Thousands of Yemeni women protested in Sanaa and other cities on Saturday, enraged by President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s remarks it was against Islam for women to join men in the demonstrations aimed at toppling him. The women, many clad in black Islamic dress with full face veils, said their role in protests was religiously sound and called on the president to step down in line with nearly three months of demonstrations demanding his ouster. “It seems that President Saleh failed in all his efforts to employ tribes and security to strike at those seeking his exit, and so he resorted to using religion, especially after he saw that thousands of women were taking part in protests,” said Samia al-Aghbari, a leader in the protest movement. Saleh, who has warned of civil war and the break-up of Yemen if he is forced out before organizing an orderly transition, urged the opposition on Friday to reconsider their refusal to join talks to resolve the crisis in the fractious state.
But he also struck a defiant tone, calling the opposition liars and bandits, and appealing to religious sensitivities in the conservative Muslim country by criticizing the mixing of unrelated men and women among Sanaa protesters.
Around 5,000 women demonstrated against him in Sanaa on Saturday, with similar numbers in the industrial city of Taiz, south of the capital. The anti-Saleh protests have had the support of the main opposition coalition, which includes leftists but whose largest member is the Islamist party, Islah.
“Oh youth, the honor of women has been slandered,” the women chanted, referring to Saleh’s remarks.
Some women brought their young daughters to the protests, including one with her face painted with the image of the Yemeni flag encircled by a heart on her cheek and the word “Leave” scrawled on her forehead.
“If Saleh read the Koran he wouldn’t have made this accusation,” said one protester, who gave her name only as Majda. “We ask he be tried according to Islamic law.”
Saudi and Western allies of Yemen fear a prolonged standoff could ignite clashes between rival military units and cause chaos that would benefit an active al Qaeda wing operating in the poor, mountainous Arabian Peninsula country.