Thoughts on a revolution

Tawfiq Alnassiri


Tawfiq Alnassiri came to the U.S. from his home in Rada, Yemen, almost 20 years ago. Today, he lives in Elk Grove, works as a manager in the security-clothing industry and is a father of five kids. In Yemen, a political revolution began in January after the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, and appeared to reach a critical point in late April. Yemen’s president, a White House ally, began to publicly discuss leaving office under the terms of a proposal from the Gulf Cooperation Council. Prior to this, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters had been in the streets demanding the Yemen president’s ouster. As Yemen’s spring revolt unfolded, Alnassiri spoke about the country’s political situation with SN&R at his office near William Land Park.

Who in Yemen is rebelling against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for the past 33 years?

A generation of young people, students and those who are unemployed are rebelling, a little like what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. But in Yemen the rebellion is different. The opposition political parties have started to engulf the young people rebelling against the government. This is to try and control the opposition movement.

What are the main issues driving the Yemen uprising?

It’s mainly high unemployment and the corruption by government officials. The government is controlled by families. In Yemen it’s who you know, not what you know. If you know someone in the government, you get a job. I have an example. Two college students from Yemen studying here graduated at the same time and returned home. The second day, the student related to government officials got a job. The other college graduate is still waiting for an employer to hire him. That kind of job frustration led to the uprising.

What is your family in Yemen telling you about recent events there?

I have a big family in Yemen. We talk every day. Everybody is confused in Yemen, which is on the edge of nowhere. They wonder what is going to happen. It’s like a bomb waiting to explode. Every village and person is armed; it’s part of the culture and scary. The AK-47 is the No. 1 weapon of choice in Yemen. My family and I want the president gone now, but are worried about who will replace him. We are hoping that this situation ends soon.

How are anti-government forces in Yemen communicating with each other?

They use the Internet and phones [land and mobile]. Opposition political parties have their own TV stations broadcasting from England and Kuwait. One opposition leader owns a telecommunications company, which makes it easy to get their message to the public.

Talk about U.S. aerial drone attacks in Yemen.

In the past, the U.S. government attacked Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but, unfortunately, missed the target and killed some 75 innocent people by accident. This bombing happened with the knowledge of the Yemen government. We know this from WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower website. To boost its legitimacy, the government of Yemen is using the threat of Al Qaeda to milk the governments of U.S. and European countries, which have interests in the region’s oil. The fear that a new regime in Yemen, whether Islamist or not, might upset such interests is real. The Yemen government understands that.

What do people do for a living in Yemen?

They have businesses like we do in the U.S. Yemenis also farm. However, farming there is not what it used to be. The majority of Yemeni people migrate to the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. for reasons of economic opportunity. You will find migrants in every family in Yemen.

Describe the education of boys and girls in Yemen.

The school system is free. Every school in Yemen is full with girls and boys. In most schools, there is gender integration. A few Islamist schools separate students by gender.

What are the main religions in Yemen?

Some 99 percent of the people in Yemen are Muslims. Less than 1 percent of Yemenis are Jewish. Some of them migrated to Israel in 1948.

Where can people in the Sacramento area learn more about Yemen?

The foreign reporters for the Yemen Times, Americans and British, are unbiased. Each of the 27 political parties in Yemen has its own newspaper. However, I wouldn’t trust them or Yemen TV, because they don’t tell the truth. Lately, Al Jazeera has been doing a bad job, reporting torture in Yemen that had actually taken place in Iraq. Al Jazeera apologized for this inaccurate reporting, but the damage had been done.

How many Yemenis live in the Sacramento area?

We have about a 12 families from Yemen in the Sacramento area. There are also a dozen students from Yemen here now.