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A protester in a sea of demonstators with a banner reading 'go out'
The movement to oust President Saleh has been gathering paceImage: picture alliance / dpa

Yemen Revolution

May 17, 2011

As protests and bloodshed continue in Yemen, political and human rights activist Wasim Alquershi tells DW that Europe and the United States need to issue President Ali Abdullah Saleh with an ultimatum.


Wasim Alquershi is a political and human rights activist and a member of the Organization Committee of the Public Youth Revolution.

Deutsche Welle: What is the situation in Yemen right now?

Wasim Alquershi: In 1990, the north and south of Yemen united and we thought that would be good, but after 20 years, we are seeing less and less democracy. The economy, health care and education are all deteriorating, so we decided we have to do something. We need a good future, good education, good health and human rights like everyone else.

We want to be like any good country in the world, but President Saleh wants to take our future for himself and his family. He is the president, his son is the leader of the Republican Guard, his cousin is the leader of the Air Force, so everything goes to him and his family. He is stealing our future, and we feel we have to stop all that, so we started going to the squares, we called them change squares. Now many millions of Yemenis join us in the squares to say "we want to start a new life."

In a country where 50 percent of the population is illiterate and only five percent have access to the Internet, how do people get the information they need to come and join the protests?

Everyone knows that the situation in Yemen is not good, but they didn't know what to do about it. They were just waiting for someone to start, and when they saw the university students in the streets calling for an end to the regime, they came out to join us.

They heard about the protests from television. There are two channels that support us, Al-Jazeera and Suhail, which is a Yemeni channel in London. Most people receive those two channels, and people also talk to each other. Yemenis believe in the values of good education, democracy, equality and freedom, which is why millions have come to the squares.

The average Yemeni household is armed, do you see these weapons being brought into the squares?

Wasim Alquershi
Wasim Alquershi is calling for a clear statement from Western powersImage: Wasim Alquershi

Every Yemeni, that means 24 million, has a weapon at home. Some have several because there are a total of 60 million privately owned weapons in the country. But this uprising is led by doctors, students and graduates, and we are asking all Yemenis to leave their guns at home and join us for a peaceful revolution. If they use weapons against the government, it could lead to civil war, so we reject anyone who comes armed.

And do protesters respect your wishes?

More than 500 people have been killed already. We have witnessed fathers who have seen their sons killed in the street, but who have not picked up a weapon in response. They say "peaceful, peaceful, peaceful."

We want a new mentality, a new Yemen. Not like the Yemen of Saleh. We knew that if we started this revolution with weapons, it would mean the same Yemen or maybe even worse. If we want our country to be one of the good ones in the world, the bad things should be left behind. We need to get the respect of the world, we need to send a message that Yemenis are seeing their sons killed in the streets, but are not using their own weapons in return. It is a new mentality.

Do you feel that the situation in Yemen is drawing enough international attention?

Until now the international community has not supported us enough. Maybe they have not received our message. We have told them Saleh is the past and this new generation is the future, you have to deal with the future not with the past. Every day we hear from Europe and the US about democracy, equality and justice, but when they see people fighting for these values and being killed by Saleh, they don't help us. I don't know why not.

What kind of help would you like to see?

Our regime depends on the support of the international community, and if Europe or the US said to Saleh "you have to stop what you are doing and respect your people or else we will isolate you externally as your people have isolated you internally," I think it might be enough. We know Saleh is weak and that he needs support, but we do not see any strong decision from anywhere in the world, not from Europe and not from the US.

This is not only a chance for Yemenis, but for the international community. Yemenis are trying to create a new relationship with the world according to the values of democracy, and it is important for Europe and the US to take this chance with us. If they do not, young people might turn to the opposition because they feel there is no support from the rest of the world. I do not want to see that happen.

What is your response to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) proposals for ending the unrest in Yemen?

Why should the GCC manage our file? Those countries are kingdoms, not democratic countries. We are different, we are looking for democracy not for kingdoms, so I don't see how they can help us.

How hard will it be to make the transition to democracy in Yemen?

We already have a basis for democracy because we started on the path toward it in 1990, so I think Yemen is better prepared for democracy than any other Arab country. We really want it. There are two million people sleeping in the squares, and the numbers rise to five or six million on Fridays. You see, we are waiting to make our country a real partner in the world community.

Interview: Tamsin Walker
Editor: Rob Mudge

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