Arab spring has largely been a non-issue to me. It’s not something I want to pay attention to. Although I admit – the movement primarily led by youth- fighting for political accountability and freedom; hits strikingly close to home. But, I still haven’t been able to put a face to this movement. I’m not sure if it is the word ‘Arab’ I’m not too familiar with or the place I didn’t necessarily grew up studying about. I remember my ‘general knowledge’ class from back in the day, mainly touted about America as the land of opportunity. Japan, as the land of the rising sun. It talked about a few other powerful nations. But left much of the world undefined. May be that’s the reason why it didn’t seem to matter.
Among a number of Arab nations that have taken to the streets, Yemen is one of them. It is ‘just’ another poor country in the world. Every other news report about Yemen either ends or begins with the same phrase. That it is one of the poorest nations in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s one of those developing nations very similar to Nepal with youth dominated population; seeking for social change. Despite the numerous commonalities, I still was not interested.
But all that changed. When I witnessed Nadia Al-Sakkaf on PBS- talking about Yemen, the editor-in-chief of Yemen Times. A woman drawing a raw picture as it’s supposed to be that media almost never highlights; revealed the perspective that I wasn’t yet awakened to. The fact that she was a woman also struck a special chord with me. Contrary to what we usually get to see on TV about Arab women – this was a rather a very empowering standpoint. They show overwhelming number of men protesting on the streets. Something we may not know, the participation of women has been equally instrumental in giving Arab spring a momentum.
Yemen recently came under the spotlight- when a Nigerian born man in his twenties made a failed attempt to detonate a bomb tucked in his underwear around Thanksgiving week in 2009 on the flight bound from Amsterdam to Detroit. Today known to us, as the ‘underwear bomber’ – was believed to have been trained in Yemen. Since then, due to the Americans fear of Yemen turning into a breeding ground for Al-Qaeda. The US government led an intense operation to wipe out Al-Qaeda and its sister groups from the Yemeni soil. This is the very reason why the Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh garnered additional support from the United States. Saleh has been ruling this country for more than two decades, stagnating the development of this Arab nation. And the common voice of young Yemenis resonating across the globe wants Saleh to step down and set forth the path for their right to free election. They want the democracy to prevail, where they can choose their own leader. Nadia was simply reiterating that common voice of the youth. The urgent need for democracy, the need for transparency in her country. And how the US support to Saleh is complicating the matter in the name of removing the influence of al-Qaeda.
Amidst this opinion war, for the first time I was hearing an independent view and the real reason why the world needs to pay attention to Yemen. Not because it’s turning out to be an Al-Qaeda haven because that is not the real problem. The real problem is rooted in the fact that people of Yemen are still suffering from old dogma, lack of development and rampant corruption.
Since the day I heard Nadia on PBS I’ve had the urge to understand her world. Her country, her fight for a free Yemen. And I am not surprised to find her among the great minds of the TED community. Here I share with you Nadia’s brief introduction and the story about her Yemen.