The Future of Yemen

Will president Ali Abdulla Saleh leave this Friday or will Yemen become another Libya?

When Middle East historians look back on the twenty first century, they will recognize it as the century of the Arab revolution.  This political and cultural revolution will reverberate for years to come, as the youth who rose against dictatorial regimes build their nations according to their ideals of human and national rights as well as freedom of expression, speech, and religion.  As the youth driven uprisings in Tunis, Egypt, and Libya continued to create massive change in the way Arabs viewed themselves, Yemen’s long awaited revolution was brewing in the wings.  The uprisings in Bahrain and Oman along with protest movements in Kuwait suggest that even the regimes of the oil rich Gulf states may no longer be immune to the anger of their people.  Though we are not yet able to process the speed and logic of this revolutionary movement, we curiously ask: Which country will be next? Which dictator will be the next to fall?

Through telephone and Facebook communication, the head of Sanaa’s Shabab.net radio Mohammed Al-Selwi stated,  “The situation in the Arab world and the revolutionary youth movement is a wonderful creative phenomenon that I personally support and encourage.”

He describes how Yemen’s revolution came after the situation became unbearable in terms of decision makers ignoring the will of their people, especially the youth demographic which constitutes the largest majority in the Arab world. While many demonstrations were organized in Sanaa by Yemeni opposition factions, according to the New York Times, the youth revolution started as ad hoc protests partly organized via text messaging and, to a lesser extent, internet technologies.  Most likely, due to low internet penetration, word of mouth and traditional means of communication played the most important role.  Al-Selwi said “It all started with small demonstrations near the University of Sanaa in support of fellow Egyptians, but when the youth were faced with the violence of the authorities, they protested.”  Saleh’s government used tear gas and live ammunition against the peaceful demonstrators.  Since then the protests increased exponentially and reached millions in numbers in various parts of the nation last Friday.   Most recently, according to Aljazeera.net, as the death toll exceeded forty and hundreds were injured, many tribesmen and soldiers joined protesters in what came to be known as Change Square near the University of Sanaa.  In a promising move, many soldiers in Mareb handed their weapons to the tribes and joined in the protests as well.

So far the Yemeni revolution has followed a trajectory quite similar to the revolutions in Tunis and Egypt.  Every step of the way, the regime remains a few steps behind.  Throughout the past month, the demands of the revolutionaries escalated and the regime’s delayed concessions were continually rejected.  At this time, the demand of the youth is clear: President Saleh and his regime must go.  Yet, Yemen is different from Egypt and Tunis in its entrenched tribal social fabric, a historic phenomenon that values tribal kinship and alliances.  The tribes are armed and capable of protecting themselves.  Will tribal alliances protect Saleh from a certain downfall or will the situation quickly descend into a civil war?  With great faith in the people of the republic, Al-Selwi stated, “Many tribes said they will protect the youth.”

If the pattern of events in Yemen continues to follow the previous trajectories, the rising tide of the revolution will force the Yemeni president or the armed forces to make a decision on the Friday when the largest number of protests is expected. Tunis’ Ben Ali departed on Friday the 14th of January, while Mubarak resigned on Friday the 11th of February.  If last Friday’s protests are any indication, this week’s protests will escalate events to a new unprecedented level.  How soon will the breaking point come? AccordingAl-Selwi, “There is a dangerous escalation and events are accelerating quickly.  Every day, the gap keeps increasing between all the parties of this conflict, and I don’t believe there are signs of a solution to the crisis in the horizon.”

Several key events are setting the tone this week: many protesters were killed in Sanaa, Al-Jawf and Mareb, the governor of Mareb was stabbed, a police station was burned in Aden, foreign journalists were deported, and the University of Sanaa delayed the beginning of the new semester until further notice.  The official Yemeni news sources continue to operate as usual, claiming that the defecting soldiers were fired or retired and accusing the revolutionaries of vandalism.  As the ailing regime buys more time, the revolution’s power is rising, but the question remains, Will Saleh peacefully resign like Mubarak, shamefully flee like Ben Ali, or recklessly set his nation ablaze like Gaddafi?

On Friday the 18th of March, the youth of Yemen may get their answer.

SAMER AL-SABER is a PhD student at the University of Washington.  His academic work is concerned with the cultural and political history of the Middle East.  Currently, he is writing a dissertation on the cultural history of theatrical activities in Jerusalem.



More articles by:
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone