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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sana'a

On December 17th, Muhamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor, sparked a flame that has erupted into a conflagration. All corners of the Middle East have felt the heat Bouazizi suffered during his martyrdom, and many despotic leaders are still sweating. Ironically, Ben Ali, the ex-Tunisian President, visited Bouazizi’s hospital bedside without understanding that he drove Bouazizi to such a desperate state and without clairvoyance of his own rapidly approaching end. On January 14th, Ben Ali fled Tunis. Egyptians intently watched the fleeing dictator, and subsequently, latent Egyptian protests were galvanized ---success was possible, with Tunisia as proof. Mubarak tested the resolve of Egyptian demonstrators with beatings, false promises and time. As the weeks passed, the rebel movement only strengthened, solidifying Mubarak’s exit. Mubarak resigned February 11th. The revolutionary flame has also spread to Libya, where a delusional Kaddafi struggles to grasp his inevitable fate. It will only be days before he is pushed out of Libya or assassinated.


For the past month, I’ve been watching demonstrations in Sana’a, Yemen, and I suspect that Yemen will follow the pattern set by Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. For 32 years, President Saleh has been mastering the arts of self-preservation and diplomacy, and the coming days will be his crucible, testing all the skills he has acquired throughout his reign. Already, Saleh has manipulated the problems of Al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP), Houthi rebels in Northern Yemen, and the Southern Separatists to imply to his citizens that without his fatherly rule, the country would explode into chaos. The “leaderless country falling into chaos” tactic was also used by Mubarak, and, so far, has not proven to be true. Saleh has also promised sweeping, Obama-like change, a strategy he has used in the past. On February 6th, Saleh promised concessions that briefly opened dialogue between the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and General People’s Congress (GPC, Saleh’s party), and the country appeared to be stepping towards democracy. The president said “There will be no extension of the presidential term and no dynastic succession, contrary to the reports that say otherwise. Hereditary rule in Yemen is unthinkable in my electoral program,” and, “The public is led by certain powers to an unknown fate, similar to what is happening in Egypt and has happened in Tunisia. In the end, it will lead to chaos.” Not long afterward, Saleh commented that votes will decide who will be president--a disastrously untactful statement, as it revealed his authoritative nature and his hopes to run a fraudulent election in 2013.

Independent of the JMP, a group of anti-Saleh protestors (most of them students) fervently demonstrated for Saleh’s departure. After Saleh’s thugs used violence against these students and after the GPC declared the president’s opponents to be “infidels,” the JMP retreated from dialogue. “The president is trying to gain back the people’s trust on social networks and in the media, while on the street he sends his criminals to cheer for him and to beat activists for practicing their right for free speech,” said Ali Al-Masouri (Yemen Times). It is difficult to understand the inconsistent JMP position, and it seems to me that college students deserve credit for fomenting the inevitable Yemeni revolution.



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I was walking to the University of Sana’a when a pro-Saleh demonstration was materializing. As I walked down Wahda Street, which leads to the university’s east gate, I heard the cries of the amassing crowd. I walked quickly, but throngs of demonstrators passed me on either side, so I ducked into an alley before I was caught in the stampede. When the mob passed, I was shocked to see small children in school uniforms ahead of me, brandishing pro-Saleh signs and weapons. I later learned that kids were released from school early, and if they demonstrated in favor of the Saleh, they were promised passing grades on their exams.

I’ve also seen Tahrir square in Sana’a, where Saleh manufactures his support. When Cairo’s Tahrir Square became the symbolic site for Egypt’s revolution, Saleh took the liberty of occupying Sana’s Tahrir Square, hoping to suppress any symbolism resonating with the Yemeni people. In Yemen’s Tahrir Square, “supporters” of Saleh come to chew free qat and eat free food while sitting lazily in military tents. They are a pathetically docile brand of demonstrators and clearly lack any attachment to the cause sponsoring their qat habit.



Meanwhile, the opposition demonstrations are ecstatic, filled with optimism. The protesters have closed a kilometer of road that leads to the university and occupied it with tents and make-shift living quarters. Hundreds of men guard the main street entrances and pat-down anyone entering the street to prevent Saleh’s thugs from bringing in weapons. The street has become an asylum for free speech, and thousands of posters animate years of suppressed expression with caricatures lampooning Saleh and other dictators. Speakers continually lead chants and songs voicing the opposition's demands, which are no longer for honest dialogue; the people in this street want Saleh and his family to leave.

Two days ago, two demonstrators were killed and the movement was given martyrs. As of today, I’ve heard that the Northern Houthis have joined the opposition, along with the strong Hashed and Bakil tribes. Saleh’s argument that his absence will invite chaos is looking weak as the country is beginning to unify around what they see as the major problem: Saleh.


4 comments:

  1. great work. keep up the research and original postings

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  2. So I take it you have far more subject matter to do your school reports on than ever imagined...

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  3. The difference between Yemen and the other mentioned countries is, I believe, that Yemen witnesses huge pro-government demonstrations as well, while I hadn't heard of any in Egypt or Tunis. And there are a great number of citizens who are with the President without them demonstrating, too. Partly this is because 'fitnah' (creating chaos) is haram (forbidden) in Islam and the leader should be obeyed, and partly it is because we have freedom in this country, and, as a twenty-year old girl put it, "When I leave my house, I know I'll be safe until my return. If the protestors get the chaos they want, this will change."
    By the way, the President has already raised the salaries of government employees and has promised some 60000 extra jobs for graduates. This can be called an achievement. Now everyone should be able to wait for two years until the next elections.

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