Positive civil and political youth activism has been the most rewarding result of the Yemeni uprising of 2011. Individual activism, initiatives and the participation of youths in new political parties have introduced fresh approaches and perspectives to Yemen’s civil and political arenas. Youth involvement is already changing the landscape in Yemen.
For example, in 2012 the Al-Watan Party was co-founded by young business leaders, development practitioners and professionals, many of whom had never previously engaged in politics. Its doctrine is that of a moderate and civil party based on individual initiative and social responsibility. It believes in limited interference of the state in economic and society and consists of around 85 co-founders and 3,000 members.
When asked why they decided to form a new party, most co-founders argued for the need to revitalize the political scene in Yemen and transform the public’s negative perception of politics, by building a model in which politics is tied to societal values.
Looking to the future, their aim is to develop a political party that relies on transparency and fair competition, and which uses authority appropriately as a means to a better Yemen in the long term.
Their diligence proved that their aspirations were not simply pipe dreams: Al-Watan was able to transfer their goals into concrete practices in their day-to-day operations, policies and approaches. Their attention to detail in the way that they have conducted meetings and developed plans showcases their professionalism, efficiency, effectiveness and emphasis on participation.
Most importantly, Al-Watan has taken steps to ensure that decision-making processes are not dominated by a limited number of people. For example, to prevent both direct and indirect manipulation through funding, the party developed policies that place a ceiling on donation amounts from co-founders and members. The party has also developed governance policies to monitor leadership performance and oversee the division of roles (executive, constitution advisory, complaints and others). Al-Watan demonstrates how youths have been able to organize themselves to better support Yemen.
Another example is the Erada Foundation for a Qat-Free Yemen, established in early 2012 by Hind Eleryani, a journalist for NOW Arabic in Beirut, and carried forward by Nasser Alshamaa, an activist and the executive manager of the Erada Foundation.
Qat is a leaf that most of Yemenis chew for four to six hours daily. While chewing qat, people usually feel energetic. However, withdrawal symptoms make users lethargic and less productive. This affects the economic and social life of Yemenis. The emerging NGO’s pilot campaign was “One Day without Qat,” which has now happened twice and received a highly positive response from Yemenis and media. The campaign took place in Sanaa, Taiz, Hodiedah and Hadhramout.
The foundation has thus far organized 15 weddings without qat in three separate governorates, and run awareness campaigns in several boys and girls schools. In addition, it has organized a successful one-day protest in front of Parliament, calling for the passage of a law to restrict the use of qat in governmental institutions. Thirty days after Erada’s protest, the health minister submitted a 20-year strategy to Parliament outlining steps to eradicate qat from the country.
A final example is the Memorial Walls Initiative, a project begun by Murad Subey. Murad, an artist, joined with other young artists to raise awareness around the issue of forced disappearances, which have been occurring in Yemen since the 1970s. Over a 20-week period, they drew the faces of almost 70 missing persons on the walls of Sanaa, Ibb and Taiz as part of a voluntary initiative using art as a peaceful tool in order to send a strong message regarding a topic that has remained hidden in Yemen for decades.
In this way, Murad and his friends were able to help the families of the disappeared raise their voices, grieve openly and present their cases to the public. These youths are forward thinking, creative, passionate, self-motivated, result-oriented, fast learners and have the energy and time to participate in new ventures. Youth are the real asset of Yemen today, and the real builders of Yemen’s tomorrow.
Gabool al-Mutawakel is co-founder of the Youth Leadership Development Foundation in Yemen. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (www.commongroundnews.org).