By Dr. Murad Alazzany
For National Yemen
A mixed feelings of pride and admiration attacked me when I heard of the Life March Caravan which was set off Tuesday morning from the freedom square in Taiz governorate. Thousands of youth participants joined in a march which lasted for five days covering over 250 kilometers by foot.
They reached their final destination at “The Point of Change” square in Sana’a yesterday after receiving a warm welcome by the youth revolutionaries at the entrances of the capital. By marching, the protesters aimed to underscore two key points of the youth movement: publicly reject the immunity given to Saleh and declare a continuation of their revolutionary protest.
They wanted the whole international community to notice that what is happening in Yemen is in fact a revolution – not just a political crisis. In this spirit, they wanted the world to seriously consider their demands to topple Saleh’s regime completely and start building the civil and democratic country they all aspire to have.
When the youth started their march, they knew that it might involve many risks and dangers that may have threatened their lives. It was not unrealistic that thugs and snipers loyal to Saleh could inflict heavy casualties on the marchers. However, the marches slowly shed these concerns as they climbed the mountainous roads along the city of Ibb and Dhamar on their way to Sana’a.
However, these concerns became real as they were fiercely attacked Saleh’s loyalties and thugs. Ten of them were martyred and hundreds were left wounded. That was the a hospitably by which Saleh’s thugs met the Marching Youth.
As the marchers overcame the risks and troubles they faced, the march’s meaning evolved and came to represent a new turn in the course of Yemen’s revolution. From one perspective, the march revealed the true depth to which the Arab youth have contributed to the success of the revolutionary protests. In fact, what surprised the world the most about the Arab Spring was not the unpredictability of events, but the level of civility utilized to achieve success. The Life March is just one example of the youth’s determination to shape the arc of Yemen’s future without guns, violence or bloodshed.
Despite the bravery shown by the marchers, and their commitment to non-violence, the media has largely remained silent on the first march from one city to another. The media simply circumvented march by tabbing it is a ‘peaceful rally,’falling drastically short of what it really was.
It is difficult to understand why the event did not receive the coverage it deserved. The march broke the typical cliches of Yemen as a country of bombs and terrorists, and if covered, could have shown the whole world that Yemen is an army of liberation — demonstrating hope for all those who seek freedom but lack the means to achieve it.
The march was a symbol for the historical new trajectory of the Arab world. The area is witnessing a birth of a new generation that has broken the shackles of oppression and submission. By realizing the universal rights of a life of dignity and freedom of choice, this new generation is eager to shape its future and build a country of its own volition. As Ghandi and Mandial said, “awareness is the first step towards emancipation.” The autocracy of oppression that has permeated the Arab world will never find its way into the history of the Arabs as long as youth exist.
However, it was to my shock and surprise that such a defining march received a lukewarm response from political analysts and thinkers. As such, they neglected the uniqueness of the event in a country like Yemen and dismissed it as bad timing. Other analysts even went as far as to say that the march would jeopardize the Gulf Initiative as it would violate Saleh’s terms to a deal. However, the marchers suggest that the political analysts reconsider such views with more pragmatic concern.
First, the analysts must be reminded that the youth have never accepted a deal and therefore cannot violate it. This is largely why youth have not departed the change and freedom squares throughout Yemen. Analysts should take note that it was the youth and their sacrifices that forced Saleh to bitterly sign the GCC deal. It was the youth that kept the embers of the revolution alive when many thought it had ended. Even Saleh knew that it was the youth that was the backbone of the revolution as he requested the youth to disperse the squares with any agreement. The opposition rejected Saleh’s request, because it knew as well that the youth were strength behind the revolution. Because of this, youth cannot bring themselves to accept any guarantees or amnesty to those who savagely looted Yemen for decades.
The youth represent a security key for any deal reached with Saleh and for any political challenges that will surely be encountered in the future. Thus, the more the youth escalate their protest, the more successful the revolution will become. The March of Life appears to be an important step in that direction.
From another perspective, it has been shown that the revolutionary protest in Yemen has reached a stage defined by stagnation and which a new direction seemed impossible. The march broke the stagnation infusing the youth protests with new spirit and new means to express their thoughts and beliefs. This has been proved in different squares all over the country. Now multiple marches are being planned, one to Aden to demonstrate unity, and another from Al-Dhalia to Sana’a.
The marches should be embraced, not scorned for they represent what we believe Yemen should become. I was overwhelmed, like many other Yemenis, when the march grew in size as youth from Ibb, Al-Bidah, Rad’a and Dhama joined in. Even tribes stepped in and declared their willingness to accompany and protect the march. It is truly rare for Yemenis to hear of news that brings us closer together, particularly when we frequently feel we are constantly driven apart from each other. Saleh ruled in a way that divided us and our march was a direct retort stating that Yemenis can be united. The marches allow us, for the first time, to rally around a single goal of toppling the regime for a better country tomorrow.
Youth have sacrificed their lives for the success of the revolution, and now should not be the time to undermine them and the role they will play in shaping Yemen’s future. Youth have always been at the heart of the uprisings: they were the first out on the streets to demonstrate, the least likely to be intimidated, most likely to raise their voice against authorities. They have received enough criticism. It is now time to join them in their marches and celebrate them as the heroes our country needs.