Half way out the door, coat and hat in hand, the nurse runs up: “Your relative is still alive. And moving.”
That’s what it felt like when I realised that the March for Life ( #LifeMarch) was gathering momentum and taking a life of its own. Yemen, to me, is like a patient on a life support machine but not quite on a coma. A patient who has been steadily getting worse over the decades. The doctors keep asking him to stop smoking, to lose some of the weight, adopt a better lifestyle, but to no avail. The Arab Spring forced an end to the denial. The patient had to face his condition. Its make or break time. That is how I have been following the Revolution in Yemen. Two groups fighting over this near comatosed patient. One group wanted the shock therapy: tear down the regime and take a chance on rebuilding from a clean slate. The other group in denial that there was a condition in the first place, that it was a conspiracy intent on killing the patient and planned by sneaking relatives with an eye on the inheritence. A group that is suffering and fighting to save its future, and a group that was fighting to save its privileges or, at the very best, keep the boat from rocking.
When the GCC deal, conceived and delivered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was signed, I interpreted that as the end of Yemen’s break for its salvation. Like the abuser catching up with the abused and dragging them indoors before anyone could notice or do anything about it, I readied myself for the inevitable clampdown as Saleh re asserted, his hold on power via his second teir regime. Feeling empty, deflated, and depressed I resigned myself to apathy.
Just when I got used to the apathy, The people of Yemen decided their minds were not for turning. The patient stirred. Taiz, the undisputable heart and soul of the Yemen revolt against the corrupt, suprised us again. Taiz just won’t stay down. Singled out by the regime, this suspended town in the mountains has taken the full brunt of Saleh’s vindictiveness. They have been shelled, sniped, arsoned, and bombed. When the rest of Yemen seemed, out of weariness, happy to accept the unaccceptable GCC deal, the Taizians had other ideas.
At first I didn’t pay attention. I thought: a march. what will it do now. the deal has been signed. The new ministers honored and comfy in their seats. What good will this march do now. They couldn’t possible mean to go on? Its just a final stand surely. A final symbolic gesture? After all, what could they possibly do that would make this regime decide to self reform or leave?
After seeing it on aljazeera and finding the hashtag on twitter I now understand what has captivated Yemenis both in Yemen and abroad. Taiz that has been nearly beaten to submission by saleh seems to be sending him a clear message: The GCC means nothing to us. The immunity it provided you means lesser still. The escalation that should have happened months ago, is happening now and we will come all the way from Taiz on our bare feet if we have to. This escalation is symbolic because the regime has, at least on paper, resigned. So there is no presidential palace to storm or a president to overthrow. What there is a new-old government steeped in the blood of martyrs ,absolved in their responsiblity, and with the perception of ill-intent plastered all over them.. What is asked of the people of Yemen, through 10 months of collective punishment, was to encourage them to accept that. The people of Yemen are marching to tell you, the world, that they are not going to accept that. Even if this march changes nothing. The march seems to be captivating the imagination of Yemenis across the board and enthralled. They are lining up in respect and awe, to receive this procession as it passes the towns along the way.
This is a trek of 250 km through rugged mountainous terrain by people who have been in revolt for 10 months, who live on 1000 calories per adult and nearly a third go hungry every day. It seems to have started with 700 men and 18 women. The numbers are swelling as they pick up joiners along the way. There is something epic about what is happening. It almost does not matter what the eventual outcome is, or even if the world hears and reacts to this or not. Or even if it forces the issue of immunity onto the world concious. The message is do not expect us to go back into the box. The GCC deal does not have the power to control the country because Yemenis will not go back to being docile, submissive, and accepting of their ‘fate’. The participants have made it clear that there are no members of JMP or any other party present in this march. This is the Arab Spring of Yemen at its purest and most sincere and its captivating.
During the Women’s March on Versailles in 6 October 1789 , the women marched for bread. As the procession grew and drew closer to the Royal seat it grew and its joiners varied. Men dressed as women, men carrying arms. The intention must have changed at some point, because the march for bread came back with the baker and the bakers son as prisoners to the capital. could this be what has agitated the GPC into threating to abandon the GCC deal if it isnt stopped? The size of the march seems to be growing with every town they pass. Every town they lay down to rest greets them with a banquet of a welcome. These are the people of Yemen caring for their own. There have been rumours of blistered and torn feet unaccustomed and unadorned for a walk like this. There have been reports of people collapsing of exhaustion, but on the whole there seems to be an air of exhileration. They are high on Life.
There are fears of that this procession will be attacked. Especially as the regime failed to muster a counter walk. The symbolism is very important in Yemeni culture. Will Taiz come to Sanaa? To the Macbeth of Yemen?
Who knows. All I know is : It is not over in Yemen. Not at all.