Hind Al-Eryani

Attacks threaten female
Yemeni revolutionaries

yemeni women

During the Yemeni revolution of 2011, women made themselves visible in a manner previously unseen in the country's rural north. They took part in protests, staged sit-ins on public squares and delivered speeches in front of crowds of tribal men. These revolutionaries broke many barriers for women in Yemen, lending them a new potential role in society. Women like Tawakkul Karman – nicknamed ‘Iron Woman’ and ‘Mother of the Revolution’ – established themselves as role models, not just for young women, but for people everywhere who challenge dictatorship.


Yet these advances came at a price, as it exposed women to new threats. Activists from various political affiliations often came to be targeted, from false accusations and libel and to accusations of apostasy and death threats.


Among the key activists who became permanent targets are Amal al-Basha, Tawakkul Karman, Arwa Othman, Samia al-Aghbari, and Bushra al-Maqtari. Al-Maqtari, a writer and a member of the Socialist Party, was accused of insulting Allah in a fatwa issued by Yemeni religious clerics. The scholars demanded that al-Maqtari recant an article she wrote under the title ‘Year One of the Revolution,’ in which she writes: “things are no longer ok. Allah, worthy of thanks, is no longer present at night; he has left us to fend for ourselves. Ruthless eyes are emerging from afar with a backdrop of soldiers, tribes, hostile environment and Allah who is not seeing us.” Outraged, Yemeni religious scholars called on the state to take legal action against al-Maqtari, and threatened that they would not keep silent about what she wrote. While this fatwa endangered al-Maqtari, it also led to her being awarded the François Giraud prize for peace.


Samia al-Aghbari is an activist, journalist, and member of the Socialist Party. She was the target of the same accusations of apostasy as Bushra al-Maqtari, as former al-Islah Party member Akram al-Ghuwayzi filed a lawsuit in which he accused her of mocking and belittling religion because she referred once in a speech to “the alliance between religion, tribes, and the military” as an “ugly” alliance.


Arwa Othman is an activist and writer who won the Italian international Minerva Award. She is a regular critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, both on her Facebook page and in her writings in official and unofficial newspapers. Her opponents have responded by launching an electronic campaign against her Facebook page to report it as abusive; this campaign succeeded in causing her page to be shut down for about one week.


But Amal al-Basha seems to be the woman best equipped to provoke entire political parties. The Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – al-Islah – is a regular target on al-Basha’s Facebook page, which has gained extensive support from her followers. The party especially detested al-Basha’s appointment as the official spokesperson for the National Dialogue’s Technical Committee.


One of her most fruitful actions resulted from her accusation that Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Suhail TV failed to record a government session because her hair was uncovered. The TV channel did not take this accusation lightly, and invited al-Basha as a guest on one of its shows. She accepted the invitation, and her appearance was the first time Suhail TV viewers saw a program guest her hair uncovered.


Unlike her fellow female activists, Tawakkul Karman is under attack on various fronts. In addition to hostility from former President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s supporters, she is regularly attacked by supporters of the revolution who are opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood (the party with which she affiliates). Extremists from Tawakkul’s own party also criticize her in their statements. MP Sheikh Abdullah Ali al-Adini recently said she holds “weird ideas” because she stated in a TV interview that she “believes in Islam as values, but not as legislation.” Al-Islah Party activist Rafiqa al-Kahali also wrote an article entitled Tawakkul Karman and the narcissism of the other side, in which she said that the Nobel Prize winner “suffers from a mental disorder and a failing memory.”


Even though women are clearly enjoying new political freedoms and stature in Yemen, it seems as though the most successful of them are suffering the same criticism that successful women the world over face, from their peers as well as their enemies. However, despite these new obstacles, the doors this revolution in Yemen have opened for women cannot now be closed.


This article is a translation of the original Arabic

Yemeni women take part in a demonstration marking the one-year anniversary of the ouster of President Saleh. (AFP photo)

"Even though women are clearly enjoying new political freedoms and stature in Yemen, it seems as though the most successful of them are suffering the same criticism that successful women the world over face, from their peers as well as their enemies."

  • mustapha551

    Great work,thanks Hind.

    March 13, 2013