Political Analysis

Yemen Protests: Between Reaction and Progress

Some observers of recent events noted that president Saleh was wily enough to appease the opposition in Yemen in his speech last Wednesday in front of the members of parliament, Shura council, and public, just one day before the planned opposition protests which was dubbed the “day of rage.”
Sana’a, like the other governorates of Yemen, witnessed massive gatherings for protest and counter-protests from the competing political camps. The outcome of the day failed to meet the demand of some of the more impassioned protesters, who were expecting a wholesale uprising along the model set by the two other Arab states, Tunisia and Egypt.

President Saleh said he would not stand for re-election when his term expires in 2013 or try to hand on power to his son. He summed up the resolution with the phrase, “no extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock.”
In a hint of postponing the elections scheduled for next April, which the ruling party decided earlier to hold without waiting for the dialogue process to be completed, President Saleh suggested abandoning holding the legislative elections in April, responding to the demands of the parliamentary opposition, which has recently organized massive demonstrations hostile to him.

Saleh also called the JMP to a meeting with parliament, consisting of members of the Shura Council, to return to the dialogue again and form a government of national unity.
“I call on the opposition to freeze all planned protests, rallies and sit-ins,” he added.
Saleh presented an initiative which included the resumption of dialogue between the ruling party and the parliamentary opposition in what is known as the “national dialogue.”
The opposition in Yemen is far away from repeating the songs and slogans of the revolutions elsewhere because of their mutual interests with the government. Their demands are for the improvement of their elite influence and in sharing power with them, or, at least, granting them more influence. In responses to the day of rage, National Yemen had a chance to speak to demonstrators in both camps.
Mr. Abdul Qawi al-Ashari, a protestor attending the pro-government rally from Ibb, said “we came today to reject chaos, and express our support to the development of Yemen and not for leading Yemen off the brink for no reason.
“These peaceful protests, both opposition and ruling party, shows that there is democracy and freedom of expression in Yemen.
Rajah al-Kudami, a Sana’a official with the ruling party said, “we are here to confront the logic of fear and intimidation.
“In my opinion, both gatherings will end safely and both will help maintain the unity of Yemen.”
“Yemen is a special case, and we are not like Tunisia or Egypt; we are totally different. The president generously approved all the opposition’s demands yesterday: the constitutional amendments are frozen, there will be a return to dialogue, and he called for a unity government.” said al-Kudami.
“The government is calling for the duty to follow the law, as the opposition is pushing for a delay in the elections. The government’s concern is to get us out of this crisis.
Bakeel Abdullah, 14, said, “I love my country, and I love my president. Anyone who loves the country must do the same.”
Ahmed Abu al-Rajal, a businessman, said, “What is the opposition’s excuse after the President’s offer? We gather here in force, but peacefully, to oppose those who want to destroy the country and rule its ruins.”
“This protest is the call of those who care for the future of the country. The Egyptian president has listened to the calls of the protestors there, but they still want more! The same story would happened in Yemen. This is part of an international conspiracy.
Sami Abdullah, a motorcycle taxi driver, a massive placard of the president protruded from his seat, said, “Really, I don’t believe in either party – they will always be after their own gain. But the President stands above all this; I hope he stays forever.”
At the opposition rally, student Haider al-Alimi, said, “We won’t let anyone crash this demonstration and sow strife. We must guarantee that these protests are peaceful, so the government cannot accuse us of being violent or unpatriotic.”
19-year old student, Ahmed Hadi, said, “we don’t believe in the president’s concessions; it’s just one of many lies he’s used to stay in power. Meanwhile, corruption, unemployment and poverty continue to spread throughout the country. We heard the same thing in 2006, when Saleh said he would never run again, but he still sits in his throne.”
“We want a new government, one that could save the economy and give us some hope.”
Ali al-Theib, a second year medical student, said that the situation in Yemen is totally different than in the other countries, because its opposition leaders lead them properly. “The JMP leaders have a clear strategy and they can shoulder the responsibility of leading Yemen out of these constants crises.
“The government, mainly Ali Abdullah Saleh, is behind the war of Sa’ada and the problems of the south. The government is inciting the street whenever it feels like it, and the people realized that in Gulf Twenty, when the government was able to control the event, and later the South relapsed into chaos and violence.
Khalid al-Anisi, head of a human rights NGO who was detained briefly last year for leading protests, said, “We are tired of games and political ploys. People are desperate, and need an improvement in their lives now. The president should understand this, and immediately form a government of national unity to address their concerns.
“In his speech, he said that he will freeze the constitutional amendments. This will last until the crisis is over, and then he will resume his schemes. He is cancelling all political life. The reason for the increase of secessionism is the failure of the ruling party. They should leave the country.
Attendee Ibrahim Mohammed Ali Azan said, “our ceremony is quite peaceful and we will not let any provocateurs hijack our gathering. But if the government persists on its course, how can they expect these demonstrations to remain peaceful?
“Our goal is to start in peace and it’s a messages we fight for. The JMP will change the tone of ceremonies if the government will not turn to the language of logic. I say, “protest until Saleh leaves!’”
Truck-driver Mohammed Dahan said, “we cannot let corrupt officials to continue to take our money and deny us our rights. The Yemeni people will take back their rights by force if their demands are not met.”
The speech of the president was not sufficient to us, and there is never any actual change. Bringing down the system will be the only meaningful change,“ said Dahan. “We are against cheating and using public money for their personal gain. People will make it happen if those in power do not listen to their demands.”