“Do not sigh, for your enemy will hear and rejoice” –Yemeni Proverb
In 2011, many countries of the Arab world erupted in never-ending scenes of uprisings, protest, and dissent. The age of digital media allowed the outside world to witness the daily details of conflict throughout the Middle East. Except in Yemen. Tight restrictions placed on the media and deportation of many journalists restricted the access of the outside world to the injustice, bravery, and change occurring throughout Yemen in 2011. The scale of coverage in Yemen paled in comparison to places like Egypt and Libya. The revolution in Yemen was broadcast from afar, and mostly by the written word.
As hundreds were killed during riots, when the government waged war on its own people, when tribal militias and rebels fought against the government troops, and when Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced out of the presidency – very few outside Yemen viewed these key moments of the revolution. I recently spent two months in Yemen, documenting the time around and immediately after the election of new President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi. With the help of the Inge Morath Foundation, I hope to return. It is important that those outside Yemen see the strength of the Yemeni people steadfast through the challenges ahead as international attention wanes once again.
Yemen has long been overlooked and avoided by the outside world. The poor and underdeveloped nation is a refuge for thousands from Somalia, is often treated as a footstool by Saudi Arabia, and known to the West as the ancestral homeland of Osama Bin Ladin. Yet, after two months in Yemen this past year, I have begun to explore the depth and breadth of what drives Yemen, what motivates its people to move forward, and the challenges it still faces in the two years President Hadi will be in office.
President Hadi must reform the government and military, which is still saturated with people from Saleh’s family. Nearly half a million people are internally displaced: in the north due to the sectarian Houthi Rebellion, and the south due to Al-Qaeda militancy. A famine is looming in the western Tihama, and Sana’a may run out of water in less than ten years. Though women played an instrumental role in the revolution, their role and influence in Yemeni society is still very limited.
Through this work, I hope to bring forth the spirit of the Yemeni people – courage in a hopeless situation, a deep yet unassuming national pride, and warm generosity. The prevailing force in Yemen is at the heart of its people, not in the news of Al Qaeda and violence, but in the nation wide inner strength.