Political Analysis

Yemen descends into partial civil war

Sana'a City during the latest escalation

By: Fakhri al-Arashi

The Arab Spring that spread throughout much of the Middle East has been much harder on Yemen than any other country in the Arab world. Starting on February 3rd, Yemen entered unprecedented times as the population of Yemen suffers for the competing interest of a few families.

For the past 33 years in Yemen, and prior to the revolution of September 26th, 1962, the people within the land of Arabic Felix have been victims of discrimination, power, and business opportunities.

Yemen has developed very slowly over time and has recently been held back as the resources of the country have largely fallen into the hands of ruling family members such as President Saleh, Shaikh Al-Ahmer and Ali Mohsin Al-Ahmer and the rest of the Sanhan tribe. The population has simply been left with what little resources are left over. The danger now is how the resources held by so little will be handed down to the next generation. These will most likely lead to sharp disagreements as the sons of the ruling families may prefer to bring Yemen back to previous eras marked by fighting and killing.

“With the ongoing dispute, the people of Yemen have begun to understand that their problem is because of the Al-Ahmar family. The people want them all to leave along with their families so the people can decide their own future,” said Nabil al-Oudaini. People have been patient long enough witnessing a small group of take over everything.

“The escalation of the five days after September 18th proves that many people’s fears were correct as the individualism of the opposition parties broke from the peaceful revolution concepts by deciding to engage in direct clashes with the republican guards and central security,” said Rajab Husein.

September 18th ended the eight months of relative calm and may begin the end of the Yemen revolution. Over 35 protestors were killed and hundreds injured during the first day of the uprising and it is possible that these numbers may be much higher. The battle intensified on the second day and snipers of the two groups found civilians as the easy targets ultimately killing 23 women and children. Even journalists such as Mohammed Taif of Al-Hura TV was targeted and killed. Many accusations have been thrown over who began the shooting which is still continuing around pocketed areas of commercial districts in Sana’a.

Dr. Amin Al-Khawlani said that he was stuck at his clinic as he was ordered by the First Armored Division to not leave due to the presence of snipers.  His family, like many people in the street, does not have sufficient food and vegetables. Food may not be available, and even if it is, it may be too expensive. Currently one kilo of tomatoes cost over $5.

After his meeting with Abdulatif Al-Zayani and Jamal Bin Omer, Vice President Abdrabo Mansour Hadi issued a strict decree to both parties to implement a ceasefire immediately. This decree worked for 16 hours until clashes resumed and reached new areas like Hayel Street, Al-Qa’a Street, Al-Hasabah, Sofan City and a part of Hudah.

RPGs, tanks, medium military weapons, machine guns, anti-air shoots and other military items have been used in the five day battle. Mohammed, a barber in Al-Jearia Street, said that he could not continue to operate his business as customers can no longer reach him. Mohammed said, “I think the First Armored Division will not be able to pass the KFC round about. The Republican Guard has set up a red line for the protestors and militias and if they cross it, the government will not hesitate to use the air force. Because of this, I practice my business by phone calls and visits to my customer’s houses.”

All the banks on Al-Zubeiry Street, which is known as the bank street, have been closed and remain easy targets for robbery. In addition, all schools in Sana’a were closed after the first day whether it was an option or not to remain open.

As the civil war intensifies, some see it as a good thing as it may bring an end to the many months of protesting in Yemen. Abdulfatah Mohammed wanted to see a fight so one side could finally win. Those who do not want to participate in this war between families can remain home, he said.

Many other Yemenis say the government, and not General Ahmar, is at fault. Few doubt that the first shots were fired by government troops and plainclothes proxies. General Ahmar’s own soldiers came under fire and took over an important intersection in the city. They later lost control of the crossing, but not before more protesters had been killed in the cross-fire.

International governments have called the two opposing parties to come together and restart the dialogue based on the Gulf initiative.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21st, President Barack Obama discussed “the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world,” and brought Yemen into the spotlight by saying “Throughout the region, we will have to respond to the calls for change. In Yemen, men, women and children gather by the thousands in towns and city squares every day with the hope that their determination and spilled blood will prevail over a corrupt system. America supports those aspirations. We must work with Yemen’s neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh, and a movement to free and fair elections as soon as possible.”

Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen, called for world leaders meeting in New York to focus on the latest violence which has seen security forces attack protesters in the capital Sanaa.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the “excessive use of force” by Yemeni Government security forces against unarmed protesters that has resulted in scores of deaths and many injuries over the past couple of days.

Mr. Ban called on Yemeni authorities to protect civilians and uphold their obligations under international law amid the escalating unrest between security forces and protesters seeking to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

With such statements, it seems that the international community does not want to see Yemen become a second Somalia. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who may have the most at risk in Yemen’s continuing violence, has clearly announced that the security of Yemen and the security of Saudi Arabia go hand in hand.

However, any efforts to bring the sides together or to put pressure on the government to reach an agreement and stop the violence look grim. While President Ali Abdullah Saleh has given the full authority to his deputy vice president to negotiate and sign the transition agreement, many suspect he will balk as he has done multiple times before. Accordingly, the opposition parties have rejected any deal and have even refused to receive the chief of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdulatif Al-Zayani, who has said that it is his mission to bring the two parties back to negotiations.

As a result, Abullatif al-Zayani and his accompanying convoy left Sanaa today. Saba news quoted the Gulf mediator as saying that efforts to reach an agreement between all sides will only be possible “when conditions are more favorable.

As leaders continue to fall further and further away from an agreement, the Yemeni children will suffer the most.

Ms. Mercado, director of UNICEF in Yemen, said children have lost almost two months’ worth of schooling because of the civil strife in a country that was already struggling to offer basic education to two thirds of its children.

“UNICEF calls upon all partners to prevent this humanitarian disaster from happening,” she said.

Unfortunately, the people of Yemen are simply victims of family rivals dueling for the country’s future.