Street wars are ten thousand times worse than airstrikes alone

Experiencing street wars of Aden was not something I planned, but had happened anyways. I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced and I don’t think anyone would have been either, especially those who come to Yemen to visit family and dear friends. We plan on how to spend our days in beach locations and local shops, not plan to fully protect our family members from potential bullets. We plan to have gatherings and see loved ones, not plan an evacuation route. We plan to be happy and enjoy our time during vacation, not plan to be terrified by the sounds of cries in the streets.

This “vacation” that I had planned turned to be a plan from the deepest of Hell.

How does it feel when you have to constantly be awake to make sure that your property and your home isn’t being used as a location for a potential gun show-down? How does it feel when you have to stay next to a weapon so that you may defend your family from a potential intruder? How does it feel when you are the only one who is responsible for your family during a challenging and dangerous time? How does it feel when you have to make your 3 yr old sibling feel safe when safety isn’t around? How does it feel when you believe that your location is becoming enclosed by groups of armed men who want to forcefully take over Aden? How does it feel when you want to leave your home and evacuate, but you choose not to because you may be a sniper target when you step out of your door? How does it feel when the homes of your neighbors were hit by an RPG and your home was lucky enough to not get hit? It feels like world is crashing on you, entrapping you, suffocating you. It feels like death, but just a million times over.

The sufferings of those who have to deal with street wars are tremendous. We don’t get breaks. It’s constant. Its not a few air strikes at night or jets hovering for a couple of hours. It’s the sound of explosions, shelling, gun shootings, grenades, cries of children all day and all night. Its the feeling of chaos and immense nervousness that cripples your mental and physical health. It’s the feeling of starvation, but from fear, can’t eat. It’s that time when you ask for forgiveness from God because you know that at any second during the day or during the night, your life ends.

It’s that moment when you evacuate and you notice, the only people trying to kill you are your own Yemenis, in army wear, with the same flag that you raise as a symbol to your country – your roots.

Evacuating to Sanaa, when you realize that the malls are open and life is normal, but only at night is when you may occasionally hear a few ‘booms.’ When you wake up after those few booms and you find everyone out, eating at restaurants, shopping and you think to yourself, “Wow, its heaven here”. It’s when you see and hear air strikes a few times a day at night as a piece of cake compared to the dreadful consistent booms you have heard during street wars. It’s when you can eat again, after losing weight from stress and worry.

This is the reality of Yemen: Two sides of the country facing two completely different situations.

It wasn’t an experience I would like to go through again. I and other families survived, but many weren’t as lucky. If they did survive, their homes were either shelled or occupied by Houthi men.

The hovering of planes at night a few times a day is not as terrifying as 24/7 sounds bullets and tank artillery.

I will always say, “Street wars are ten thousand times worse than airstrikes alone.


False Reporting on Yemen: CNN’s Brian Todd and Outfront

In recent developments in Yemen, many have seen the rise of the Houthi movement slowly – but surely – take over the capital of Yemen. The political dynamics of this particular situation in Yemen isn’t a Shiite vs Sunni conflict, but rather, a partnership with Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to expel longtime opponents. Despite Ali Abdullah Saleh’s bad relationship with Houthis in the past, he gained Houthis as a strong friend to weaken the current government and its legitimate president to revenge for his “ousting” as president of Yemen due to the result of the 2011 Yemeni revolution. Nonetheless, if you know Yemen and understand its political past, this is considered a typical tactic by Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In the past few days, Houthis and presidential forces have used the area of the presidential compound of Abd Rabo Mansoor Hadi as a battlefield to use force and weapons against each other. The gunfire and sound of explosions lasted for hours on each day. The unfortunate conflicts lead to over 60 injured and over 12 killed. After the two day showdown, the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi spoke live via Yemeni channels to the Yemeni people and demanded changes to the newly-created Yemeni constitution. The next day, the president complied with the Houthi leader to avoid potential disaster in Sana’a city.

