar a day.
*Name has been changed.