[Editor's Note: After more than three decades in power, President Ali Abdullah Saleh handed over power on Wednesday, bowing to the protesters who have spent months in occupying "Change Square" and other locations across the country.
But the violence in Yemen hasn't ended. On Thursday, five protesters were killed by Saleh loyalists. While the end of Saleh's brutal reign is an important step, the bitterness of Yemeni politics means the country has a long way before it's stable. In the Fall 2011 issue of World Policy Journal, Jennifer Steil explores how politics have put Yemen on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.]
By Jennifer Steil
SANA’A—It’s 2009. Dust from the recent bombings still hangs in the warm air of Sa’dah, a city 113 miles north of Yemen’s capital, just shy of the frontier with Saudi Arabia and the vast desert known as the Empty Quarter. A five-year-old girl stands crying in the street. Hungry, thirsty, and alone, she has been wandering in the ruins of her home, searching for her mother, father, or any other family members, all of whom have vanished in the devastating battles between the Houthi Shiite rebels and the government. She finds no one.
At last, someone finds her. An old woman stops to help the weeping child but is unable to discover who she is. The traumatized girl cannot give her own name or the name of anyone in her family.
“I will be your grandmother,” the woman, Mariam Hadi Ali, says to the girl. She calls her Hadiya, which means “gift” in Arabic. Together, the two flee Sa’dah, seeking refuge from the bitter conflict.
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Jennifer Steil is the former editor of the Sana’a-based newspaper the Yemen Observer and the author of The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, An American Woman’s Adventures in the Oldest City on Earth. She lived in Yemen for four years.