Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Yemen’s online communities! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The fate of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and whether he will return to Sanaa or sign a deal [securing a peaceful transfer of power] is still uncertain.

Whatever the case may be, the Yemeni revolution’s youth are acting on the basis that their mission has been accomplished. Wild celebrations were seen taking place throughout the Yemeni streets; this also extended online with special websites and groups being established to chronicle this historic moment and document the Yemeni youth’s celebrations marking Saleh’s departure.

Indeed the youth’s online activity went beyond mere celebrations to include discussions and proposals of how to prevent Saleh loyalists from potentially attempting to sabotage the revolution, as well as what other steps need to be taken in the wake of the Yemeni president’s departure.

Regardless of whether or not the Yemeni youth’s movement has achieved its desired happy ending, the vitality and energy of these young revolutionaries, and their ability to make their voices heard and put forward their demands, deserves praise. Young Yemenis have merged their protests and demonstrations in Yemeni public squares with online activity to find their true voice. These youth have circumvented the slow pace and complexity of reality with their online activity, setting up scores of social networking sites and groups.

The Egyptian and Tunisian youth previously employed this same strategy, and they are continuing to use it. Whilst today Yemen’s youth are attempting to secure all of their achievements, ensuring that this becomes a reality.

The Arab Spring has once again revealed the existence of such parallel, or shall we online, communities. However the situation in Yemen is not the same as that in Tunisia or Egypt. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, and suffers from an illiteracy rate of 52 percent, whilst the number of internet users in Yemen – although there are no official accurate figures in this regard – is quite limited.

Nevertheless, there are indications in the Yemeni movement that give hope. The youth did not confine their activity to the internet. They also used mobile phones in an effective way. Even though the media in Yemen is limited to state-owned media outlets, the revolution’s youth still managed to update their web-sites day in and day out. They also edited and published newspapers and pamphlets which were distributed at sites of protest, whilst Yemeni women also played a strong, indeed pivotal role, in the protest movement. In Yemen, where the regime uses the “al-Qaeda’s” scarecrow in order to frighten people, the revolution’s youth resorted to rap and popular music in order to express themselves.

These new communities, formed by the 8th continent – the internet – have been able to infiltrate the general scene and create a movement that has developed and grown to be able to oppose the power of regimes and the authority of governments.

However these online communities are facing two challenges; the tyranny of governments and the extent to which the new generation will be able to utilize the internet to convey their true voice.

Though our new communities have not yet evolved into real societies, and though the stark reality of a country like Yemen is still far stronger than the country’s virtual presence, the strength and power of this online community lies in its appeal and the future it represents against a past that is full of backwardness. The future will defeat that the past. This is what the Arab Spring has taught us.