“Authorities in Yemen are yet to resolve the ‘marginalization’ of the minority Akhdam people, weeks after thousands protested in the capital Sana’a over low pay and lack of work contracts, say community members.
“‘The Akhdam are not simply second-class citizens,’ a protester said from his tent in Change Square. ‘They are more like fifth- or sixth-class citizens; the lowest class in the whole republic.’
“Despite speaking Arabic and practising Islam in the country for over 1,000 years, the Akhdam, who prefer to be called Al Muhamasheen, or ‘marginalized ones’, have never felt a part of the majority.
“The most visible marker of the Akhdam’s status in Yemeni society is the menial occupations they perform. Men roam the streets on 10-hour shifts sweeping and collecting rubbish, while women and children collect up cans and bottles and beg for handouts. [...]
“The prospect of democratic reforms envisaged in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan which pulled Yemen from the brink of civil war in 2012 raised hopes that the situation would improve for the Akhdam people, but little has happened yet.
“In early April 2012, for the second time in as many months, some 4,000 street sweepers in the capital went on strike in protest over unfulfilled promises by the government to raise their pay and extend their daily contracts. After only a few days off the job, Sana’a's streets became like an urban landfill site, forcing interim Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa to negotiate with the disenfranchized group.
“Nabil, a 30-year-old street sweeper living in Mukhayyim Aser, an Akhdam slum near the presidential palace, told IRIN a day after the prime minister promised permanent contracts to the temporary workers, ‘Basindawa has not changed anything.’
“‘My friend has been working as a street sweeper for 35 years and still does not have a job contract,’ he added. ‘That’s why we’re on strike.’”
Yemen’s untouchables doubtful of change (Al Jazeera, April 24, 2012) [video]
In revolt, Yemeni “untouchables” hope for path out of misery (Reuters, March 7, 2012):
“Jamal Al-Obeidi, a secondary school mathematics teacher amongst those listening to [Akhdam spokesman] Maktari's speech in early March, expressed typical views in answer to a reporter's questions.
“‘I have nothing against him,’ he said. ‘I would talk to him in the street, I might give him some of my money, but I would not invite him to my home. He is a Yemeni, but he is also a Khadim (servant). God meant for it to be that way.’ [...]
“Prevailing prejudice holds that the men are lazy and unscrupulous, unfit for respectable work; the women, unclean and promiscuous, scrounge off the generosity of others, the conventional wisdom goes.
“‘If a dog licks your plate you should clean it," advises a proverb, "but if it is touched by a Khadim, then break it.’”