While all these rapid changes were taking place in Yemen, a few media outlets decided to discuss Yemen in negative light. Many articles that were published on Yemen are either written by journalists who are unfamiliar with Yemen and its politics or used a “Shiite” vs “Sunni” wording to describe the current crisis. As that can be a dangerous incite to the creation of sectarian illusions, what is worse is when CNN’s Brian Todd writes an article that claims that ISIS has been gaining ground in Yemen. 

First and foremost, Yemen has NO ISIS members. Second of all, Al-Qaeda in Yemen has shown constant conflicted issues with ISIS and claim that they are not the branch of ISIS and reject them as a legitimate “terrorist” group. Lastly, in the article it states that a “Yemeni official” had claimed that ISIS is gaining ground in the country. Anonymous officials tend to not be real officials. How do we know really? It’s used to ‘legitimize’ a topic without real information. In other words, anonymous officials aren’t trustworthy. To claim that “ISIS has been gaining ground in Yemen” is like claiming that ISIS has been in Yemen for years (which isn’t the case). Supposedly there is some type of jealousy between invisible ISIS in Yemen and the real Al-Qaeda. What Brian is saying is, invisible ISIS in Yemen is fighting an invisible competition with Al-Qaeda. The reporting done by Brian Todd proves unprofessional journalism and insubstantial information. Erin Burnett’s OutFront endorses the false reporting and tweets the article on her Twitter account.

As many people know, media outlets tend to have a trend to talk about one topic for days and even months and then once it dies out, they switch their eyes on something else. Example 1: After Syria media time, Iraq came next. After Ebola, Air Asia took the screens of almost every outlet. Now that conflicts are getting old and constant in Syria and Iraq, Yemen will be the next media target, even if based on insubstantial reports. After all, this is business.

I want to end this short post on a light note in that the people of Yemen are not bad people. Yemenis are people of good and people of dreams. False media will not shatter the people of Yemen and their images. There are thousands of educated Yemenis in Yemen and outside of the country who have been raising the heads of every Yemeni. Many of these educated men and women are united in working together to bring light on our country. Yemeni experts, especially outside of Yemen, have the expertise and skills to challenge any type of insubstantial reporting towards their country.

Our weapons are not of guns, but of our knowledge and levels of expertise. Our peaceful weapons are through our educated Yemeni people.

Luke Somers Written Letter (2012)

Luke Somers, an American photojournalist and an honorary Yemeni, was tragically killed last Saturday in the province of Shabwa during a rescue effort by U.S special forces after Luke was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in 2013. A South African national, Pierre Korkie, was also killed during the raid as well. The South African national was to be released the day after the raid, but his life came to an end the day before. U.S special forces explain that, “They were not aware of any negotiations” for the release of Korkie.

All of Yemen was in state of shock and expressed ultimate sadness when news circulated that Luke and Pierre were killed in this manner. The feeling of devastation still looms over our hearts and souls until today.

No words can describe the amount of emptiness we as Yemenis feel. Luke Somers was a genuine man who showed kindness, care and ultimate passion towards Yemenis and the Yemeni revolution. He was a teacher, a photographer, a story teller, a friend and a family member to countless Yemenis. Most importantly, he was a son to two caring parents. As we send our deepest condolences to the Somers family, we feel that this is still not enough to express our support and emotions towards Luke and his family.

As an American citizen, I want to say to the Somers family that your son has been a symbol of what a true American is: kind, caring and loving to all people.

As a Yemeni, I want to say to the Somers family that we are people of good and we condemn extremism in our country and abroad.

As a Muslim, I want say to the Somers family that extremism is not Islam nor are extremists, Muslims.

