As bleak Ramadan begins, Yemeni protesters cling to hope

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As the rain pours down on their battered tents, tens of thousands of Yemenis gather for a feast to celebrate Ramadan, defying increasingly miserable conditions as they pray that the holy Muslim month will revive a flagging protest movement. They have staged a sit-in for six months in “Change Square,” near the University of Sanaa where protests to end the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh began. But the veteran leader is still in power, albeit in Saudi Arabia, where he was removed for treatment after being badly hurt in a June bomb attack in the Yemeni capital.
Protesters are clinging to hope that they can revive low spirits in their camps with communal meals to break their daily Ramadan fast, as well as more rallies and marches during a period when large crowds head to the mosque to pray, offering natural gathering opportunities. They have their work cut out. Outside the festive atmosphere of the square residents trudging through flooded streets wonder if the struggle against Saleh’s rule has been worth the price in a country where more than 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
Food costs in the Arab world’s poorest country are skyrocketing, fuel is scarce, and electricity lights the capital Sanaa for barely an hour a day as Yemen’s already weak economy and infrastructure crumble.
“Our situation before was fine. They wanted a revolution, and now petrol is 175 rials (72 cents) a litre when before it was 70. Our electricity used to go out only one or two hours a day, now we barely have electricity for an hour and a half,” grumbled Sanaa taxi driver Mohammed. “You can’t help but wonder if things weren’t better before.”
But to protesters, the very fact that they have remained in the streets despite bloody attacks on their demonstrations and fierce clashes between the government and armed opposition groups is reason enough to celebrate. They vow to increase the intensity of their protests, mirroring similar plans by protesters in Syria. “Ramadan will only make us stronger,” said protester Ali al-Khoulani, as he huddled inside his tent, waiting to break the daily fast. “We have all become one family and I expect the triumph of our revolution this month because this is the month of victory for Muslims.”