San‘a Bulletin #3

We're very pleased to be able to present another guest post from our anonymous friend in San‘a. This post gives fantastic insight into the mechanics of the youth revolution in San‘a, and the realities driving popular grievances outside the city. I look forward to addressing some of the questions it raises in my next post.

Now that the February 3rd Yemeni Popular Revolution reached its self-imposed point of no return, February 25th, not only do we begin witness the resolute commitment by organizers in Sana’a, Taiz and Aden and the growing number of ordinary Yemenis camping out in protest areas, but we also witness the negative consequences from political positioning by opposition parties and weak media coverage.

Since this past Tuesday the number of rumors seems to have grown to an almost uncontrollable number.  I have spent hours meeting with young midlevel members of the organizing committees (mainly security committee) and other reliable sources closed to the JMP and the regime in order to attempt to make sense of what we read.  Three other issues are discussed below, the struggle by the original organizing committee to retain control of the movement while facing increasing pressure from the JMP since Friday, attempts to co-opt the youth movement and anti-regime protests by the President through a group of young Yemenis who met with Saleh this past but while they might have claimed to represent the movement it remains a fact that none of them were part of the Sanaa University protest organizing committee nor has the majority of them even participated in protests prior to Friday February25th. The third issue concerns increasing reports about tribal support for protesters as well as President Saleh.

In Sana’s people still continue to blame Hafed Moa’yed (Security apparatus and Yemen Economic Corporation, former CAC Bank executive) for the large number of hooligans threatening peaceful protesters at Sana’a University until this past Tuesday night.  it was on Tuesday that we witnessed the burning of a small SUV carrying a couple of weapons (shown on a video posted on YouTube), which protesters later told me the license plates showed the vehicle belonged to Moa’yed (not his own but registered to one of his businesses). After protesters handed the driver over to police two other vehicles (taxis) were attacked on Da'iri street (between Sana’a University and CityMart super market).  The vehicles remained on the street by Thursday evening and the security committee established the security cordon next to the vehicles, protected by government security forces, marking a very tense point in the periphery secured by the protesters.  Security forces did not permit any photography of the vehicles, which protesters indicated the government wants as proof against them claiming that they are not as peaceful as organizers claim.  Protesters told me the vehicles were attacked by pro-government hooligans.

Protesters and other Yemenis close to the group also mentioned that families of the two protesters killed by pro-government hooligans were paid a small amount of money by the President (in a tribal sense) in order to prevent their funerals being taken over by protesters and parties for political purposes.  To date this has been effectively prevented.

Beginning Sunday February 20th we witnessed changes in protesters’ strategy, shifting to ensure cooperation from security forces.  The check points, outer line from central security, and up to three rows of security personnel from among protesters, saw peaceful interaction between soldiers and protesters.  Young Yemenis often shared water with soldiers around the periphery extending from two blocks away from the gate, to the intersection of Agriculture street and Justice street, and almost three blocks from the main gate toward CityMax super market. All alleyways and small street were heavily guarded by patient, and well organized members of the organizing security committee (this number of young Yemenis is about a couple of hundred who guards these points twenty-four hours a day).  Security forces were heard expressing solidarity with the youth and recognizing that the protests have directly influenced Saleh’s decision to increase their pay by 15%.

This past week people also witnessed a growing number of individuals donated thousands of dollars directly to the organizing committee, and at night, during long hours of speeches, music, dancing, poetry and comedy, organizers often announced donations, whether financial or as simple as sweets to share among committee members or some participants sitting for hours in front of the main stage set up by the Hikma al-Yemeniyya obelisk.

I was also provided further information concerning the shooting that took place after the Rabat street confrontation, widely viewed on TV here.  It is alleged that pro-government protesters attempted to set up tents on Da'iri street near the student protest periphery.  At this point tribesmen has already began to join anti-Saleh protesters, mainly from Khawlan and Hamdan (Sana’a).  Protesters approached the pro-government individuals to ask them to move from the area to avoid confrontations, at which point arguments turned into a shootout. This could have been a tipping point had any of the tribesmen been killed.

On Friday February 25th a small circle of high officials within the JMP held a meeting in Sana’a with the aim of producing a new strategy to join the anti-government protests in Sana’a and Taiz.  A reliable source present during the meeting informed me the group sees the protests as permanent, and the group believes if they remain in the outside the JMP will be excluded from what events develop in the coming weeks.  Their strategy is to join the protests from the bottom up.  They agreed to produce a number of rulings and announcements to encourage their followers to join the protests at Sana’a University.  On Saturday afternoon and evening I witnessed a growing number of Islahis participating, as well as tribal groups mobilized by Islah (in tents).  Evidence of such tactics by Islah were confirmed when the tone of speeches from the main stage began to take a more direct religious tone, in particular after a cleric took the microphone to recite from the Qur’an, each verse justifying opposition movements was followed by a very detailed and charismatic explanation, as if he recited a fatwa.  Not everyone paid much attention beyond the group sitting in front of the stage, by many did cheer the young cleric.  Some of the members of the committee next to me expressed their own opposition at such tactics and indicated this was alarming the organizing committee, who were now divided on the issue of whether to allow Islah more participation.