One cannot feel the pain of others, but we are scarred and feel that we have lost a friend and brother. Luke wrote a letter in 2012 and it reads:

“If I speak using my mouth, you will not understand a word that I say. so please allow me to say a few words from my heart. I have been in sana’a for one year. In this time, I have seen good men die and good men breathe freedom.
In February of last year, the first time I walked into the camp, a man told me “thank you.” I didn’t know why he said it, but hopefully in some small ways I have earned it. In truth, it is you that I thank. To be allowed to be here for this long historical moment has been a tremendous gift. I have learned that freedom needs to be alive for it to matter. when freedomsits, freedom becomes sleepy. Here in Sana’a, I have seen freedom march through the streets.
I have seen freedom fired upon with bullets. I learned that a friend was murdered because he believed in freedom, a beautiful young man named Helmi. But I have also seen that freedom exists because of such people. Your rewards do not match your efforts. But I believe that your efforts demand a better future, success is the child of belief. Here at change square and at other squares around Yemen, the birth of a new Yemen has taken place.

The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said,” Faith is Yemeni, Wisdom is yemeni.” With your permission, let me say one more thing: Revolution, Peaceful Revolution, is Yemeni.”

Luke Somers


Luke, Yemenis want to thank YOU for being the person that you were. You were the person that gave off a light during the darkest of times in Yemen. You were the person that smiled when hope was dim. You were the person that left a fingerprint of care to all Yemenis. You were the symbol of change for Yemenis.

The Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) said: “The best richness is the richness of the soul.” Luke, you had a rich soul. I know that God is taking care of you because you were kind to people. The Prophet continues to say, “Whoever is kind, God will be kind to him; therefore be kind to man on the earth. He who is in heaven will show mercy on you.”

The Increasing Hate between Muslims

In recent months, as we have seen the Middle East crumble because of unfortunate political events, there has been an increasing trend of hate between Muslims themselves. It seems the more Muslims suffer, the more Muslims go against each other. This is the realistic, yet saddened stage of the Ummah.

Sunni vs Shia conflicts have arisen much more than what they have been. To be frank with you, I was 16 years old (turning 17) when the Yemeni revolution took place and it was then when I found out that there are different branches of Islam. You must think I’m lying, but I wish I was. I remember a young woman who had started a conversation with me in Manhattan one day asking me where I am from and I had replied, “I am from Yemen but I’m sure you don’t know where that it is” and she went on saying, “Are you Shia or Sunni?” I had looked at her in a puzzled way and waited a few seconds to reply, “I am Muslim, why?”

That was the day that I had found out about branches of Islam. It was an awkward situation, but thankfully, I was taught by parents who never divided us and ‘them.’ In fact, I was taught to never differentiate between groups of people, whether Atheists, Christians, Jews, etc. I still see them as people of God, no matter what.

That is the basic foundation of Islam.

Clerics have took extreme advantage of their titles and spread hatred against Muslim brothers and sisters. Yes, these are the clerics of 2014 (updated version). There is nothing else that irks me more than clerics who show anger to their audience and spread fitnah (lies). In Surat Al-Baqarah (aya 191) God says, ” For Falsehood (Fitnah) is worse than killing.” Falsehood has been used to separate many families, couples and overall, the Muslim society. Respected clerics have clearly showed their true face by going against God’s peaceful path. Yes, I said it. Many clerics have damaged the unification of their own people.

We are flawed people. Sunnis are flawed and Shias are flawed. Each group believes its going on the straight path, yet they are in the deepest of troubled waters.

Has hatred been taught by the Prophet Muhammed? Not at all. Actually, he showed tolerance and acceptance to the Jews and Christians. In fact, he married a noble Jewish woman, “Saffiyah.” If the Prophet showed respect towards the Jews, than how in the world would you believe that calling against the separation of Muslims is alright?

Secondly, God has always promoted the unification of his people. As He says in Surat Al-Imran (Aya 103) “Hold fast together to the rope of God and be not divided. Remember the blessing that Allah bestowed upon you: you were once enemies then He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brothers.”

God did not say, “Hate your Shia or Sunni brothers and call upon hate between the two.” I am disgusted by the ridicule, violence, hatred, discrimination towards other sects of Islam. Absolutely shameful to know that this is who we have become!

