Source: The New York Times, By Laura Kasinof
SANA’A-The antigovernment sit-in here in the capital has endured everything from violent attacks to driving rain over the last two months. It has transformed from a small student demonstration at the university to a vast mass of determination stretching for two miles down an adjacent boulevard. It is shaking the government.
And it has turned into a bustling business opportunity. After all, the tens of thousands of protesters say they intend to stay until President Ali Abdullah Saleh goes. And they have to eat.
One enterprising young man who used to sell snacks from a pushcart in front of the main gates of the university, the center of the protest, now has set up a makeshift shop with wooden beams and crates in the same location. So busy is he, selling brightly colored packs of date-filled cookies, canned fruit drinks and other snacks to a long line of men, he responds to a reporter’s questions only by yelling his name, Zacharia Thabet.
A new branch of a well-known family-owned restaurant chain sells 3,000 plates of eggs and beans at breakfast and another 3,000 at dinner. The manager, Abdel Kareem al-Shaibani, says the restaurant is busier than his brother’s popular branch three miles down the road.
Though he said he sided with neither the protesters nor Mr. Saleh, he just cut the price of a plate of beans to 45 cents from 70 cents. “A service to the youth,” he called it. “I feel like I’m helping the future.”
“The young people even ask me, ‘Can I help you get gas?’ ” he said. “ ‘Can I help you get your supplies?’ ” he said.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, is not exactly a hotbed for business. But the demonstration has created a captive audience, or rather market, representing a wide range of society, if dominated by tribesmen from the countryside.
One commonality: in a country with a 35 percent unemployment rate, many of those camped on the street here have no pressing need to be elsewhere.
Some have found their inner entrepreneur. Mohamed Saleh, a skinny young man, sells Photoshopped images of Mr. Saleh for 20 cents each, one of the leader dressed as an American professional wrestler, another as Osama bin Laden.
They are souvenirs of Yemen’s uprising against a man who has ruled the country for 32 years.
“Of course business is good,” he said. “Many people want to buy these things.”
Just down the street, Abdullah Majhady, 23, sells white headbands for 20 cents marked with the slogans and chants used here: “This is a youth revolution,” “I am the next martyr,” and a simple directive to Mr. Saleh, “Leave.”
His business booms on Fridays, when even more people come to the protest for noon prayers. Many of them are working people from the capital, with a little more money for nonessentials. The headbands fly out by the score.
“A new economy was created in this square,” said one student leader, Humaid Mansour, 25, who has been at the sit-in since mid-February.
Carts selling egg sandwiches, corn on the cob and cucumbers are a short walk down from Mr. Majhady. Past that, a crowd of 100 men is an open-air stage, where activists make passionate speeches and recite revolutionary poetry.
In the evening musicians perform songs, many with politically inspired lyrics. The young men dance.
In a place where there are few recreational activities for the young, the carnival atmosphere is as unusual as the retail fever.
There are touches of socialism, too. When night falls, volunteer members of a cleaning committee sweep through the sit-in area, including the line of portable toilets next to a makeshift medical clinic, setting everything to rights for another day of chanting and waiting.
And however much money changes hands, the laws of supply and demand are not the only rules that apply to sellers and buyers.
Shopkeepers, restaurant workers, vendors — all have been witnesses to the demonstration’s growth from a meager band of students to a mass of tens of thousands camped out day and night.
Early on, they saw protesters beaten daily by plainclothes government supporters. Two Fridays ago, they saw snipers open fire. At least 50 people were killed.
Abulaziz Sama pointed to the spot outside the cafeteria where he works. There, he said, a man was shot in the head by a sniper.
“After that,” said Mr. Sama, “we closed the shop for the day.”