Just within the walls of the old city of Sanaa, southeast of Bab al-Sha‘ub, a large tent has been erected in an open square. People are milling about — mostly children, but also men and women. The candidate is talking to a group of people as one of her opponents drives by in a black Mercedes. The candidate, Ra’ufa Hasan al-Sharqi, has her own white Volvo parked discreetly some distance away.
The neighborhood is a poor one with the walls of all the houses covered with posters for several candidates — but not for al-Sharqi. The independent candidate explains that displaying her posters on residential houses is forbidden, and how could she claim the right to make laws as a deputy if she had broken the law in order to become one.
People slowly move toward the chairs under the tent, and the rows fill up as the speech begins. The first few rows are reserved for women, all of whom are veiled, including the one introducing Ra’ufa. A boy recites a few suras from the Qur’an before the candidate begins her speech. Invoking popular and religious elements, she traces the origins of Yemeni democracy back to the pre-Islamic period, and emphasizes the role women have played in Yemeni history, from Bilqis to Queen Arwa. She herself is a daughter of the old city of Sanaa. She explains that religious leaders have assured her that men may vote for a woman, and that a woman may take a seat in Parliament. Her rhetoric is aimed more at justifying her candidacy than outlining a political program.
While she is speaking, leaflets are distributed for her and her opposition. Her speech meets with intermittent applause, from both men and women. There is only one tense moment, when the candidate’s supporters have to restrain the opposition’s people from distributing their materials too enthusiastically.