I have no doubt that the prophet and God are looking down upon us in disappointment. I am not a scholar, nor do I have the mere qualifications to be a religious “teacher” because I surely am not. I am here to tell you that God does not promote hatred between Muslims, so why on earth would Muslims and Clerics think they have the privilege to promote such atrocious ideologies?

If you still believe that promoting hatred against your Muslim brothers and sisters is perfectly OK, then please sit down by yourself and rethink what Islam really is and how you don’t give the religion a good image.

I see Facebook posts about going to the Mosque and learning about peace in Islam, and then 2 minutes later I see the same people commenting on a post, cursing and shaming a Shia or Sunni for being a Shia or Sunni! It’s absurd. How about a Cleric tearing while saying a decent Duaa about the unification of Muslims and then quickly slipping the “and let Shia-ism stay away from us” sentence at the end. How about praying for our hearts to mend into one? How about praying for the unification of Muslims? How about Clerics stop being political for once in a lifetime – at least for the sake of peace.

As disappointed as I am, I have realized that as time goes on by, it’ll only get worse. That’s because we have let hatred overpower love. On the same path, we have let our pride and selfishness think we can over-power God’s words. We have forgotten that we are ALL Muslims. We are ALL children of God. It is not our job as insignificant human beings (compared to Him) to judge a person and claim he is going to Hell or Heaven. God is merciful and God is All Judging. I don’t recall God giving us the power to judge.

I believe in kindness, unity, respect and tolerance for all people – after all, this is what Islam is really about!

Peace out peeps!

Yemeni Revolution and Its Third Anniversary

Yemen has reached its 3rd anniversary of the Yemeni uprising. Today not only makes me happy to the see the masses of people out in the streets remembering this day, but it gives my heart warmth to see that people are still awake even after three years of political roller-coasters and constant worry about their future.


The masses of people who stood up against the wrongdoings of their government shows the power and resilience of our Yemeni people. We have been through three decades of dictatorship, corruption and unfair treatment by the central system. We have been told  empty promises by our ex-president. Instead of giving us the opportunity to build our lives, he had took away our dreams. Instead of giving us hope, he gave us sorrows. Instead of understanding us and our complaints, he continued to steal our lands and income. Instead of being happy with our president, he made us overthrow him.

Three years later, the people of Yemen show no sign of giving up. Hundreds of martyrs later, people are awake and ready to take the streets again if for any reason they have to. This is the country known to be heavily weaponized. This is the country that holds the most peaceful people, too! Although Yemen holds about 73 million pieces of guns, the people of Yemen would rather use their voices as a weapon to terrify and shake the core of the government.

May this day be the remembrance of not only a life changing historic event, but a remembrance of what the people died for. Our people didn’t die just because they wanted to. Our people died because they believed in something more: change for the better of their countrymen and women. They carry a legacy and our job is to carry on that legacy and do our best to implement their visions for a better homeland for the rest of us. This is our duty for those who died and for the new generations to come.

Here’s a poem I wrote (which was previously posted):

I give you a rose and you respond by shooting me down with a bullet.
I give you a smile and you respond with tear gas.
I stand in front of you and your army and you respond with a water canister.
I sit down peacefully in my protesting square and you respond with live ammunition from tanks. 
I shout a revolutionary slogan and you respond with a stick. 
I’ve responded with tears, silent tears. But you then respond with torture.
My response is peaceful…yours was brutal.
I’m a revolutionary.

The Grievance of Ibrahim Mothana

September 5th, 2013 was the day that I will never forget. A soul has surprised us by leaving this world earlier than we can ever imagine.

It’s almost been five months since you’ve departed from us, Ibrahim. Time flew by, didn’t it? All the work that you put into this world suddenly is only becoming a memory. What an intelligent human being you were, brother. I can remember us walking in Manhattan towards the train from a cafe we sat down in with other Yemeni activists. Little did we know that you would be forever gone the following year.

