Love in a time of war
With the Arab Spring came a new lifestyle; people moved into tents and camped out across the Arab world. But as well as facing many difficulties, people gained new friends and neighbors and developed a new culture.
Yemen’s conservative society traditionally keeps men and women separate – but last year’s uprising brought the two genders together. Men and women lived together in Change and Freedom squares, allowing them to interact and get to know each other in an unprecedented way.
Among the changes that the Arab Spring brought to Yemen was a new way of falling in love. People started to think about their future partner, with politics continuing to play a big role. Many people required that any potential partner be a revolutionary or at least support the uprising.
As time passes, people will tell their heroic stories to the second generation, to their children and grandchildren, and eventually it will begin to sound more like a fairy tale. “Once upon a time,” they will say, “I was a revolutionary. But I did not know I would meet my destiny in Change Square,” as Ayman Al-Sroroy puts it.
Al-Sroroy is an anti-regime protester in his twenties. He joined the revolution with thoughts only of ousting Ali Abdullah Saleh from office. He did not expect to have thoughts of marriage or love until at least 40 – however his destiny took him down a different path.
“I do not like the fact that I changed my life plans, which were all about getting a better job and travelling the world after being done with the revolution,” he said, ”but the only thing I never expected was to surrender my life to a girl and fall in love while I am still young.”
Al-Sroroy said that when he first met his fiancé they argued a lot about the marches to Kentucky roundabout in September when around 300 people were killed, with many being shot by snipers. Back then he underestimated her opinions, he said, but after so many people were killed, he came to realize how wise she was in opposing the march in the first place, respecting her even more.
Farah Mohamed is another love story that grew in the revolution. Farah was not able to go to the squares often, as her family worried about her. But the few times she managed to escape their attention and go, she met her match.
“I went to participate and never thought that I would find my future husband there. It really is really amazing how we met on one of the few days I managed to go,” she said.
Farah said that the new mentality the square fostered in Yemeni men was one of the reasons she fell for someone there.
Balques Al-Lahabi, a well known human rights activist, is the newly bride of Dr. Abdul Ghani Al-Iyrani, a political analyst. Although both are known locally for their work, they fell in love during the revolution.
“I loved him in a very short time,” said Al-Lahabi. “We are mature enough to not waste our time trying to know each other better [before marriage].” What matters most, she added, is the culture of partnership that was developed through the revolution; they have a common understanding of the uprising, common views and make similar decisions.
“Abdul Ghani is already a civilized person – he is not pretending to be one – that is what I love most about him,” she added.
While Yemen has its share of love stories, there are also those who separated after their relationships were forced apart by differing political views.
Ahmed Al-Assad had been in love with a fellow university student for two years and they were planning to marry after graduation but when the revolution started they realized their views were just too different and cancelled their wedding plans.
"It was not just politics,” he said. “People were killed for the revolution. Having an opposing opinion about anything else in life is not a problem but being anti-revolution is unacceptable. Her pro-regime political stance showed me that she does not care about people’s lives or their suffering and I decided not to continue my relationship with her," explained Al-Assad.
Newly discovered love
Some couples knew each other for a long time, but as if acting as a catalyst, only fell in love during the revolution. Some found themselves working more closely together, while others discovered a hidden part of their personality and fell in love unexpectedly.
Ahmed Adam was always engaged in volunteer work, which is where he first met the woman who would later become his fiancé.
“We knew each other for a year before the revolution,” he explained. “I always liked her when I saw her pro-revolution stance I fell in love and my love for her grew day after day.”
For Yemenis, the revolution didn’t just change the country’s politics, it also allowed men and women to interact in an unprecedented way; to share ideas, volunteer in the numerous civil society initiatives that cropped up through the uprising and to work together to build their new Yemen. So it was inevitable that many would discover not just likeminded people but also love in a revolution.