Saturday, March 19, 2011

Massacre in Yemen

I had been dubious about the significance of the protests in Yemen, but escalations over the past month are proving me wrong. Nir Rosen chronicles their development since the fall of Mubarak, and predicts that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salih will be the next to go:
"The role of independent youth was a new phenomenon which had gained a crucial fillip from Tunisia and Egypt. 'We’ve never had real street mobilizations,' Yemeni political scientist Abdulghani al Iryani told me, 'Tunisia and Egypt were massively significant. Before Tunisia the opposition had a demonstration of 200. After Tunisia they came in the thousands. After Egypt it became an avalanche. There is a new appreciation of collective power. What the formal political establishment could not do, to bring the people together, the youth protest has succeeded in doing...'

"The Yemeni regime responded like Arab dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere. But the people’s fear was gone, and the regime’s days were numbered...

"The demonstrations continued to grow forcing the establishment opposition parties to take a more aggressive stance against the regime and leading to defections of major tribal leaders. Taghir, change, became the semi-official name for the demonstrator’s camp, and even al Jazeera referred to it as such.

"Taking advantage of the lack of any strong U.S. response to his regime’s abuses and the earthquake in Japan distracting the world’s attention Saleh’s forces increased their violent crackdown over the weekend of the 12th and 13th of March, killing at least seven protestors while injuring hundreds of others. In a pre dawn raid the youth demonstrators camped by Sanaa University were ambushed with live automatic rifle fire, rubber bullets, electrical stun guns, and some form of gas that caused terrible convulsions. The regime also began to expel the few remaining foreign correspondents covering the protests. Obama’s silence on Saleh's escalating attacks on demonstrators and its tacit support for his tactics makes it likely that when Saleh falls the government that succeeds him will be less friendly to the United States. President Salih has offered reforms but as in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, once the dictator declares war on his own people his days are numbered. The recent Arab revolts have also shown that once a dictator concedes to the demands of the people he is transferring legitimacy to them, and their victory is inevitable. The chants in Yemen are now 'After Qadhafi, oh Ali!'"

Salih's crackdown escalated into a massacre yesterday which has further galvanized the opposition:
"Thousands of Yemenis poured into the capital's al Tagheer Square yesterday to show solidarity to victims of a government assault a day earlier that left at least 50 protesters dead and more than 600 wounded.

"The violence in Sana'a on Friday prompted President Ali Abdullah Saleh to declare a state of emergency after weeks of unrest that have rocked the ruling government despite a raft of reforms and concessions meant to appease the protest movement...

"Despite the emergency decree, which limits public gatherings, about 15,000 teachers joined the protest yesterday in Sana'a after the Joint Meeting Parties, a six-party opposition, called on Yemenis to take to the streets."

The involvement of professional associations was a key factor in both Egypt and Tunisia, and its appearance in Yemen should definitely worry the regime. However, as Barak Barfi notes, Salih still has bases of support, and this could become bloody after the fashion of Libya or Bahrain before all is said and done.



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