Raw demography would indicate that Yemen would be a country in trouble. Forget its geopolitical location, cultural impoverishment and relative lack of resources against its oil rich neighbours and you still have a population that has jumped from 7 million to 30 million in a very short time.
The Yemeni revolutionary movement is sometimes called the baraghala revolution, a derogatory term used by the rural tribal leaders of that small country to refer to the city folk which denotes both weakness and the disgust of a phrase like “nigger”. In this simply unmissable essay in the New York Times, we hear about one of the first tribal leaders to embrace this remarkable and little-reported movement:
a paunchy 36-year-old tribesman named Abdullah bin Haddar. Haddar is from Marib, a famously lawless province east of Yemen’s capital. I first met him in the tent where he had been living for four months in the protest square in Sana. I was struck instantly by his appearance: he wore no belt or jambiya, the traditional dagger Yemeni tribesmen always carry on their belts. “I stopped wearing it since I came to the square,” he told me.
Exhausted by a life of violence, Haddar was strangely moved by the baraghala protests. He decided to go to Sana.
When the Sana protests first started in February, Haddar told me, he had been at home in Marib, surrounded by his family and a vast armory of weapons. “I used to sleep with guns all around me,” he said. “It always scared my wife.” He needed them. His life, he explained, was dominated and constrained by tribal feuds. The feuds are almost constant in Marib, and because they are collective, any member of the tribe is fair game.
Haddar arrived in Sana, the capital city and searched out Khaled al-Anisi, a human rights lawyer and key leader of the revolution.
al-Anisi describes the encounter:
“Abdullah Haddar told me, ‘I will bring my tribe, we will protect you, we will fight for our dignity,’ ” Anisi said. The uprising was still young, but Anisi, an eloquent critic of the Saleh regime and a pillar of Sana’s small circle of activists, had his priorities set. “The most important thing for us is not getting rid of Ali Abdullah Saleh, or even building a civil state,” Anisi told me. “It is changing the mentality of violence, this culture of the military and of the tribes.” So he offered Haddar a firm rejoinder. “I told him: ‘Thank you, but we don’t want protectors or supporters. We want partners. If we wanted to be safe, we would have stayed home. We hope you will join us.’ ”
That message struck Haddar with the force of revelation.
The article goes on to explain how a peaceful movement is being repressed with brutal technique while Jihadist warlords go unchallenged in the occupation of whole regions of Yemen and wealthy business tycoons vie with the sitting tyrant for future control of a country already plagued by tragedy. It is a country that needs our prayer- petitioning that the government might fall but that those who rise are those who know that violence is not the way.
Your Correspondent, Non-violence is “something heavenly, not earthly”