Yemen: March 18th, A Dignified National Dialogue?

March 18th is engraved in Yemen's history as the Day of Dignity. On March 18th, 2011, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's thugs and security dressed in civilian clothes shot dead 56 people and injured over 100 after Friday prayers, in what has become known as Friday of Dignity. Until this day the killers remain unpunished. Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi choose this date to commence the National Dialogue in what many perceived as an attempt to wipe out that memory.

Human Rights Watch shares this video on YouTube of what it describes as the “unpunished massacre.”

The incident, says HRW:

… marked a turning point in the movement against President Saleh, prompting the defection of dozens of government officials and diplomats, and assumed symbolic importance within the protest movement because of the brazen character of the shootings and the high death toll. Investigators never questioned top officials in the criminal investigation by Yemen's previous government into the shooting of demonstrators during the attack, which took place on March 18, 2011.

Blogger Afrah Nasser wrote a blog post asking President Hadi many tough questions, among them:

Why? Why the 18th of March was the date for the National Dialogue conference to commence? Why was it so of all dates? Why it weren’t, say, on the 19th, 20th? Did you forget what took place on this day, 2011 and the anniversary we must commemorate? Do you remember? We do.

Farea Al-Muslimi added:

@almuslimi: Launching [the] N[ational] Dialogue on the anniversary of dignity Massacre is like forcing a mother 2 celebrate her only son's birthday who was actually aborted

National Dialogue Conference Logo designed by graphic designer Ala'a Assamawy (@assamawy)

The National Dialogue Conference, scheduled by the Saudi orchestrated Gulf Cooperation Council deal- which ended Saleh's 33 year rule- was due to commence in November 2012, but was postponed several times due to disagreements between the participants. It finally started yesterday, on March 18th, with 565 representatives of Yemen’s various political groups, ranging from many old and familiar faces, secessionists in the south to Houthis in the north, in addition to a few civil society representatives. It will last for six months and its main aims are, reconciliation, paving the way for the drafting of a new constitution and staging the upcoming presidential elections in 2014.

Journalist Shatha Al-Harazi, one of the youth participating in the National Dialogue, tweeted:

@ShathaAlHarazi: To remember why we are participating in the #NDC we visited some of the martyrs families, the pain still fresh #Yemen nothing but justice

The National Dialogue opening ceremony was aired live on Yemen's national TV and was interrupted by someone, as President Hadi took the microphone and said to everyone “whoever doesn't like it (the dialogue), the door is open.” The video was shared on YouTube by shoshgh2008's:

A march in Sanaa yesterday commemorated the Friday of Dignity and rejected dialogue with the killers (video by:TheRYemen):

A massive protest yesterday in Aden, Southern Yemen, chanted “the decision is ours” demanding the right to self determination and rejecting the National Dialogue. (video by: abwboten)

The day was also not incident-free. According to Saeed AlBatati a man was shot dead by police in Tarem:

Photo of Rami Al Bur,who was shot dead by police today in Tarem .#Southyemen #NDCYE

And Haykal Bafana added:

@BaFana3: National Dialogue in #Yemen : In Hadhramaut this morning, 1 unarmed man shot dead, 1 hurt in Seiyun by grenade shrapnel & dozens arrested.

Summer Nasser tweeted:

@SummerNasser: Participants that are from the south of #Yemen at the National Dialogue lift up the southern flag of #Yemen.

In Sanaa yesterday, First Army Division soldiers shot unarmed Houthi youth, injuring three of them who are currently all in a critical condition.

The shooting was caught on camera and uploaded on YouTube by YouthStandYEMEN:

Farea Al-Muslimi tweeted:

@almuslimi: Those who MIS-run #Yemen for the last 50 years were on the podium of the national dialogue conference today. A fish can never deliver birth.

Haykal Bafana wondered:

@BaFana3: Is #Yemen's National Dialogue viable when justice is denied & law is absent? Ask the diplomats who peddle immunity.

Many Yemenis are torn between supporting and boycotting the National Dialogue. Although some are hopeful that it may resolve Yemen's woes, many consider it to be meaningless if it fails to serve justice for those killed and wounded during the revolution, especially when blood is still being shed at the same time as the opening of the conference. One wonders six months later what the outcome may be and to whose benefit will it be this time?

To follow updates about the dialogue follow the hashtags #ndcye and #NDCYEMEN.

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