Yemen’s revolutionaries have changed the image of women in the country, and have faced increasing attacks as a result. By Hind Aleryani.
The Yemeni Revolution witnessed the unprecedented emergence of women on the centre stage in the country, an especially important occurrence for the more conservative northern areas. Women went out on protests, took part in sit-ins, and addressed huge crowds of tribal men. This paradigm shift in the situation of women broke many barriers; women now had a voice and a place, and pictures of women, such as Tawakkol Karman, were raised in protests.
However, this shift has also been costly. Female activists, from across different political backgrounds, often face campaigns that start with the spreading of false accusations and smears, and can lead to takfir (the practice of one Muslim declaring another Muslim an apostate) and the spilling of blood.
Amal al-Basha, Tawakkol Karman, Bushra al-Maqtari, Samia al-Aghbari, and Arwa Othman are amongst the famous names subjected to such accusations. Al-Maqtari, a writer and member of the Yemeni Socialist Party, was declared an apostate in a fatwa entitled ‘The fatwa of the scholars of Yemen regarding the cursing of the divine’. Those behind the fatwa demanded that al-Maqtari repent for an article of hers entitled ‘First Year Revolution’, in which she wrote, “Events are not good. The good Lord is no longer present on this drugged night. We abandoned the Lord to manage our affairs,” as well as, “Eyes that do not forgive see from afar. The military, the tribes, a hostile environment, and God, who does not see us.” The religious scholars demanded that the state bring al-Maqtari before a court of law, saying that they would not remain silent at what she had written. This statement has left al-Maqtari in danger, but also led to her being awarded the Francois Giraud Peace and Global Understanding prize.
Samia al-Aghbari, an activist, journalist, and also a member of the Yemeni Socialist Party, also faces the same charges of takfir that Bushra al-Maqtari faces. Akram al-Ghoweizi, a former member of the Islah Party, filed a lawsuit against al-Aghbari, accusing her of blasphemy. Al-Aghbari had described the “alliance between religion [religious forces], the tribes and the military” as “ugly.”
Arwa Othman is a writer and activist, and received the Minerva Anna Maria Mammoliti prize awarded by the Il Club delle Donne association in Italy. She regularly attacks the Muslim Brotherhood (represented in Yemen by the Islah Party) on her Facebook page, and in her writings. Her opponents responded by launching an online campaign that led to her page being shut down for a period.
The human rights activist Amal al-Basha has the unmatched ability of being able to provoke a whole party, the Islah Party. She constantly attacks them on her Facebook page, and receives a lot of support from those on her page. Islah’s annoyance peaked when al-Basha was appointed as the official spokeswoman of the National Dialogue’s Technical Committee. Some activists criticised her, saying that she was unprofessional and that she was using her position to attack Islah. This came after she accused the Suhail satellite channel, linked to Islah, of not filming one of the meetings of the Technical Committee because her hair was uncovered. The channel disputed this, and invited al-Basha to appear as a guest on the channel. Al-Basha agreed, and Suhail viewers were greeted with the first appearance of a female guest on the channel not wearing a headscarf.
Tawakkol Karman, unlike her fellow female activists, does not only face attacks from one side, but from many. As well as the enmity of supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, supporters of the revolution who are opposed to the Islah Party attack her. This is in addition to extremist members of the Islah Party, of which Karman is a member, who often criticise her. One such example is the tribal sheikh, and member of parliament, Abdullah Ali al-Odeini, who described her as having “strange ideas” because she had said in one of her television interviews that she “believed in Islam as a set of values and not as legislation.” This came alongside an attack from Rafeeqa al-Kahali, an Islah activist, who wrote an article entitled ‘Tawakkol Karman and her narcissist side’ in which she said that the Nobel Peace Prize winner “suffers from a mental disorder and a damaged memory.”
*The article was originally published in Arabic by NowLebanon
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