Mass demonstrations in San‘a are scheduled to begin at 10:0 am tomorrow—just ten hours from now. According to Yemeni activists on Twitter, San‘a's Tahrir Square, which is one block from the Yemeni parliament, and surrounded by other government buildings, has been occupied by "armed thugs." Accordingly, protest organizers plan to gather their followers near the university, on the other side of town, instead. Yesterday's announcement from President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih that he would neither seek reelection nor allow his son to run for the presidency seems to have been accepted by the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP)—the opposition coalition that includes Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party—but it may not satisfy the street. The internet is a poor indicator for real-world events, especially in places like Yemen, where so few people have internet access on a good day, but judging from the current buzz, I expect tomorrow's demonstrations to draw significant crowds.
Some observers have minimized earlier protests, saying that they were little more than opposition party rallies. Tomorrow will see events in several cities organized by the JMP, but I think we'll also see expressions of real popular anger, which the parties may not be able to contain. The presence of "thugs" in advance of the protests is very worrisome, especially in light of today's tragic events in Cairo. It also means that Salih and his party haven't yet decided how to handle these events. Will they offer more concessions and let the citizens blow off steam, or will they crack down? I think the answer may depend on the scale of tomorrow's demonstrations. But then again, I said in my last post that I wouldn't be making any more predictions. The best any of us can do is work for change, and hope for peace.
UPDATE: 6:30AM YEMEN TIME
The sun is rising now in San‘a, and although I'm thousands of miles away, I am extremely uneasy about the coming day. Massive demonstrations are scheduled to begin in a few hours in San‘a and in other cities. These are meant to be peaceful protests, but recent developments make peace unlikely. As I write this I'm listening to Al Jazeera's live coverage of the battle in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which in 24 hours has changed, in Al Jazeera's words, from a festival to a war zone. According to Twitter, San‘a's Tahrir Square has been preemptively occupied by pro-government forces. Security forces have allegedly lined the streets in other parts of the city.
Governments do not send soldiers into the streets to maintain peace, but to enforce their will. I've promised twice now not to make predictions, but what's happening right now in Egypt feels like the prelude to a massacre. The government, which just days ago seemed to be on the verge of collapse, is still firmly in control, and its proxy forces now occupy positions surrounding the protesters. I really hope I'm reading the situation wrong, but the constant sound of gunfire gives some credence to my theory.
Earlier today, according the website of Yemen's ruling party, US President Barack Obama called President Salih to congratulate him on his "wise decision" to offer (totally meaningless) concessions to the opposition. The US government has continuously criticized Egypt's violent crackdown on protests, but has done nothing at all to really discourage the repression. Now with the blessing of his American patron, what reason will President Salih have to restrain his own response to anti-government demonstrations?
We at the YPP want nothing more than to see the Yemeni people express their grievances in public, and to have their voices heard. I and my co-directors would give anything to be in San‘a this morning. At the same time, I am terrified for the Yemeni people. The international community, despite its harsh language, is content to stand by while Mubarak's regime in Egypt attacks its own citizens; America has not hesitated in the recent past to fund and carry out attacks on Yemeni civilians, so we can be sure that if tomorrow's protests turn violent, no one in the outside world will come to the aid of the people.
We support and praise our brothers and sisters in Yemen who are exercising their rights of expression and protest, and we strongly condemn any violent response to popular protest. We hope that the United States government, from the lowest embassy officers to Secretary Clinton and President Obama, understand that they will bear responsibility for any violence against the Yemeni people, and we urge them to do everything in their power to prevent such violence.
Finally, we encourage our friends in Yemen to share their views and their experiences with us, and with the wider world, by sending emails, writing on our discussion boards, tweeting, and texting; and we urge the Yemeni and foreign media to cover today's events responsibly, in all their complexity. We will post updates as we are able.
P.S. Yemenis without internet access can post messages to Twitter by leaving voicemails at the following international phone numbers: +16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855.