As Saleh’s regime continues deadly crackdowns on Yemen’s pro-democracy protesters Dan Poulton examines the state of the uprising after the Gulf deal sparked anger on the streets.
Video of the 'Life March'
As the mainstream media pores over every fresh casualty in Syria’s ongoing insurrection against Bashar Assad, in anticipation of a Libya-style co-option, blood is being spilled on the streets of Yemen to very little outcry.
Following a four day ‘Life March’ spanning over 270 kilometres between the city of Taiz in the south and Sana’a in the north, at least 13 people were killed and 200 wounded when Saleh’s forces attacked the crowd of over 100,000 peaceful marchers.
The 'Life March', organised by the Youth Revolutionary Union, set off on 21 December.
They were demanding that Saleh face trial for war crimes, contrary to the GCC’s provision that he remain immune from prosecution. This sense of frustration runs deep. As one commentator observes, 'restoring the pre-January status quo… is what the GCC's "transition" proposal is really about, and the rest of the international community seems happy to play along with it.'
UN resolution 2014 lends the West’s seal of approval to the Gulf ‘deal’. According to James Gundun in the Palestine Chronicle:
'Although resolution 2014 calls for all perpetrators of violence to be held accountable, it essentially requests that Saleh’s regime investigate and police itself. The GCC’s immunity clause was left intentionally ambiguous to mask its controversial nature (the UN Human Rights Office warned against its ratification). Even more telling, U.S. military support and activities inside the country remain ongoing. Immunity wasn’t offered to Saleh's family alone, but to conceal the training of counter-terrorism units that ultimately deployed against peaceful protesters.'
Yemen is the fourth most costly US conflict in the 'War On Terror' after Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Democracy in the country would be at odds not only with the regime's survival but with the security of Saudi Arabia (chief backers of the deal), whose ruling class have tried to manage dissent in their own country by pumping billions into the public sector and police, whilst Murdoch-linked Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bought a $300 million stake in Twitter.
The Saudi’s ‘donation’ of 500,000 tonnes of oil to Yemen (the World Bank predicts Yemen will run out by 2017) further extends their influence in the country.
The reason for the media silence on Saleh’s ongoing crimes can be understood once we understand the deep involvement of the west in Saleh’s regime. Such support is barely concealed. The US ambassador to Yemen gave a green light for the massacre by denouncing the march (led by fifty women) as an attempt to ‘generate chaos and provoke a violent response by the security forces’. The cart has rarely so succinctly been put before the horse- it’s Saleh’s regime which has a history of chaos and violence. Obama’s decision to allow Ali Saleh to go to the US for medical treatment reveals the extent of their endorsement of the regime (Jimmy Carter did the same for the Shah of Iran in 1979).
Disarming the revolution
The Gulf deal consolidates class power inside the country, which remains firmly in the grip of Saleh, his extended family and associates- Saleh has presented a list of 412 people he wants to be granted immunity.
The deal requires the dismantling of all defences erected by Yemen’s revolutionaries, whilst the military gets to keep its ‘security’ cordon around the capital:
'All buildings, whether schools, hotels or private premises where armed men are stationed must be cleared and any checkpoints or barriers established since January 2011 must be permanently removed.'
All barricades are being dismantled yet Yemen’s security forces can be re-deployed at will:
'If needed, the Ministry of Interior should be provided with backup from the armed forces to protect vital locations such as hospitals and government buildings. The security belt around Sana’a should remain as it was set up prior to January 2011 with checkpoints as the military committee sees fit to protect the capital.'
Saleh was seriously wounded in June, by a bomb attack on his presidential compound, so his 'transition' came as no great surprise. Even so he still remains Yemen’s ‘honorary’ President. It appears his constant stalling -he refused to sign the Gulf deal three times- was a by now familiar tactic to buy time to shore up his regime.
Under the deal Saleh's ruling party -the Orwellian 'General People's Congress'- retains control over defence, oil and foreign affairs, whilst the 'opposition' controls 'interior', media and finance. So now the very security forces who have soaked Yemen's streets in blood are the ones Saleh’s perennial vice-president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi claims are responsible for 'handling all the reasons behind the crisis.'
Those troops are controlled by a certain Ahmed Ali Saleh and his cousins (Ali Abdullah Saleh’s nephews, if you’re following the family tree). Hadi is the political front man of the operation, Ahmed is the real muscle.
This setup translated into more killings on the streets by security forces as resistance fighters defended protesters angry at the GCC deal. Since then Saleh's troops have reportedly withdrawn from the streets of Sana'a, and any 'militia' have been told to pull out of occupied buildings before February's elections. Clashes continued in the North of the city hours before the withdrawal, illustrating the hollowness of the gesture.
It has taken the Gulf states and their western allies to keep Saleh’s show on the road. According to the Palestine Chronicle, UN security resolution 2014 ‘…adheres to no time-line or sense of urgency, only scheduling a review after 30 days. As the GCC’s initiative prolongs Saleh’s rule, so too will resolution 2014.'
Turning the tide
The massacring of civilians has ramped-up the protestor’s demands. Where before crowds called for Saleh to face prosecution for war crimes, now they chant ‘We won't rest until the slaughterer is executed!’. They reject the ‘tranistion’ plan, demanding ‘No guarantee, no immunity to Saleh and to those close to him,’ and ‘We don't want Abdrabuh [Hadi], Ali Saleh controls him.’
Yemen’s revolution can be re-constructed if its leaders (predominantly amongst the Revolutionary Youth) can tap into the sharp anger provoked by Saleh’s regime. They will also need to point to radical solutions for solving Yemen’s deep social problems. This has to go further than constitutional amendments and political re-shuffling at the top, though these can’t be ignored either. It was after all the Egyptian army’s attempt to alter the constitution to shield them from democracy that sparked the second revolution. Similarly February’s elections could provide a similar spark. Saleh’s party and the ‘opposition’ have backed Hadi as President and the candidate criteria are predictably restrictive- in a country where the average age is under 18, candidates must be over 40, although some are defying this stipulation. Critically, candidates must also get support from Yemen’s ‘Shura-parliament’ whose 111 members are picked by the President by constitutional decree.
From the streets to the workplaces
Yemen’s massive street protests fed into a series of strikes and walkouts, as well as strikes and defections in the army. On Wednesday 28 December striking workers demanded reforms and the dismissal of managers connected to Saleh. Protesters gathered outside the Military Economic Institution demanding that Hafez Mayad, the agency’s manager and one of Saleh’s most powerful and corrupt cronies, be fired. Mayad is responsible for opening fire on protesters in Sana’a. Meanwhile strikes continue at the state TV station, local police institutions in Sana’a and other military institutions.
This was part of a strike wave which began last week when workers at Yemenia Airways walked out demanding dismissal of the company’s director, Saleh’s son-in-law whose corruption has driven it into bankruptcy. The government gave in to their demands.
According to the Washington Post, ‘the strikes are following a pattern. Workers lock the gates to an institution, and then they storm the offices of their supervisors, demanding their replacement with bosses who are not tainted with corruption allegations. So far the scenario has played out in 18 state agencies.’
However it will only be through combining massive street mobilisations with more political strikes, whilst rejecting western intervention in Yemeni affairs, that Yemen’s revolution can move forwards and defeat Saleh’s brutal, corrupt and illegitimate regime.
Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner. His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.
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