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'Good omen' for Yemeni women

A Yemeni woman announced on Thursday her intention to establish a liberal political party to struggle mainly for realising equality between men and women.

By Nasser Arrabyee, Correspondent
00:00 January 13, 2007

Sanaa: A Yemeni woman announced on Thursday her intention to establish a liberal political party to struggle mainly for realising equality between men and women.

"Our party, Al Bushra Party, aims to achieve equality between men and women, preserve heritage, and enhance the rights of children," said Sumaya Ali Raja, the chairwoman of the would-be party. 'Al Bushra' means good omen in Arabic.

Raja, who completed her higher education in United States and lived in France, announced her intention to establish this 'progressive' party at a Yemeni traditional qat session, in which she and her woman assistant were the only Yemeni women to attend. Traditionally, women do not attend the men's qat sessions and vice-versa.

"I have the pleasure to welcome the first ever Yemeni woman to attend our Makyal [qat session], who is here to tell us about the new party she wants to found," said Ali Saif Hassan, chairman of the Political Development Forum (PDF), which hosted the meeting.

"We want to change the image about Yemeni women in the minds of Americans and Europeans, and we need your help," Raja, told the semi-formal meeting, which brought together representatives from the US embassy and French embassy, in addition to a small group of Yemeni politicians and journalists.

The first thing she did, then, was passing a paper asking the attendees to write down their email addresses for sending them 'the founding statement' later.

"The second thing I want you to do is to read this law," Raja said, before she started to distribute a print-out copy of the Yemeni political parties' law.

No platform or statute of the would-be party was given out to the attendees who were waiting to read or to listen to more details about the new party.

"Article No five is stipulating that women are not allowed to establish political parties," joked the Islah senior official, Mohammad Qahtan, with Raja who responded, "Yes, this is why I want you to read, but be sure, I read it thoroughly, I did not find anything of that."

Before this meeting, Raja said she had been touring some provinces in Yemen to recruit members and supporters.

"So far, I have 75 persons from Taiz province who expressed their desire to affiliate with Al Bushra party," she said. The membership is open to men and women. Raja came back to Yemen, a year ago, after she separated from her French husband in Paris where she lived for more than 10 years. Now she runs an NGO, the Yemeni-French Cultural Forum. According to the law, Raja requires 2,500 members minimum before she applies to officially register her party.

Discussing the difficulties that may face Raja in establishing an effective party took the lion's share of the time of the attendees who started to brainstorm after Raja asked them to voice their opinions.

"To establish an effective political party in Yemen is more difficult than running for the President's Office," said Ali Al Sarari, member of the polit bureau of Yemen Socialist Party, who commended the bravery of Raja at being the first woman to establish a party after she announced her candidature to run for office against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the last presidential elections. However, Raja withdrew at the last moment in favour of opposition candidate, Faisal Bin Shamlan.

The representatives of Yemen Socialist party who attended the meeting said if the would-be party saw the light of day, it would be a close ally of their party.

Mohammad Qahtan, of the Islamic Islah Party, said the Al Bushra party would be an elite party rather than a popular one. He did not point out to the future friendship of the new party with his Islah party, which has a conservative vision towards the public life of women.

To a question raised by a participant about the orientation of the would-be party, Qahtan commented, "We are neither at the left, nor at the right, nor at the middle, we are not even at the left of the middle, or at the right of the middle, we are neither in modernity nor post-modernity."

Qahtan said, "We need to civilise the tribe; we need to civilise the state first."