San‘a Bulletin #2

We have received an update on the situation in San‘a and elsewhere in Yemen from the same friend we featured in an earlier guest-post. This friend would like to remain anonymous, but we can say that this person is a well-known Western scholar with a long background in Yemeni studies. We are fortunate to have a chance to share this person's observations with our audience. It should be stated, however, that the following does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the YPP. Amidst all the chaos developing this past week here in Yemen I thought it be good to have a talk with a good friend, or two, in order to catch up on events and personalities driving protests from Aden to Taiz and Sana’a.  The main reason for wanting to write this is to provide a more clear perspective on events that still remain outside media’s grasp and yet much of the information we read is based on speculation by analysts outside Yemen.

Since my last conversation with AJ, peaceful protests which were the primary tactic by youth organizing outside political institutions using Facebook and other social media, have escalated to brutal confrontations between pro-change demonstrators and pro-government thugs that cannot be called counter protesters.  Since protests in Sana’a on 3 February’s Day of Rage, which spread to areas like Dhamar where protests were led by local Islahi shaykhs, we have witnessed protests led not by political parties, but by the spontaneous initiative of a number of young students in cities like Aden, Taiz and Sana’a. Much still remains unclear as to how students organized in order to draw such large numbers as we’ve seen in Aden and Taiz.  Protests in Sana’a still remain relatively small, larger than initial gatherings in front of Sana’a University after 3 February but much smaller than the 3 February demonstration organized by the JMP.

Protests in Aden and Taiz are becoming the center of the anti-government movement for a number of reasons.  The case of Aden remains extremely unique, while it is the heart of the South it had remained beyond core activity by the Southern Movement, whose activity since 2007 focused on Abyan, al-Dhalea, Lahj, and Shebwa.  Activity in Aden instantly escalated to violent confrontations primarily because of the strategic value.  Government forces have a strong presence to safeguard the city from the Southern Movement’s sphere of influence.  This is the primary reason for why the government reacted immediately with special forces against the protesters, since it could not mobilize public support through political parties. The city has been a long standing stronghold for al-Islah and the GPC is unable to gather enough support is such short notice. Most of the protestors remain university students who were mobilized after the first death during protests this past week.

Taiz, on the other hand should not surprise observers. As it was acknowledged this week by members of al-majlis taghlef qabail mareb wa al-jawf this has been the historic center for reform movements, and while education levels are higher than other regions, unemployment among youth is extremely high.  The Tribal Council from Mareb and al-Jawf also released a statement this week apologizing for racist insults from government elements against people of Taiz, calling them ‘burghulis’ (see Mareb Press article), and this shows the importance given to the city by tribal elements.  People began to flock to the area of Tahrir (Taiz) and the Noor Mosque in the Huraysh St/Jammal Abdul Nasser St intersection (in old Safer area) during day and night.  Friends in Taiz spoke of people spending the night in the area while many women supplied them with food and water.  This Friday witnessed the largest crowd of pro-change protesters to date, while pro-government numbers remained a fraction.  Again, although the president had just visited the city to rally support for his constitutional amendments leading up to the now postponed elections, the GPC does not maintain strong popular support, so he had to react with overwhelming military presence to contain the protests.  As we see to date, it has failed and protests continue and grow in numbers by the day.  The grenade incident on Saturday 18 February definitely escalated the situation and has allowed the organizers to attract more people to protests.

In Sana’a the situation deterorates daily, the number of pro-government elements grows to counter the otherwise peaceful gatherings.  Here is where we actually see the politcs of the regime at play, and showing its uglier side.  Protests this week have escalated to direct confrontations between protesters, young and old, and pro-government ‘hooligans’ sent to the streets to intimidate activists and their followers.  Tahrir Square continues occupied by tribal elements paid by authorities to prevent pro-change protesters from entering the symbolic city center.  All pro-change protests have been contained to the area between the Old and New Sana’a University campuses.  The confrontation have been attributed to personalities such as Abd al-Rahman al-Akwa (Mayor of Sana’a), Hafed Ma’yeed and Arif Azuka (Security), who are said to be responsible for paying the hooligans confronting peaceful protestors.  This shows how the strategy to contain the protests moved beyond Saleh’s hands, and his nephiews Yahya M. Saleh (Central Security) and Amr M. Saleh (National Security), whose forces were primary during the government’s response since 3 February.  All security forces in Sana’a are a combination of Public Sesurity and Central Security elements charged with containing the area of the protests.

In Sana’a the situation also involved the first political casualty, Dr Khalid Tamim (Pres. of University of Sana’a).  There are two versions to the story.  On the one hand, young activists indicated he was fired because he failed to allow a number of buses from entering the campus to transport students to a meeting with President Saleh.  The student association in Sana’s in associated with al-Islah party, but the relationship with Tamim was not contentious to the point were he would have obstructed their access to President Saleh.  The other version says that miscommunication between Tamim and the presidnet’s office led to Tamim’s suspicion certain elements in the regime planned to arrest the students under the pretense of a meeting with Saleh.  Some believe that based on a lack of communication or mistrust of sources informing him of the meeting, ie. Azuka, al-Akwa or Ma’yed, Tamim aimed to protect the students.  Either way the president thought he needed to be removed and replaced by Saleh Ba’Sadrah (Hadhramawt).  While Tamim’s removal was known by Wednesday afternoon, no official media source made it public, even two days after Mareb Press reported on the changes.

The political situation within the regime may develop along the lines of family and in-laws.  Before the protests began in Aden and Taiz with the current numbers, it was said that Saleh would begin a reshuffle that would have alianeted some of his in-laws within the government.  The family, controlling the military and economy, would not see much reshuffle, but the many in-laws within families like Arhabi, Akwa and others would have lost some posts, giving way to Islahis and Socialists as reward for engaging Dialogue.  It seems these in-laws either really want to hang on to their posts by making huge mistakes in trying to show Saleh he still needs them, or the in-laws are trying to make him and the family look worse in order to increase opposition and create chaos within the regime.  If he does not step in immediately and stop the hooligans, I doubt the tribesmen in Tahrir will be able to deter a violent revolution that as people here begin to say, will lead to a civil war.