On Sat. December 22nd , military officers at the Ministry of Cabinet in Sana’a, Yemen attacked students with wooden sticks, fired their guns and beat up women.
Earlier that day, I had opened Al Jazeera and heard the president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, make a speech on militarizing US schools as a response to the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary school.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre says
I guess this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Those brutal attacks at “occupy” protestors that I personally witnessed and experienced by police officers last year opened small windows onto the future and transformation of policing and the expansion of corporate power.
So I decided to see what Yemeni students thought about LaPierre’s press statement.
In developing a safe space strategy, is militarization the answer?
Holding posters, singing and dancing for freedom, protestors resisted the militarization of their education. An initiative known as “Ana Nazel” (I’m taking to the streets) campaign symbolized the continuation of Yemen’s youth revolution that uses nonviolence to achieve structural systemic change while maximizing the safety for all.
“No to the military. Free our university!” Students chanted.
This was not the first protest rejecting the military occupation of Sana’a University. On September 17, students affiliated with various parties and independents, joined a protest organized by the Yemeni Socialist Party. Since then, many smaller protests continued.
But as instability spreads throughout Yemen and economic distress deepens, the “Ana Nazel” campaign, led by independent activists, benefited from a wave of nostalgia, who feel the fundamental values of revolution have been compromised with regime change.
Hundreds of protestors marched for miles towards the Ministry of Cabinet, chanting their grievances.
When protestors arrived, military men loaded their guns.
The army was on edge. Along with other photographers, I tried documenting the army’s violent attacks on protestors but soldiers kept trying to stop us, threaning to take our cameras and beat people with sticks and guns when they refused.
Soldiers then began to shoot their riffles in the air for 15 minutes. With the help of one of the protestors, I ran away and hid. When the shooting stopped, we left the premise.
I glimpsed back only to see the ground strewn with bullets and the cloud filled with smoke from gunshots. I understand I am not in a protest in Washington D.C.
Jarban jokingly said to me “ teargas is too mainstream for us”
Sana’a University has been occupied since March 2011 by forces belonging to the First Armored Division’s Commander, General Ali Muhsen Al-Ahmar who decided to militarize the campus to show his “support” for the revolution and the protesters.
But many of the students that joined yesterday’s protest expressed inability to study and focus in school. “It is not a happy moment when you look around the classroom and see soldiers training outside your window. How do you think that would make you feel?” cried a student activist who wishes to remain anonymous.
“Why would he [LaPierre] believe arming security will make schools a better place? What thinking is that? If that is democracy, we don’t want it” she continues.
Hani Al- Gunaid is a student at Sana’a University who was arrested and beaten by armed security and was let go only after students stormed into the University building demanding he be let free. His experience led him to help organize “Ana Nazel”.
These Yemeni students are young people who, like college students everywhere deserve a campus life without military occupation. For those privileged to attend a University, campuses become a second home. It is a place where people live, sleep, socialize, and create their future. A militarized, machine gun bearing environment only makes people feel less safe at school, undermining their ability to learn.