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Yemeni women: President is degrading us

By Hakim Almasmari and Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
Yemeni women on an anti-government demonstration in the capital Sanaa on Saturday.
Yemeni women on an anti-government demonstration in the capital Sanaa on Saturday.
  • Women have been protesting in greater numbers in recent weeks
  • They lashed out at President Saleh for advising them to stay home
  • They said Saleh called them un-Islamic and attacked their morality
  • The government says protesters are "misusing" Saleh's comments
  • Yemen

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Thousands of Yemeni women marched toward the attorney general's office in the capital Saturday demanding legal action for what they called the president's attacks on their morality.

Similar demonstrations took place in other cities as well fueled by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's comments the day before.

In a short speech Friday, Saleh said women who were protesting against his regime were violating Yemeni cultural norms that prohibit mixing with men who are not direct relatives. He called it forbidden behavior in Islam and advised women to stay home.

Angry female activists said Saleh was trying to degrade them in public.

Prominent activist Tawakkol Karman said Saleh was shocked to see women leading Yemen's revolt.

"Saleh has finally shown the world his real face and his hatred against women," said Karman, a leading member of Islah, the largest opposition party in Yemen.

"Women have ruled Yemen on numerous occasions throughout Yemen's history," she said. "That is why he has tried to oppress women for the 33 years he has been in power."

The government said protesters "misused" Saleh's comments, prompted by a belief that the opposition was using women and youth to promote their own agenda, and not the greater good of Yemen.

"Saleh is the first to support women's rights and has always shown interest in involving women in Yemeni politics," said Zaid Thari, a senior member of the ruling General People's Congress party. "Saleh was advising protesters and not acting against women in specific."

Anti-government demonstrators in Yemen have been calling for reforms and the ouster of Saleh for many weeks. Recently, women have shown their faces in greater numbers.

They took to the streets in 10 provinces Saturday, holding firm on their demands that Saleh step down. Karman said Saleh is scared he will be known as the leader overthrown by women.

Another prominent activist, Amal Basha, said it was Saleh who was using religion to prevent women's participation.

"I consider women protesters here as if they are doing holy work, a holy job," Basha said. "Why is he (Saleh) trying to demonize and undermine what they are doing? Saleh uses religion to give himself legitimacy and support his policies."

Yemen's largest opposition bloc rejected Saleh's stance against women. The Joint Meeting Parties said Islam grants women more rights.

"Saleh's comments against the purity of women protesters are a clear indication that his oppressive regime does not respect any rights of expression and wants women to be led by men at all times," said Mohammed Sabri, a senior bloc official.

Even the conservative tribal coalition of Mareb and Jawf warned Saleh against attacking women's rights, saying that tribal culture has always given women the right to lead if they so desire.

"Women ruled Yemen numerous times in the past with success," said Ali Obaid, a senior member of the coalition. "Yemeni women lead the Yemeni revolution and men follow."

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