Yemen Observer: http://www.yobserver.com
Written By: Elena White
Article Date: Aug 8, 2012 - 2:29:49 PM
Born in 1975 in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz, Bushra al-Maqtari was part of Yemen’s cultural scene well before 2011 uprising and Taiz civil society movement exploded onto the scene, rallying under its banner hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy activists.
A freedom seeker and somewhat of a rebel, Bushra made a name for herself in Yemen, forcing back the social boundaries of a sometimes overbearing patriarchal society where tradition often prevails over one’s freedom of expression or needs for change.
Always the rebel, Bushra proudly told reporters in 2011 that she was apolitical, in the sense that she did not believe in the power of one particular political faction but rather had faith in the power of the people.
A fan of Che Guevara – an Argentinian Marxist revolutionary – Bushra believes that democracy alone will save Yemen. However, if Bushra became somewhat of a feminist icon in 2011, alongside her famous sisters in arms, Amal Basha and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman, she managed with one comment to anger Yemen’s clerics and turned her one adoring fans into an angry mob. In February 2012, a group of Islamic clerics issued a Fatwa – religious ruling – against al-Maqtari as well as three other journalists -- Mohsen Ayd, Fikri Qasem and Sami Shamsan – accusing them of apostasy, when a remark they made regarding God offended many Yemenis’ sensitivities and was understood as a critic of Islam and God Himself. With the sword of Damocles now hanging over her head, Bushra al-Maqtari knows that her life is in danger.
“They just picked a few words and sentences from an article I wrote,” she told Judith Spiegel, a foreign journalist.
Those words said that God seemed to be absent in Khidar, a village where her fellow Taizis were badly treated during a 260-kilometre-long march from their city to the capital, Sana’a, in December 2011. Although al-Maqtari argued for her defense that she never meant to say that God did not exist but was only expressing her anger toward the deaths of her fellow countrymen, Yemen’s ulema - educated class of Muslim legal scholars – turned a deaf ear, having branded her an infidel ad vitam eternam.
“They use the fatwa for political reasons, because they don’t like what I write about them,” said Bushra. She advanced that al-Islah – Yemen’s Islamic political party – through this fatwa was merely trying to discredit her and destroy her work for she had dared opposed its leaders -- Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, a powerful tribal leader and Sheikh Abdel-Majid al-Zindani, a prominent cleric and tribal leader – and critiqued their motives in joining up the revolution.
In general, Bushra is unhappy with the attention her case has received in Yemen. She complains that people are more concerned about getting their daily dose of qat than with freedom of expression. “When someone’s Facebook page is closed in Egypt, everybody goes crazy.
Here nobody cares.” Feeling very alone now, she complained that Tawakkol Karman, the founder of Women Journalists Without Chain had done nothing to support her. “Nothing, she said absolutely nothing about this fatwa or any other important issues for that matter.”
Those close to her went one step further in their critic of Karman accusing the young revolutionary of hypocrisy.
“Karman claimed she stood for equal rights and democracy, yet she failed to comment on the Fatwa, preferring to focus on issues which would promote her political advancement…She is the biggest hypocrite of all… When is the last time she truly stood up for the people of Yemen?” said a disgruntled supporter of al-Maqtari in Taiz.