Symbols on the wall - Conclusion and background

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Symbols on the wall Symbols on the wall
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In spite of the fact that I identified at least 9 different party-political symbols (see overview below), I’ve been able to definitely tie only one symbol to a specific party with confidence. All the rest are unidentified in that sense (someone who can read Arabic may be able to help here). Also the hearts and flowers on the Tai’zz “graffiti wall” remain riddles, and the swastika’s found on a wall in Sana’a seem disturbing, but may have an “innocent” meaning (again, translation of the accompanying Arabic text may help).

So, I started out with the the “mystery” of all the things found on Yemen’s walls, and ended up with a collection of mysteries

Any help with identifying any of these symbols would be highly appreciated! RedBubble members can bubblemail me – others may contact me via the contact form on my gallery site. If you can read Arabic, or know anyone who can, please get in touch!


Symbols collection

Once I started actively looking out for (political) symbols on the walls, I saw more and more – our drivers was right: there were a lot of them. One thing that was striking was also that a few of these were present only in a small area: I saw maybe two occurrences of a scimitar, and have a picture of only one of them. I saw lots and lots of airplanes – but only along one stretch of one road; once we were past that, I found no others. What is also remarkable is that as I was still in the “discovery” phase I actually made photographs with political symbols in them, but at first failed to recognize them as such – I saw “a poster” or “an ad stenciled on the wall”: only looking back and analyzing my photos now, did I recognize all of the symbols for what they were.

The extreme “localized” nature of some of the symbols I found is explained by the fact that in September 2006 elections were both presidential elections on a national level and local, municipal-level elections.

Apart from the official party-political symbols there were others symbolic uses of imagery or painting; and in some cases I simply do not know whether a symbol signifies a party or not.

Party icons

The following is a list of the party-political icons I have recognized as such, with a link to the photos where they first appear (which may not be when I first recognized them!).

Crescent moon an star the symbol closest to the checkmark is a crescent moon and star; next to it also appears a lone star star, and seemingly more (unrecognizable) symbols. Now while it is possible a single party may have multiple symbols (while the opposite is not true: multiple parties may not use the same symbol to avoid confusion) a bit of research finally points to a different solution: the September 2006 elections were both a national presidential election and local municipal elections; for the presidential election, current president Ali Abdullah Saleh was the major candidate, but he had four opponents, the most significant of which was Faisal Bin Shamlan, representing a coalition of opposition parties called the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). He died in January 2010, and from a news item in the Yemen Observer (one of the two English-language newspapers in Yemen) we can easily recognize his face on this poster. The fact that he represented a coalition neatly explains the multitude of party icons although I have still been unable to determine which party any single one belongs to. Two possible guesses: the crescent-and-star might represent the Yemeni Islah party while the single star might stand for the Yemen Socialist Party, which used to govern the south; both of these were part of this coalition, together with several smaller factions.

Lion - maybe this may be a lion, but it’s blurry (see definite lion below).

Rearing horse a rearing horse: a very strong symbol, it’s the icon for the GPC (General People’s Congress), the largest and dominant party, of president Saleh. This image is key for understanding the use of political icons: above, we have the rearing horse, below that we see a ballot box and a ballot form with that same rearing horse and a checkmark next to it; it means: look for this symbol on your ballot form, and place your mark next to it to vote! Seeing a checkmark next to some symbol now also identifies it as a political symbol.

Lion a lion; apart from the possible lion in Al Mukalla, I’ve only seen (recognized) a lion in Ibb.

Rising sun a rising sun – a symbol widely seen, possibly of one of the main opposition parties.

Telephone a telephone.

Tree a tree; there seems to be a “green” party in Yemen, possibly this is their symbol.

Scimitar a scimitar – a strong symbol, but I’ve seen it only near and in At Tawila.

Airplane an airplane; I’ve seen countless airplanes, all the same primitive drawing (no stencils), and only along one stretch of the road between road between Al Mahwit and Sana’a.

Chair a chair; a rather odd symbol, spotted only in Amran.

Other symbols

Women's independance I’ll call this ’women’s independance’ – although the mural may not have been intended to be symbolical, the scene it depicts (women creating handicrafts) does indicate one of the few ways in which women can gain some independence: by creating and selling handicrafts and thus gaining an income of their own.

Saddam Hussein although not party-political, putting up posters of Saddam Hussein certainly is a political statement; it may indicate more of an anti-American feeling, than actual support for Hussein. But there is an actual (pro-Hussein) branch of the Ba’ath party in Yemen, so the shop owner may be a member or sympathizer with this party: for a few more details, see the photo description!

Hearts and flowers this incredible “graffiti wall” in Ta’izz not only had many painted-over posters, and some stenciled rearing horses, both clearly political, it also had some hearts and several flowers: both in some sense symbolic, but the lack of checkmarks against them suggests they’re not political symbols, at least not related to party politics. Painting over posters and slinging mud at the wall (see photo description) both do count as symbolic behavior.

Swastika given the context here (the former Jewish quarter in Sana’a), the appearance of swastikas seems at least disturbing. It may not necessarily be so – much depends on what the written text next to them actually means. (Please help if you can – contact details at the top of this page!)


Political parties in Yemen

  • Wikipedia lists only five – that surely cannot be all of them, given I found and documented 9 party-political symbols, and there surely must be more.
  • Leftist Parties of the World – Yemen lists many more, but was last updated in 2005. It does mention a “green” party, a possible candidate for the tree symbol.

Freedom, illiteracy and women’s situation

Illiteracy and the use of party symbols for elections

The first group of links illustrates this is a common practice in many countries where illiteracy is still a major problem.

The second group of links is specifically about Yemen, but I have found none that tie any specific symbols to specific parties (and I have seen neither doves nor eagles).

© 2010 Marjolein Katsma – photos © 2007 Marjolein Katsma

Symbols on the wall - Conclusion and background

Marjolein Katsma

Groningen, Netherlands

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