By Khaled Abdullah
The “Arab Spring” revolutions have helped societies in countries throughout the Middle East achieve hopes of change. But in Yemen, one group is still a long way from achieving its dreams.
The Akhdam, Yemen’s marginalized black minority, has suffered for centuries from perpetual discrimination and cultural persecution, and they are seen as “untouchables” at the bottom of the country’s social hierarchy.
Akhdam is a literal translation of the Arabic word “servants,” but the community prefers to be called the Muhamasheen – “the marginalized people”.
They are estimated to make up around 1.5 million of Yemen’s roughly 26 million residents, and they are widely perceived by mainstream society to be the descendants of Ethiopians who crossed the Red Sea to conquer Yemen before the arrival of Islam some 1,400 years ago.
I was happy to be assigned a story about this community because I thought it would help me cast light on their suffering. But I knew before I set off to document their lives that I would step into a reality that was very different to the experiences of most shantytown residents in other countries.