Faiz al-Dhubaibi, Raymah
Like other Yemenis, I’ve been following the progress of the current UN-sponsored truce in Yemen with keen attention. We are all hopeful that the ongoing talks between the different parties will yield a declaration of comprehensive peace in Yemen and put the country’s war behind us once and for all. Only then can we move towards building the modern state of Yemen everyone yearns for.
Our country is living through a humanitarian crisis that is unparalleled in the modern era. None of us supports the continuation of war; we have all tasted its bitterness. It is a heartbreaking truth that Yemen has become one of the worst places on earth to live. At a time like this, it’s worth remembering this land was once called Arabia Felix—a region brimming with felicity.
Yemenis know peaceful coexistence is possible because it has long been documented in our cultural history. What we need are institutions and structures that support opportunities to lay the foundation for a positive form of interdependence. This will strengthen our social fabric.
Such an achievement is contingent upon the existence of a genuine will to turn the page and embark on the process of development. It begins with building and stabilising a mature, democratic model devoid of all forms of intolerance, one that promotes a culture of peaceful coexistence among all components of Yemeni society — especially among the youth, who have not been steeped in bigotry.
No one can overstate the importance of instilling the values of coexistence in all parts of society: education, the media, the family, and places of worship. It’s incumbent upon us to raise a generation whose intellect and behaviour are imbued with a culture of coexistence, regardless of differences in ideology, ethnicity, or religion.
This requires the concerted efforts of all forces in the country, especially the government, religious and educational authorities, and, of course, every organisation and institution that can promote the values of love, tolerance and peace among all Yemenis–indeed, all people.
On a personal level, embracing the values of coexistence has become my way of life.
Since the beginning of the war, I have devoted my time to humanitarian work, including my journalistic activities, with an emphasis on conflict-sensitive reporting. My efforts were rewarded with the United Nations Population Award in Yemen in 2020, an honour and a huge inspiration that led me to the Arabia Felix Magazine team.
In daily life, I will continue to make peaceful coexistence my chief goal until we achieve what we long for: a country at lasting peace with itself and other nations.
Eslah Saleh, Aden
Over the past few decades, conflicts in Yemen have created many divisions, spreading a culture of hatred that threatens the country’s stability and social fabric.
Our history is nonetheless marked by forms and phases of coexistence among different religions and sects. Jews were based in the northern region of Raydah, while Bohras, a small sect of Ismaili Shias, held their annual rituals in Aden and Haraz in northern Yemen until 2011. In the southern city of Aden, churches are still standing.
Every day, Yemenis from all social groups across the country are engaged in acts of solidarity through community campaigns, the media, art, and other fields. The very publication of this magazine is proof of the many examples of people’s dedication to forging a future of coexistence beyond the legacy of war.
Yemen yearns for peace. But building a modern civil state that stands as a guarantor of social cohesion requires a profound cultural change on numerous fronts. For example, we need to remove ideology-based distortions in educational curricula and replace them with values such as respect for social, cultural and religious diversity.
To this end, a new constitution should reflect the constructive efforts of Yemenis to pave the way towards a peaceful future by protecting civil, social, and cultural rights for all citizens. To be viable, a new constitution must ensure justice and development; only then can Yemen hope for stability. In addition, it is our obligation as Yemeni citizens to embody peace as we ease tensions in our families and communities, the ripple effects of which cannot be overstated. When we uphold the principle of unity in diversity in our daily lives, peaceful coexistence is within Yemen’s reach. This is how we can fulfil our birthright to live in tranquillity and harmony with one another.
Mohammed Ali Mahroos, Taiz
Being a child did not free me from family chores. As a seven-year-old boy, I had to pasture sheep after a full school day. Then I had to fetch water for the household before I could concentrate on my homework. By nightfall, I felt exhausted.
During summer holidays, when planting and harvesting seasons would coincide, one of my tasks was to bring feed for our sheep and cows early in the morning and then ride my grandfather’s donkey to the nearby valley to gather firewood. I still remember the times when the animal threw me off its back and returned without me. This worried my family, but I usually made it home before they started looking for me.
The dangers I faced in surviving these hardships weighed heavily in my decision to move to the city on my own. My ability to adapt to tremendous change was tested with many challenges, but they came with welcome opportunities.
A decade ago, I was on the verge of announcing a personal triumph–the completion of my university studies in journalism at the University of Science and Technology in Taiz–when my country, once brimming with promise, descended into catastrophe.
The civil strides Yemen had made deteriorated seemingly overnight with the outbreak of a war that has dragged on for eight years.
Since I feel such a sense of belonging to this country, I’ve done my best to maintain the fortitude to endure many setbacks and take life as it comes. But it’s undeniable that the fighting has proved utterly senseless because it reverses all our progress.
Over the past three decades, Yemen has lived through nine different wars whose social and political impacts are still palpable. Violence has transformed daily life into a kind of hell on earth, sullying our country’s reputation and throwing our future into doubt. Yet despite this turmoil, the history and beauty of this extraordinary land still inspire us.
Our geographical and cultural diversity provide an enduring source of resilience that enables us to make every effort to restore Yemen to its golden days.
I long to see all Yemenis shake off the dust of war and years of pain so we can once again embrace visitors as well as each other in a future where justice and peace prevail. This is the Yemen we all dream of.
Samar Abdullah, Sana’a
In my search for common ground in our culturally diverse society, I’ve discovered that acceptance of what we perceive as “the other” hinges on deep-rooted traditions that are passed from one generation to the next, preserved through their powerful influence.
