For thousands of women, the 11-month-old populist uprising has never been just about ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year-long rule. It is as much about gaining long-denied basic liberties, about altering the trajectories of subsequent generations of Yemeni women. The world applauded their aspirations, giving activist Tawakkol Karman the Nobel Peace Prize this year — the first Arab woman to receive this honor.
But casting a shadow over conversations with women at the heart of the struggle is a sense that their revolt has been overshadowed by competing forces, from geopolitics to regional power plays, from fears of terrorism to local grabs for influence.
The protests continued Sunday, a day after Yemeni security forces killed at least nine protesters in the capital, Sanaa. Thousands demonstrated there, demanding the resignation of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Saleh’s vice president, who leads a transitional unity government.
Like tens of thousands of protesters, Yemeni women have felt left out of the transition. To them, the new Yemen looks a lot like the old, and they worry that the small but unprecedented gains they have made could be reversed.
“We fear that women will be pushed out after the revolution,” Muthana said. “We fear we won’t be included in the political process.”
Of all the Arab countries transformed by protest movements in the past year, Yemen arguably had the most to gain from change. Under Saleh’s authoritarian rule, tribalism, corruption, internal conflicts and an ambitious al-
Qaeda franchise have plagued the country, the poorest in the region.
But among the countries that have witnessed the downfall of dictators, Yemen’s revolution is the most incomplete.
The United States and its allies — concerned that political upheaval could bolster al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch — have opted to deal delicately with Saleh, even as they forcefully pushed for the ousting of other embattled autocrats in the region. In a post-
Osama bin Laden world, American officials consider Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliate one of the most significant threats to the United States. The affiliate was linked to several assaults against the United States, including an attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009.
Last month, Saleh signed an agreement, crafted by Yemen’s Persian Gulf neighbors and backed by the United States and Europe, to transfer power. But he’s widely perceived as still in charge, and his sons and nephews still control the security forces. He and his family have received immunity from prosecution. The transitional unity government sworn in this month amounts to a mere reshuffling of political elites; Saleh loyalists still hold key ministries, while some opposition leaders have previously held posts in his government.