Sanaa’s Change Square was like a carnival in which all sections of Yemen’s population took part, including political parties, tribes, independent youth, educated people and illiterates, the rich and the poor, officials and civilians. Everyone was there, without any weapons or violence.
A year has gone by since the fall of President Ali Saleh, which was followed by sectarian violence between the Islah Party and the Huthis. The square, which was the site of anti-government protests, is still there, but it is no longer what it used to be, as many tents have been evacuated and only a few are left.
Pictures of Socialist Party leaders adorn one of these tents, in which several men of various ages are seated. When asked about why they remain in the square, activist Mohammad Qaid says, “We want the downfall of all elements of the regime. We want to bring down Major General Ali Mohsen, Yahya Saleh, al-Zandani, Ahmad Ali, Humeid al-Ahmar – all those who formed a connected network under the current regime. We did not come out against people, but rather against corruption. We want a state of order, law and institutions.” His friend, Said al-Sabri, adds, “We no longer have anything to sell. We sold [our] houses, land and cars; we even divorced our women.” Then someone comes in carrying bags with enough food for three people to be distributed to ten.
Salah Zeid al-Hilali, the chairman of the National Social Commission, left his job and went to the square, where he is still camping out. “I will stay here until I realize my objectives and I take pride in the results for which I am protesting, so I can have a nation,” he says. “There are revolutionaries who lost their wives, their companies and their jobs. Some revolutionaries here do not have money for soap or medication, and some could not call their parents when the Eid came because they cannot afford to offer any gifts on this occasion.”
Hilali complains of the lack of support. “We have no support from any coalition or company. We would have gotten more attention had we been in a jungle. We do not know where the billions in support of the revolution went. We demand that the Yemeni people as a whole obtain the status of humanitarian refugees. We came out in search of our humanity against those who violated our rights, and the surprise was that international organizations supported those against whom we were marching.”
Hilali says nothing has changed since Ali’s resignation, and that figures belonging to “the old culture” have contained the revolution. He is afraid that he will end up in the hands of Yemeni Central Security, but he still believes that the revolution is coming.
In another tent, a group of students from outside Sanaa are sleeping. They chose to live here on Change Square so that they would not have to pay rent. Their washed clothing is hanging to dry inside the tent and their books are scattered on the floor.
Another tent across the square houses a group of people. They see the camera and ask us to film a wounded man, Motther Saleh al-Qahtani, who sustained injuries during the revolution a year ago and has been left untreated. “I was at the Intensive Care Unit at the Science and Technology University Hospital,” says Qahtani. “I was supposed to undergo surgery to remove a [metal] plate from my hand, which would have cost 160,000 Rials [$750], but no one offered to cover it. I sent the [medical] reports to the special Committee for the Wounded and they did nothing.”
Adel Shamsan, the director of the Media Centre on Change Square, says activities on the square came to a halt and even froze based on orders issued by political leaders. “They froze all party committees. During the Friday prayer, they even collect donations for Palestine and Syria knowing that our revolution is not over yet,” he says. “Most of us on the square are threatened. I have personally received threats several times from people outside the square because of leaflets I wanted to distribute, which criticized former President Ali Saleh. Major General Ali Mohsen is not protecting us, he is only protecting himself.”
“The square is open for anyone to do anything. On several occasions, we have found explosives and there is no security whatsoever. Rather than being [the focal point of] any activities or genuine revolutionary action, the square is now merely a tool for political settlement of scores and threats,” Shamsan adds. “All we wish for is for youths to reorganize themselves and restore some momentum to the revolution. However, this dream seems too far to attain.”
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