Friday of Dignity four years on: What’s changed?

Published on 18 March 2015 in Report
Fawzia Al Suwaidi (author)

Fawzia Al Suwaidi


It was the single deadliest day in Yemen’s 2011 uprising. Four years ago, on March 18, close to 50 protesters were shot dead and hundreds were wounded. Remembered as the Friday of Dignity, the massacre lives on in many Yemenis minds as the pinnacle of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters.

As tens of thousands finished praying near the capital’s Change Square, the epicenter of the protest movement, men dressed in civilian clothes stationed atop roofs and inside buildings opened fire indiscriminately.

Top officials, though implicated in the atrocity, have never been fairly investigated. “The previous government’s criminal investigation was fraught with political interference and ignored evidence implicating government officials,” a February 2013 report by Human Rights Watch reads.
Four years on, another president has come and gone and a militant group now controls the capital. The Houthis have attacked, kidnapped, tortured, and even killed activists in recent months.
On the anniversary of the Friday of Dignity massacre, the Yemen Times took to the streets to ask locals what difference, if any, they see between the treatment of peaceful protesters by Saleh’s regime and the Houthis.

The Yemen Times spoke with residents near Change Square, including at Dignity Roundabout, the site of the massacre, where Houthi supporters held a demonstration.



Ahmed Al-Gaadabi, 40, shop owner who attended the pro-Houthi rally
I live near to Change Square and the demonstrations there haven’t stopped since 2011. It is a good thing to see the protests change from one side to the other in the same area. The square is used by different sides to express their opinions, and this is evidence that no one controls the demonstrations these days.



Suhaia Al-Asbahi, 23, youth activist
There is no difference between the two regimes. Like the former regime, the current one oppresses, attacks and detains protesters. They don’t have the right to do so. I am sure the current regime will not last, its final day is approaching.



Bassam Al-Attab, 32, artist
The former regime didn’t treat protesters as bad as the current one is doing. The former regime opened fire on protesters but now the Houthis are leading the country to a sectarian conflict that will destroy everything. I am afraid that the coming days will be much worse since the conflict is going to be of a sectarian nature.



Samir Al-Badri, 29, human rights activist
The former regime used legal tools like tear gas to disperse protests. We were not attacked from behind in the days of the former regime. What is happening today is the partners of the Feb. 11 revolution [the Houthis] are attacking their partners. They forgot what the former regime did to them. They are doing the same thing and maybe worse. I talked to Al-Arabia TV about the Houthis’ violations against anyone who opposes them and directly afterwards I was arrested by them.



Hasan Faye, 27, bus driver who attended the pro-Houthi rally
Friday of Dignity was the birth of freedom. After that day fear left the hearts of people and they became able to express their opinions in any way, and this is better than the past as people used to be afraid of taking to the streets. These days you can see demonstrations every week, at least, which means that today there is more freedom than in the past.



Najran Al-Jibri, 22, poet
The difference is that the former regime practiced a republican oppression while the current regime is practicing a royal one. The former regime oppressed protesters in a less cruel way. It allowed people to have a say but it prevented them from occupying government institutions. While the current regime doesn’t allow this and oppresses any protests at all. My message to the Houthis is that if they consider themselves revolutionaries they are mistaken because they don’t represent the Yemeni people, they are just using religion for political ends.



Saleh Al-Radaie, 28, Sana’a University student
There is no difference between the regime of the former president and the regime of the militias. Both regimes violate human rights and attack protests. The only difference between them is that the former regime had legitimacy, but the militias’ regime is worse since it has no legitimacy. The militias’ regime treats protesters in a cruel way that represents a typical barbaric militia.