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Yemen youth march 'shows true spirit of revolution'

By Murad Alazzany, Special to CNN
January 16, 2012 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
Demonstrators march in Dhamar during the Life March rally on December 23 2011.
Demonstrators march in Dhamar during the Life March rally on December 23 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thousands of young people took part in inspirational march over 250 km in five days
  • March "broke cliches of Yemen as a country of bombs and terrorists," says Murad Alazzany
  • Youth have broken the shackles of oppression and submission, he adds

Editor's note: Murad Alazzany is an assistant professor in the department of English Studies at Sana'a University, Yemen. His main research areas are "the representation of Islam and Islamic movements in the Western media." Currently, he is pursuing a project on the representation of the Arab Spring in the Western media.

(CNN) -- Like many other Yemenis, I was overwhelmed by the news of the Life March which was set off from Freedom Square in Taiz late December 2011. Thousands of youths walked for almost five days, covering more than 250 kilometers by foot.

Murad Alazzany, assistant professor of English at Sana\'a University, Yemen
Murad Alazzany, assistant professor of English at Sana'a University, Yemen

The youth used the term Life March to denote a continuation of their revolutionary protest and a rejection of the immunity given to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. They wanted the whole international community to notice that what is happening in Yemen is in fact a revolution, not just a political crisis.

In this spirit, they wanted the world to seriously consider their demands to topple Saleh's regime completely and start building the civil and democratic country they all aspire to have.

Youth have sacrificed their lives for the success of the revolution
Murad Alazzany

When the youth started their march, they knew that it might involve many risks and dangers that may have threatened their lives. It was not unrealistic that thugs and snipers loyal to Saleh could inflict heavy casualties on the marchers.

However, the marchers slowly shed these concerns as they climbed the mountainous roads along the cities of Ibb and Dhamar on their way to Sana'a. Their march surprisingly grew in size as youth from cities joined in.

However, they were received at the entrance of the capital of Sana'a and some of its streets with a fierce attack by Saleh's loyalists and thugs.

Early reports stated that at least 13 protesters died and dozens more were injured as troops opened fire on the Gandhi-style mass peaceful protest. That was the way Saleh and his associates decided to show their hospitality to the exhausted and fatigued marchers.

Yet the revolutionary youth of Change Square in Sana'a rushed to defend them against Saleh's forces and to lead them to the square which was set as their final destination. That was where they gave them a warm welcome and later celebrated them as heroes of the nation.

As the marchers overcame the risks and troubles they faced, the march's meaning evolved and came to represent a new turn in the course of Yemen's revolution. From one perspective, the march revealed the true depth to which the Arab youth have contributed to the success of the revolutionary protests.

The march was a symbol for the historical new trajectory of the Arab world.
Murad Alazzany

What surprised the world the most about the Arab Spring was not the unpredictability of events, but the level of civility utilized to achieve success. The Life March is just one example of the youth's determination to shape the arc of Yemen's future without guns, violence or bloodshed.

Yemen is experiencing two revolutions, says female activist

Despite the bravery shown by the marchers, and their commitment to non-violence, the media has largely remained silent on the first march from one city to another. The media simply circumvented the march by tabbing it is a "peaceful rally" falling drastically short of what it really was.

It is difficult to understand why the event did not receive the coverage it deserved. The march broke the typical cliches of Yemen as a country of bombs and terrorists and, if covered, could have shown the whole world that Yemen is an army of liberation -- demonstrating hope for all those who seek freedom but lack the means to achieve it.

The march was a symbol for the historical new trajectory of the Arab world. The area is witnessing a birth of a new generation that has broken the shackles of oppression and submission.

By realizing the universal rights of a life of dignity and freedom of choice, this new generation is eager to shape its future and build a country of its own volition. The autocracy of oppression that has permeated the Arab world will never find its way into the history of the Arabs as long as youth exist.

How Arab youth found their voice

Youth have sacrificed their lives for the success of the revolution, and now should not be the time to undermine them and the role they will play in shaping Yemen's future.

Youth have always been at the heart of the uprisings: they were the first out on the streets to demonstrate, the least likely to be intimidated, most likely to raise their voice against authorities.

They have received enough criticism. It is now time to join them in their marches and celebrate them as the heroes our country needs.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Murad Alazzany.

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