[Q&A] Despite the recent transfer of power, the revolution in Yemen still needs the absent attention of the fickle international community.
With the news that, after nearly three decades of autocratic rule, Yemen’s long-standing president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has finally transferred power, The Mark sat down with recent International Press Freedom Award winner and Yemeni journalist Khaled al-Hammadi to discuss the unfolding events.
What is your reaction to President Saleh’s agreement to transfer power? Will this lead to a real political transformation in Yemen?
This is good news, for sure. But President Saleh has promised 100 times before to transfer power or step down, just to buy time and prolong his stay in power, and to make the protestors give up. So we will see what will happen. But I think the protestors will insist on continuing the revolution that began last February.
What reaction do you expect on the streets?
Those in the streets of Yemen will welcome this news, but, because President Saleh has made promises like this many times without following through, the Yemeni people are skeptical. They are fed up with the impacts of this long revolution. Many of them have lost their jobs, had their businesses destroyed, or the government forces and shelling have destroyed their homes.
Looking at the difficult and uneven progress in Egypt, what role do you think journalists like yourself can play to ensure that the gains made from the movement actually materialize?
The situation in Yemen is very different than the situation in Egypt. The military in Egypt is more powerful than that in Yemen. Half of the army in Yemen has already announced support to the revolution and the protestors. In Yemen, there are more than 60 million weapons in the hands of the Yemeni people. That’s almost three weapons for each person, because the population of Yemen is about 23 million. If the president didn’t step down, the regime would lead the country to ruin and civil war.
If a civil war broke out, it would disrupt the whole region. A lot of Yemeni people would migrate across international borders into Saudi Arabia and Oman. The impacts of civil war would also harm the strait of Bab el Mandeb in the Red Sea, and international marine trade.
Should there be western intervention to ensure stability in Yemen, or should this be worked out domestically?
The Yemeni people are not looking for western military intervention. They are looking for the international community – and the West and the Arab countries, in particular – to support the revolution in order to end this chaos and crisis.
The Yemeni people believe that the West and the international community have completely ignored the Yemeni issue compared to their response to Libya, Syria, and Egypt. Why is Yemen any less important than any other country? Yemenis have been protesting since last February. They have been living in the streets since that time, and no one is listening to their voices despite the fact that they are under attack from the regime and government shellings every day. Thousands of people have been killed and injured.
Do you think the international press has failed in its coverage of Yemen, with more focus on the revolutions in other parts of the Arab world?
I do not blame the international media. Many friends of mine in the media tried to come, and called me, asking me to help them, but the problem was the government restrictions.
The Yemeni regime knew from the beginning that this revolution in Yemen and other Arab countries broke out because of media coverage. For that reason, the Yemeni government closed its doors to the international media, preventing them from coming to Yemen to cover what is happening in the country. So there wasn’t an opportunity to tell the story of the Yemeni revolution.
Photo courtesy of Reuters.