Yemen’s craft workers suffer as unrest scares tourists

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Yemeni craftsmen and women complain of a downturn in business in light of the country’s political crisis.

Craft workers say the country’s unrest has brought their business to a halt.

“The handicrafts business has been slow before and after the political conflict. After the unrest, we had some hope that it could get better, but the [political] disputes started again and it brought a pause to the business,” said craftsman Ali Sadagah.

Yemen’s handicrafts industry depends mainly on the tourism activity as hundreds flock to visit the architectural art and heritage of the ancient city of Sanaa. But the political unrest in Yemen frightened tourists away and plunged the trade activity.

“Our business depends on tourism and so far the situation is still unstable, every time we say it is getting better, things become worse,” said craftsman Mohamed al-Hamami.

Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, transferred power to his deputy in November 2011 after months of protests that have severely weakened the central government in Sanaa.

Yemen’s economy was struggling even before thousands of students, activists and tribesmen took to the streets, battered by fights against northern rebels, southern secessionists and al Qaeda in a country awash with weapons.

Despite the economic challenges facing the Yemeni handicraft industry, Yemeni workers in Sanaa say they are still determined to present their talent to a wider audience.

Sumaya al-Shadbi, a craftswoman working on Sanaa’s old market says she aims to develop her skill to attract more foreigners.

“The designs in my exhibition are made from traditional and modern accessories. The traditional design is vital to us and we can’t dispense it. The modern one will help attract customers with its creative new ideas,” said Shadbi.

Al-Shadbi has recently exhibited her handmade crafts in one of Sanaa’s markets. She showcased her diverse crafts that combine both authentic Yemeni heritage and modern designs.

“I liked the idea of introducing the precious stones in handmade souvenirs. They are very nice,” said Anisah Anash who visited al-Shadbi’s exhibition.

Al-Shadbi, who has been in the handicraft business for 7 years, says a lot of her art ideas are inspired by her customers.

“I am focusing on the Yemeni culture and the ideas I get from customers help me come up with new designs,” said al-Shadbi, who is also an English teacher in Sanaa.

“I did almost everything, including traditional designs, silk and stones. But my main focus is on the silk work because it is unique,” she added.

Yemen’s struggling economy is badly in need of revenues from tourism, which contribute 3 percent of GDP. The country offers visitors rich historical sites, rugged mountains and pristine beaches. But a number of violent incidents have scared many off.

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