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Youth Engagement Amidst Conflict

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States —

Panel: Youth Engagement Amidst Conflict

Organizer: Washington Center for Yemeni Studies

Moderator: Husam Kaid– Government Affair Manager

Panelists: 

Amal Altareb– Co-founder of Bridges for Yemen; Research Assistant at Yale Law School Schell Center for International Human Rights. 

Mohamed Bin Hamdain– Chairperson of Adalah Foundation; Founder of Yemen’s First Model United  Nations; and Former Researcher at the Integrity Vice Presidency, World Bank Group. 

In this panel, the speakers discussed the role Yemeni youth have played throughout the years of the conflict, the necessity for involving them in the peace process, and the challenges Yemeni youth face at home and abroad.

The moderator commenced the panel with short remarks recounting the events of the Siege of Sanaa, also known as the Seventy-Day Siege, which took place between November 28, 1967, and February 7, 1968. Drawing similarities between the regional and international pressure to impose what he calls “the-factorization” on the, at the time, republican forces are fighting the royalists in the 60s, and the legitimate government fighting the Houthi rebels today. He referenced the U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking’s statement regarding “Al-Qaeda being on the margins from our (the American) perspective.” He criticized the U.S. and the international community’s double standards when Yemenis viewed the Houthis in the same light. He also reiterated the Yemen Ambassador’s words regarding the need for military pressure on the Houthis to renew the truce and accept peace. 

Before posing the questions to the panelists, he redirected the conversations to current events, connecting the extremist ideology that caused the killing of Mahsa Amini, triggering an uprising in Iran, to the Houthis college graduation committees that college graduation ceremonies that “went against Yemen’s cultural and religious norms.” Then, segue into asking the panelists why initiatives such as Bridges for Yemen and Adalah Yemen are essential and what motivates them to do their work.

Amal Altareb, Co-founder of Bridges for Yemen and; Research Assistant at Yale Law School Schell Center for International Human Rights, drew from Abraham Aiyash’s remarks about the power of story and shared the background of what got her into this work. Altareb was born in California but grew up in Yemen and has memories of the Arab Spring Revolution that erupted when she was ten years old. 

Speaking about the 2011 revolution, Altareb said, “Even if people now say that it failed. It didn’t. It only planted many seeds for the future and now in the present.” Moving to Tennessee, living close to the Civil Rights Museum, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and having great mentors watered those seeds. He made her realize that she was an upstander for human rights and civil rights in Yemen and the U.S.

She recounted how participating in the Women’s March in 2017, demanding equality, and protesting Donald Trumps Muslim Ban made fueled her interest in politics. Especially after reading more about El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Malcolm X. 10 years after the revolution, Amal co-founded Bridges for Yemen, a youth-led initiative aimed at providing a more comprehensive view of Yemen and educating fellow Americans with Yemeni American activists from across the States. 

Amal mentioned some of the work of Bridges for Yemen, which include raising awareness for the Oromo Refugees Massacre, which took place on February 7, 2021, at the Passport detention facility in Sana’a. Also, on countering Racism and Anti-Blackness in Yemen and the Diaspora through a teach-in on Yemen’s black population is commonly referred to as the Muhamasheen, the Arabic word for “the marginalized,” as well as some other protests and rallies organized by the group.

Answering the second part of the question, Amal mentioned a chant summarizing the group’s position on the ongoing conflict. “Houthis, Saudi, UAE. Whomever you may be. Stop killing Yemenis.” which she believes answers why it is essential to engage youth. “Because you have genuine people who are advocating for the love of their country” and trying to keep the ideal of democracy and human rights alive. 

The Chairperson of Adalah Foundation, Mohamed Bin Hamdan, spoke about his journey from Mukala to pursuing higher education in Saudi Arabia through a scholarship to finally relocating to Washington, D.C., to complete his law degree at the Georgetown University Law Center. Bin Hamdan mentioned the necessity of the Diaspora carrying out its duty toward their fellow compatriots. He expressed that those fortunate to leave Yemen to pursue higher education should share their knowledge with their fellow compatriots at home.

That inspired him to establish the Adalah Foundation. Bin Hamdan highlighted that the 2011 uprising was commonly known as “The Youth Revolution.” Moreover, he recounted that one of the main demands of the youth who came out a decade earlier was recognition, “which is still missing,” despite being promised that youth would be included in all governmental institutions during the National Dialogue Conference.

 

Despite bearing the brunt of the current conflict, Mohamed believes the youth are still widely sidelined, causing them to look for opportunities outside Yemen. That is why he believes the youth outside of Yemen should work on building capacities domestically and then pressuring the Yemeni government and the international community to create opportunities for them in their homeland. In addition, he raised the concern that military camps are the only sector in which the youth have been integrated. Bin Hamdan then emphasized that military confrontations alone are insufficient in ending the Yemeni crisis and that the government must consider that youth can play a vital role in the political arena. 

Stemming from the belief that the youth are the country’s future and that fresh blood is immediately needed in all sectors, Bin Hamdan decided, through Adalah Foundation, to patch up the social fabric of Yemen by innovating a project that would bring Yemenis from all governorates. As a result, the Foundation organized Yemen’s first-ever Model United Nations, where all of Yemen’s provinces were represented, the United Nations Five Goals of Sustainable Development were upheld, a 50/50 gender parity was achieved, and even the disabled were accommodated. 

To answer the second question about what Yemeni Americans can do to counter already existing political positions or legislation adopted by uninformed decision-makers, Altareb explained that they must focus on getting organized and creating a unified position to put forth rather than waste time countering what is already in place.

The last question was posed to Bin Hamdan, inquiring about what kind of support youth initiatives and projects, like his own, are needed to ensure their success. Mohamed stressed that these programs represent an alternative for the youth. They show them that they do not have to pick up a weapon to be something in Yemen. 

The panel was concluded by Dr. John Anthony Duke, founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Who assisted Adalah Yemen executes Yemen’s first-ever Model Arab League. He explained that the program trains participants to speak rapidly and effectively. 

The Washington Center for Yemeni Studies launched the WCYS 1st Annual Conference 2022 – Yemen Under the Scope in Washington, D.C., on September 29th. Since then, Yemeni-led in-depth conversations have brought together various political, economic, and civil society actors by offering an inclusive platform for diverse voices in Yemeni affairs to share insights and advance solutions for overarching issues and struggles in ending the crisis.

-Youth Engagement Amidst Conflict- Panel organized by Washington Center for Yemeni Studies at the 1st WCYS Annual Conference 2022 – Yemen Under the Scope

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