The woman in the square

Published on 10 September 2012 in Report
Ahlam Mohsen (author), Ahlam Mohsen (photographer)

Ahlam Mohsen


Ahlam Mohsen

Few women can be found in Sana’a’s Change Square.

Few women can be found in Sana’a’s Change Square.

For Change Square’s remaining woman resident, Adaa Ali Saleh Futanni, 50, the square is more than a space to fight for a more just, compassionate and democratic future—it’s her home, where she lays her head each night and dreams of what her country will be when the revolution is won.

And not just her country.

“All the people—everywhere—everyone who doesn’t have land should be given land; those without homes must be given homes; the sick should be given care and treatment, not left on the streets to die.”

She moved to Sana’a from Hodeida a decade ago with her husband. They have no children, and when he died six years ago from health complications, she was alone. A middle child, Futanni had two brothers and two sisters, all unmarried; they died in a car accident with her parents eight years ago. She chokes back tears when she says, “I have no family. No, none.”

Futanni sells baseball caps, rings and other nick-knacks to get by. The revolutionary committee provides three meals a day, she says, but she tries to feed herself when she can because she doesn’t want to burden them.

Asked why she’s remained in the square for 20 months, she says, quite simply, that their work hasn’t finished.

“There’s still a revolution; we haven’t accomplished what we set out.”

Futanni’s tent is the lone women’s tent in the square. Ask most of the men in the square where the women live, and they’ll tell you women no longer live there. When the uprising began, she left her one-room apartment and has lived in the square since. Asked if she feels safe—a woman surrounded by men with only some tarp and rope protecting her from the elements—she says it’s the safest she’s felt in her life.

Like nearly every revolutionary in the square, Futanni says she will be here until the revolution accomplishes its goals. And what if it doesn’t?

“We’ll die fighting for it. We’ll either taste freedom in this life or die trying, God willing.”

Her feelings toward Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president for 33 years before his ouster after last year’s uprising, are complicated. As many Yemenis will tell you, Saleh—despite his decades of autocratic and often brutal rule—was considered the lesser of two evils, that other evil being the unknown. People feared chaos and disorder, and many of the initial demands after the start of Yemen’s uprising were for reforms, not necessarily regime change.

As Saleh came down hard on demonstrators, with his military shooting and killing unarmed protestors as they marched or prayed, the protests moved beyond reforms.

“We considered him our father, but he starved us, imprisoned us and killed us.”

How high are her hopes for current President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi? Not very. An election with one person on the ballet is not a real election, says Futanni.

“Yemenis didn’t bring him to power, outsiders did.”

Neither Hadi’s presidency nor Saleh’s immunity from prosecution—as stipulated in the GCC-brokered deal that ended his rule—honor the ultimate sacrifices thousands of Yemenis made for the revolution, she said. Futanni said she will honor them by continuing to fight for what they died for.