The divide and rule tactics are not restricted to Islah.  President Saleh, and twenty of his closest advisors (including Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar) met with around ten young Yemenis a couple of days before Friday’s protests.  People involved with this group and some who are close friends with the ten or so who attended the meeting at the Presidential Palace near Sabaeen indicated some among the group aimed to position themselves as direct representatives of protesters at Sana’a University.  Such claims have infuriated many within and outside the organizing committee, members of which have made it very clear the committee will not engage in Dialogue until Saleh steps down.  One friend, close to the group that met with Saleh, gave a very intimate account of the event, which ended with the youth having lunch with some presidential advisors after Saleh and Ali Muhsin left the meeting.  My friend said Saleh is beginning to show his concern over the situation, and also told me of how Ali Muhsin truly remains the only person to highly influence Saleh to the point that he is the only one that can interrupt him during a conversation.

I was informed that president Saleh instructed this group of young Yemenis to draft a proposal for him in order to address the main concerns young Yemenis need him to address.  People close to the organizing committee and those familiar with the meeting participants told me they are very angry at this.  The youth meeting with Saleh, male and female, are mainly from among elite families, nearly none of them have participated in protests up until this past Sunday.  None of them are from economically poor families, so how could they represent the people protesting? my friends asked. This was clearly an attempt by the president to engage the famous policies of cloning organizations in order to influence political processes. This time, it may fall flat on its face since it was announced yesterday that the Sana’s protesters will announce the names of people meeting with president Saleh in order to shame them and their families.

Reports of tribal groups joining both camps are now wide spread, although very obscure and ill informed.  At Sana’a University we see a clear tribal presence from Hamdan (Sana’a) to Khawlan and some sporadic participation from Mareb, mainly people who already reside in Sana’a.  It is important to keep in mind that such presence is itself a phenomenon, not because of tribes may be bandwaggoning as usual against the president, but most importantly because they are not primarily organized by tribal shaykhs (who are themselves being marginalized by their own people).  Money, more than physical presence, seems to be the focus of ‘tribal’ support by individuals.

Aside from Hussain al-Ahmar, most tribal shaykhs joining the protests seem to be on the side of President Saleh.  Hussain al-Ahmar, second eldest son of Hashid’s paramount Shaykh Abduallah al-Ahmar (d.2007), has been the most vocal tribal opposition element in recent days.  He has been labeled Hashid’s leader in articles from the Wall Street Journal to Yemeni sources.  All here agree he is neither a leader of Hashid nor of his own tribe.  His recent activity has more to do with his brother Hamid (third in line) and his own opposition to Saleh.  It is Hamid who leads and funds the opposition, but his hands have been tied since his dispute with Sana’a’s governor three weeks ago that involved tribes from each side, not entire tribal confederations as it was reported.

Homes of shaykhs in Sana’a are the most visible evidence of tense tribal relations and the process deterring violent confrontations. Hussain al-Ahmar’s speech this past Saturday, in front of thousands of tribesmen from Amran was indeed a clear message to the president, and it showed the reality of tribal politics.  Tribes are not loyal to anyone side in particular, their loyalty lies with he who can mobilize them, and this depends primarily on financial support. Tribal areas are suffering from a spiraling economic crisis, malnutrition and near complete neglect within the political scene.  If journalists and new analysts really want to know why tribes are found on both sides, they need to go beyond Tahrir Square and Sana’s University so they see for themselves where tribal grievances originate and why the environment is so tense. Interviewing Hamid al-Ahmar gives us an insight to political relations, but not of the forces driving tribal participation on either side.  It seems people are more interested in gaining access to power figures than reporting exactly what the masses in the north and south really want and need.

On Saturday night, the organizing committee made a huge announcement, which has not seen much reporting.  One of their members spoke for nearly have an hour and presented the group’s SIX Day Plan. They have not seen posting of the ‘manifesto’ as of today, but it was clear and well drafted.  I will try to get a copy asap.

Before Friday’s protests some young friends, not involved with the protests, mentioned that a group of female university students and other friends were thinking of starting a new group of protesters.  The aim for this new group would be to convince the organizing committee at Sana’a University to move the protests to Sabaeen area.  This idea extends from the fact that classes at Sana’a University were due to begin Sunday February 27th.  So far this attempt has failed, and should continue to fail as the organizing committee continues to face growing threats of a take over by Islahi elements.