Our proverbs convey long-standing customs while regulating personal behaviour and relations between social groups. Author Ismail al-Akwa believes they represent a vibrant, literate voice of the people. In his book, The Yemeni Proverbs, he contends that Yemenis defer to proverbs more than to Islamic laws; their authority is so profound that they have assumed an almost legal dimension.
“In every valley, make yourself a home” is a proverb that can be understood as an invitation to widen one’s horizons and treat every new acquaintance with respect. “In one sea, fish have many shapes” is a proverb suggesting that unity in diversity is a logical, viable approach to social harmony.
Unfortunately, such open-hearted Yemeni sayings are fewer in number than those that evoke bigotry towards people of different religious, ethnic or regional backgrounds. The continued promulgation of discriminatory proverbs does not bode well for a future of coexistence in Yemen.
Studies show a weighty influence of proverbsin other societies. At the Mohammed I University in Oujda in Morocco, researcher Hocine Reyouche analysed the institution of marriage through popular proverbs and concluded that they express Moroccans’ perceptions of family stability and the importance of maintaining a “righteous society.” One example is: “Marry the woman, not her face.”
In Algeria, a paper by Nouria Sumaya at the Mustapha Stambouli University, The Role of Popular Proverbs in Socialisation, states that “spreading proverbs gives them legitimacy because of their persistence in the collective consciousness.”
In Yemen, proverbs have a salient and decisive social impact: they can legitimise violence or promote peaceful tolerance. Raising the profile of proverbs that extol the latter would be a constructive step, one that encourages a communal sense of equality and belonging. This is an endeavour all Yemenis can undertake as parents, siblings, teachers, mentors, artists or local leaders. It also complements the work of human rights defenders who provide legal protection to various minorities.
We can all play a role in modelling coexistence by rethinking the implications of our proverbs and how they shape our mindset. We would do well to explain their context to the younger generation and “walk the talk” implied in the precious few proverbs that reject racist thinking. This is how we can build a future of coexistence for all Yemenis.
Zain Alaabdain Ben Ali, Marib
Arich cultural exchange arising from one city’s absorption of displaced Yemenis has loosened strict cultural practices around girls’ right to education.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the war in Yemen destroyed over 3,000 schools, leaving 2.4 million children without access to formal instruction.
This deprivation has been exacerbated by strict societal traditions that prohibit or severely impede education for women and girls, who also suffer the physical and emotional trauma of forced and early marriage. The additional trauma of displacement, including the lack of education in displacement camps, takes another toll.
Despite all these debilitating conditions across Yemen, the city of Marib has experienced something of a reversal: the Faculty of Arts in Marib, under the auspices of Sana’a University, had an enrolment of 200 female students in 2015. The following year, it was transformed into the Saba University with seven different faculties, including one devoted to medicine. Of the 3,500 female students currently enrolled at Saba University, over 50% are from Marib.
The absorption of refugees in large numbers is often cause for complaint by local populations that feel burdened by their presence. In Marib, however, the influx of displaced Yemenis gave rise to a new phenomenon: a mix of diverse cultures whose values became intertwined with local society. One result of this rich exchange is that many strict tribal customs and traditions that prevented girls’ access to education have been neutralised.
Marib residents observed how young women who were educated as girls were more likely to find jobs or gain access to economic empowerment projects that enabled them to help their parents overcome the many difficulties of displacement.
Activists at local and international levels, along with an increasing number of women who earned degrees, encouraged parents in Marib to allow their daughters to go to school.
One of them, Yasmin al-Qadhi, is the director of the Marib Girls Foundation and a recipient of the 2020 International Women of Courage Award from the US Secretary of State.
Reem Buhaybih, who has a doctorate in business administration, is the first of three women in Marib to earn a PhD.
Given the positive changes inspired by this rising trend in the past five years, the future for Maribi girls and women looks promising. This bright outlook, however, is contingent upon lasting peace and families’ continued approval of their daughters’ right to an education.
Fatima Bawazir, Mukalla
After eight years of war, it’s impossible to measure how often Yemenis have felt frustrated with the turn of events. Our anger at the hijacking of our country as lives are turned upside down leaves us feeling powerless, threatening to send us headlong into a vortex of anxiety and despair.
Compounding the feeling of helplessness is the sense that circumstances are beyond our control and influence, so we may be inclined to believe that our response to the situation is also beyond our control.
While transforming external reality might often seem out of reach, that’s not true of our inner space. Accepting this simple idea is the key to serenity and societal coexistence. It sparks hope that change is indeed possible.
When we cannot control our own destinies, it’s wise to look within ourselves and remember that our reaction to what is happening around us is entirely in our hands.
Accepting and nurturing this inner sense of equanimity is vital to keep feelings of frustration from dominating our emotions.
I had ample opportunity to exercise this kind of discipline during the summer when power outages cut off electricity in our area. As temperatures in Mukalla reached 40° Celsius, I summoned my inner strength to remain mindful that my reaction to the situation was mine alone; no one could force me to interact with my surroundings in a way I didn’t choose.
Tapping our inner strength also helps us transcend harmful actions and behaviours resulting from our anger and refusal to accept reality. This resolve is the beginning of a healing process around every kind of suffering.
To live in peace with oneself and society is to see reality as it is, with all its ups and downs. To coexist in the future, we must differentiate between what we have no hand in and what we can change.
We are being called to change our conditions by recognising our inner reality as a first step: to realise that peace is our true, essential nature, already alive in our hearts.