I can remember coming back from a wedding that night thinking that the day was a beautiful and joyous one – until I went on my laptop to Facebook. Little did I know that that was the saddest and most shocking nights of my life. I can still remember reading, “Rest in peace, Mothana”. That first post I’ve seen upon opening my homepage. It was then when I dropped my wallet and shoes so suddenly to the floor. It was that moment where my mind went blank and the only thing I said, “No, this cannot be true. That’s impossible…It must be a rumor”. Unfortunately, I realized it wasn’t a rumor and it was true.

As you suddenly left us, we’ve been missing a bright star.

Aside of Yemen and all its political messes, you’ve taught me a lesson: Smile!

But above all, bro, you taught me that in an instant, my life can be taken away just like yours. In an instant, all the work that I have done in this life will only serve people as a memory and the only thing that will be remembered is my name.

The only one who will not forget you or your actions is God. People, they just come and go. But God is the one who watches you since the day you were born and until the day you are brought back to him.

With every prayer, Ibrahim, I pray for you. With every smile, I see you. With every laugh, I see you.

It’s not the work that you’ve done for Yemen that should be remembered solely, but rather your character and pure heart. It’s not the jokes that should be remembered solely, but the kindness that you spread to others.

See, Ibrahim, you’ve been gone for almost five months and Yemen is on its way to better days. This world is nothing but just a short trip to our real destination. You’ve arrived before us. I’m sure the only thing that you want and will benefit from now is not where Yemen and its people are heading to, but prayers that will help ease the way to this new destination of your soul. It’s your deeds that will be accounted and our prayers (that we should continue) for your soul at the end of the day. This is why until I take my last breath, I will pray for you, even if you aren’t surrounding us in this life. This is what everyone who cared about you should do.

As God says in the Quran, “And that human being can have nothing but what he has earned (good or bad)” 53:39

اللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِفُلَانِ وَارْفَعْ دَرَجَتَهُ فِي الْمَهْدِيِّينَ وَاخْلُفْهُ فِي عَقِبِهِ فِي الْغَابِرِينَ وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا وَلَهُ يَا رَبَّ الْعَالَمِينَ وَأَفْسِحْ لَهُ فِي قَبْرِهِ وَنَوِّرْ لَهُ فِيهِ

“O Allah, forgive (name of the dead person). Make him among the guided ones, raise his status and be his deputy among the grieving. O Lord of the two worlds, forgive us and him and make his grave wide and full of light”.

Transcript: Peacekeeping Development through Education and Transitional Justice in the Middle East

On December 12th, 2013 I had given a speech at an event called “Women for World Peace” by EBADER based in Istanbul, Turkey. Not a detailed speech, but it touched up on certain issues that is key to helping stabilize post conflicted countries after the Arab Spring.
(only 15 minutes to talk)

| Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor to be speaking in front of you all today, in an event that is attended by individuals that believe in changing the world to a much more safer, peaceful environment for all.

Now, I’m sure many of you have been keeping an eye on the news and all that is happening around the world. One of the most important regions, I believe, is the Middle East. What happens in the Middle East, will not only effect those in the region but also everyone else in the world. We have to understand that the Middle East is the center of all global affairs. Therefore making this region more of an importance to find solutions to its current obstacles and difficulties.

Not too long ago, there was a surprising movement that no one would of thought would ever take place in the MENA region. That is what is know as the “Arab Spring”. It took one person to start a significant movement across this great region. I say with a heavy heart, it started with a man who set himself on fire in Tunisia. This action done in Tunisia not only sparked a movement of people but it revealed the severity of issues such as corruption, injustices and even unemployment. After two weeks, their president (who is now the former president), Ben Ali, stepped down.

