For Yemen’s Few Remaining Jews, Time Has Run Out

Tik Root and Tom Finn | TIME

Celebratory gunshots rang out. Young men sprinted down the narrow streets of the capital, whooping with excitement. It was Feb. 25, 2012, and Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, had resigned — another autocrat toppled by the Arab Spring.

As other Yemenis excited by the prospect of a new future filled Change Square, Suleiman Habib sat on the steps of his sparse home on the outskirts of the capital. Watching fireworks burst over the city, he contemplated whether his people’s more-than-two-millennia-long history in the country was about to end forever.

A gaunt silversmith in his mid-60s and one of the last members of an ancient community of Jews living in Yemen, Habib was fearful of a future without the autocrat he saw as a guardian. Almost two years after the nation’s rebellion against Saleh, he feels no enthusiasm for his country’s democratic awakening.

“Saleh was a despot. He ran Yemen like a fiefdom, he neglected people and stole natural resources, but as a Jew my family and I were protected by him. Who will do that now that he is gone?” says Habib.