November 14, 2016
Diplomas and Dictatorships
Sana’a University and an Ill-fated Revolution
Soaring youth unemployment throughout the Arab world left University students facing poverty upon graduation. Educational institutions formed a network of young, educated people demanding justice and social change. Students at Sana’a University drew inspiration from the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, organizing protests and uniting against the corruption of the Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, but as the revolution became increasingly fractured and dangerous, so did the University. Beginning in 2011, Sana’a University was the northern hearth of Yemen’s Revolution, but as the country dissolved, so did it’s oldest university, until by 2014 both were just rubble that warring militias could claim for barracks.
In 1970, Yemen established its first Western style tertiary educational institution, Sana’a University. 40 years later, the country had received sixth place in the Human Rights Watch Failed States Index. Unemployment reached 40%, concerning both the University students and the general population, since the median age in Yemen was 19. Following her January arrest, Tawakkol Karman called for a “Day of Rage” at Sana’a University, a large protest that would echo the demands of demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt and demand the resignation of president Saleh. 20,000 marched from Sana’a University to Sana’a’s Tahrir Square. In November of 2011, he handed over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Al-Qaeda’s growing Southern dominance and the increase in regional tribal authority as well as Houthi wealth and influence undermined national unity. The Presidential Panel officially defined Yemen as a federation of six regions rather than a single entity. Houthi forces ruthlessly took Sana’a and claimed its deserted university for barracks. In early 2015 President Hadi fled the city. Revolutionaries on and off campuses faced increasing violence and repression, leading to the dissolution of Yemen as a single entity, the indefinite closure of Sana’a University, and the Houthi takeover of both. Houthi forces made Sana’a their stronghold and the former University their barracks.
As martyrs or victims, the students at Sana’a University played a key role in the revolution and its outcome. Gasim called them “not only the heroes,” but also “the martyrs,” identifying them as a driving force behind the revolution as well as a symbol that other revolutionaries could unite behind. He believed that their suffering was a source of inspiration that encouraged the country to fight Saleh’s dominance. Saleh also saw the plight of the young protesters and expressed pity for them as victims of the sweeping revolutionary fervor. In his resignation speech, he told them to return to their “homes and families and open up a new page with the new leadership,” saying that he “[felt] sorry for [them].” Ghobari believed that the student protests were merely symptoms of deeper and older divisions within the country, making the students just another hurdle for a country already “on the brink of becoming a failed state,” trying to overcome “a resurgent al Qaeda wing, quell southern separatism, and cement peace with Shi’ite rebels in the north.”
Author: My name is Robin Shafto and I am a third year Computer Science and Innovation major at Champlain College.
Professor: Rob Williams, Ph.D., Champlain College Faculty Advisor