By Linda Stamato/NJ Voices
Sana'a- Mar 9, 2011- It may yet be too early to imagine how the successful protests in Tunisia and Egypt will play out in the Middle East (or when the dictatorship and the unrelenting assaults on the protesting people of Libya will end) but protests being held in Yemen and elsewhere in the region, suggest that the surge for change remains infectious and powerful.
Yemen’s “coffee revolution,” as an eclectic group of protestors have been calling their weekly demonstrations (noting Yemen’s major export), has intensified in recent days. Indeed, the weekly protests have turned into a continuous protest with the primary demand being the end of that nation’s long rule—32 years--by Ali Abdullah Saleh. The push for change culminated late last week with a “day of rage” and intensified calls, even from the president’s own tribe, for his ouster.
At the same time, the world is finally seeing Yemen as more than a place to link Osama Bin Laden, terrorism and Al Qaeda.
I know Yemen, not so much as an historian, or geographer, or a traveler to the region might, but, rather, as the fortunate teacher of two of its citizens. I want to introduce them to you. They provide reason to be optimistic about that nation’s chances. I think of them every day as I, and my colleagues here at Rutgers, hope that they and their families are safe.
Nadwa al-Dawsari and Kamal Haglan live in a country that, as noted, is not well understood. Over the course of the last several months, for example, a series of articles, that notably includes the New York Times Magazine article “Is Yemen the next Afghanistan?” (July 11, 2010) were simply the latest in contemporary news stories that create an impression of Yemen that often falls short of reality; news coverage, often part of coverage related to other places or events, is so limited in content and scope that it is difficult to appreciate the yearnings, talents and accomplishments of its people. (e.g. “Clinton Addresses Terrorism and Politics in Yemen," January 12, 2011, and “U.S. Plays Down Tensions with Yemen”, the New York Times, December 20, 2010.
I want to add some perspective to that impression.
First, Yemen, the country. It is the Arab world’s most impoverished nation. Its main source of income, oil, could run dry in a decade and the country is also rapidly running out of water. Much of the population suffers from malnutrition as well.
It’s future, though, may well rest in the hands of some of its most accomplished and passionate citizens. We, at Rutgers, have been privileged to come to know Nadwa Al-dawsari and Kamal Haglan, as they were Visiting Fellows at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and enrolled in courses at our School, including the one a colleague and I teach sjlsspring10.doc on negotiation and conflict resolution. Nadwa is presently the director of Partners Yemen, and Kamal is a prominent architect. Both live in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city, where the demonstrations and protests are primarily taking place.
They came to Rutgers through the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program that provides a year of professional enrichment in the United States for experienced professionals from designated countries throughout the world. This program is often referred to as the “reverse Fulbright program” because it brings people here for study and experience rather than sending Americans abroad.
At the age of 36, Nadwa Al-Dawsari--featured in this issue of Rutgers' "Focus"--directs the organization she has created, Partners-Yemen, that works on the ground level to analyze, understand and help solve conflicts among the traditional tribes that are an integral part of Yemeni society. Her organization, which had a staff of 20 a year ago, is an affiliate of Partners for Democratic Change, a global network of centers that seek to settle disputes and empower ordinary citizens. Partners-Yemen works with women, runs programs that promote civil society institutions, develops “dialogue forums” to, among other emphases, prevent conflict over natural resources.
While Nadwa works to build and sustain the “human infrastructure,” Kamal Haglan devotes his time and considerable talents to preserving its physical one, particularly its rich, grand, historic structures. He is the chief architect in charge of the restoration of the grand mosque in Sana’a and is also the deputy team leader of the Social Fund for Development in Yemen. He is featured on a CBS segment that can be viewed here.
Kamal is expected to visit Rutgers this month and deliver a lecture on his work: “Ecologies in the Balance? The way forward--The Restoration of the Grand Mosque of Sana’a.” His talk is scheduled for the Special Events Forum at Rutgers' Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, at 5:00, on March 29, 2100.
Kamal’s wife, Khadija, was also a Humphrey Fellow, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the same time that Kamal was at Rutgers. They are pictured here with their son, Hamzah.
This story is also about the value of a program like the Humphrey Fellowship Program, that creates opportunities for leaders and potential leaders of developing countries to spend a solid period of time in America, studying and interning and learning with peers and colleagues from around the world, in the classroom and outside of it. It is a valuable dimension of international relations. It recognizes that human relations, genuine connection with others and engagement in policy and planning contexts can lead, on the one hand, to an appreciation of American approaches and broadens the reach of our culture. At the same time, there is the important education of the Americans who come to know other histories and cultures, to appreciate and value people, in similar professions, from other areas of the world that are wanting to learn as much as they can to help their nations. The experience, I can attest, is a humble and rewarding one that, more often than not leads to establishing life-long relationships.
As I write this column, a "warning" has been issued by the U.S. State Department about travel to Yemen and U.S. citizens are being encouraged to consider leaving the country. The threat level is “extremely high.” The safety concerns extend, of course, to the citizens of Yemen. And, for my part, I fear for the safety and wellbeing of my friends, their families and their colleagues.
And, yet, as the Yemeni people continue to express their yearnings in protest, I see a future that may be far better for that nation because of the talents, convictions and efforts of its citizens, including, and especially, Nadwa and Kamal.