Little did we know, this movement became a domino effect to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Yemen and even Bahrain. Unfortunately, Syria at the moment is rubble due to a civil war that the country is currently in. Egypt, too, is suffering from a military rule that is not only hurting the way of life for Egyptians, but is dimming hope for a real government. Yemen, on a more personal note is my homeland. I remember coming home from my high school, as a junior, watching a CNN live feed of a massive peaceful protest in the capital city of Sanaa – I had watched in shock. The reason why I was shocked was because I thought we would end up in a civil war just like what we have seen in Syria. See, ladies and gentlemen, Yemen holds around 72 million pieces of guns; which is around three times the size of the population. Thankfully, we chose the peaceful route, and will always remain peaceful. What makes Yemen more of a unique country is that the women were on the front lines of protests. Coming from a conservative country, this was a very controversial action done by our women. But despite its controversy, they continued to be the important role that Yemen needed to break its barriers on conservatism and activism. Since that live feed, in early 2011, I have flown to Yemen more than 7 times, observing the negative and positive changes in the county that is effecting necessary further change towards a peaceful, democratic state.
I’m more than proud as a Yemeni woman to see my own people, hand in hand, go against a three decade tyrant that no one would of dared speak up against during the past. But like the other countries that had been claimed by the Arab Spring, Yemen, too, is dealing with obstacles that is hurting its road to stability.

Since the Arab Spring movement, I have observed the failed steps that countries aren’t implementing to help end their current political turmoil. Three most important steps for transitional justice are, for instance:

ICC: International Criminal Court. This court is there for a reason and its reason is to prosecute criminals, as high leveled as government officials, for any types of abuses. This is a crucial and needed step to actually move forward in countries that have dealt with any type of conflict. It can help give closure, for example, to those who have been effected by such criminals, while giving new hope about law and punishment in countries that need stability and peace.

INSTITUTIONAL REFORM: It seems like the Middle Eastern government like skipping the ICC, to only dive into institutional reform. I find that astonishing. It’s unfortunate that after the acclaimed Arab Spring countries, many governments still hold almost the same individuals that were there in the past. There was no significant change that was needed to start a country from the start, with the needed and necessary moves to establish new governments in the regions. What we need is new individuals who can take responsibility of their country and their citizens to establish the path to democracy. We aren’t going to see new changes unless we get rid of the old regimes and elect new faces in the country. Let’s not forget that the goal in the Arab spring was “change”.

HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES: To be quiet frank, the Middle East is no stranger to human rights abuses. It’s something that happens on a daily basis, even after the revolutions took place. To tackle these abuses, its critical to form investigative committees that will investigate minor and major abuses done by the centralized and/or local governments. Once reports and evidence is given, they must take this action to a higher court in the country or, if necessary, to the ICC. That way, judicial consequences are taken place against those individuals. It will also set an example to anyone else who will likely abuse human rights in their country. This team will result in the outcome of positivity in the country because citizens will then learn to trust and respect the government and be an example to other neighboring countries: with every law broken, no matter who you are, there are consequences. In other words, no one is above the law.

While we know that a new set of governments, law and order, should be implemented in post conflicted countries, it’s as important and if not, more important to educate people, young or old. Middle East is unfortunately not the finest in education. I did not expect any type of educational reform in a region where countries and even their own citizens do not take education as an important universal human right. Little do they know, that education is the new pave way for a brighter future for the generations to come. This is a crucial and strategical point to discuss because education will promote economic development and even equality between both the male and female genders. In fact, if we don’t consider education important in the lives of people, than all the hard work that many have fought for since 2011, will not develop into the changes they want to see. Statistically speaking, the Middle East has a good percentage number of enrollment in schools in the Arab World for primary, secondary schooling but declines after. But in my opinion, I always believe the saying, “Quality over quantity.” And that’s exactly what is the lacking factor in the Arab World. It’s not the enrollment, but rather the quality of the education given. The only way to change a society is not fundamentally through politics, but rather through education. It’s key to development and until we take the quality of education seriously in the Middle East than all our aspiration to change will not succeed.

I hope with these points we will understand the issues in this great region and we will solve them, one step at a time, to see the Middle East flourish to its full potential. The people in this region have been through many conflicts that has effected their daily lives. I believe there is high hopes, especially with the youth. They are the leaders of tomorrow and they need our help to give them that support system to create a beautiful and stable future that we need.

As the late Nelson Mandela once said, “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”

Thank you very much.