Will Yemen bring about change on the Arabian Peninsula?

"It’s a shame that the global community won’t act against what’s happening in Yemen. Peaceful demonstrators are being fired on and most of the victims of the American missiles against al-Qaida are unfortunately civilians," says Susanne Dahlgren from the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

Will Yemen bring about change on the Arabian Peninsula?

Yemen is regarded as the poorest country in the Middle East. It is the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula and also the only country on the peninsula where the leader is elected. Yemeni women were the first to receive the vote in the region.

The Yemeni women’s democracy movement received considerable recognition as Tawakkul Karman shares this year’s Nobel Peace Prize together with Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and with the Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowe.

– Despite the multiparty system, the President’s party has a monopoly position and the opposition has no chance to win the elections, says Susanne Dahlgren.

Dahlgren has conducted research in Yemen, and this year she published the book Contesting Realities: the Public Sphere and Morality in Southern Yemen.

– The situation in the country is alarming. Last week, when I phoned a friend in Yemen on the same day that President Saleh returned to Yemen after three months in Saudi Arabia, we could only refer to the situation as 'bad weather', Dahlgren explains. She gets day-to-day information from Yemen through closed Internet groups.

Women play a central role in the protests in Yemen. The tent camp that has been in place for months close to Sana'a University is inhabited by both men and women. Women are also seen leading demonstrations.

– For the Yemeni democracy movement it is really important to get international attention through the Nobel Prize. It has been celebrated widely in Yemen. One only hopes that peaceful transition of power will take place rapidly and that the killing of demonstrators will cease.

Will Saudi Arabia have time to introduce changes to women’s position before tent camps are pitched there too? The Saudi king has, in fact, promised to give Saudi women the vote and the right to stand for office in the local elections in 2015.

– The Saudi women were promised the vote years ago, but nothing came out of it. There are no guarantees that the royal regime, torn by internal disputes, will honour its promises, Dahlgren points out.

To prevent the full-blown influx of the youth revolution, Saudi Arabia has increased wages and arrested activists who have arranged demonstrations in different parts of the country. Nevertheless, women continue their protests, demanding, for example, full citizenship and the right to drive a car.

The Romans called the fertile and rich land where today’s Yemen is located "Arabia Felix", Happy Arabia, to distinguish it from the barren region in the north, known as "Arabia Deserta".

– Despite all the hardships the Yemenis are living under, my experience is that it’s easy to conduct research in the country. Finns and Yemenis share a similar kind of humour and a feeling of positive modesty. We also have the same objectives in life, Dahlgren says.

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Text: Karin Hannukainen
Photo: Linda Tammisto
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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