The Life March - a recollection

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the Life March, one of the biggest actions of the 2011 revolution. On December 20 of 2011, hundreds of revolutionaries left Freedom Square in Ta‘iz and marched north through several governorates. They ended their march--having picked up reinforcements along the way--in San‘a's Change Square, where they were received as heroes. Before that, however, the marchers lost a number of martyrs to Yemeni security forces. To commemorate this inspiring act of protest, we are very happy to be able to publish a short book, written by Dr. Olfat Addoba'ee, a young academic and activist from Ta‘iz. Dana Moss and I met Dr. Olfat, along with dozens of other Ta‘izi revolutionaries, in Freedom Square in June. It is with our deepest appreciation for her dedication to Yemen and for her friendship that we share her memoirs with our readers here.


Will the GCC deal destroy itself, or can a real transition be salvaged?

I was asked last week to write an op-ed about Yemen's upcoming presidential "election" for a German magazine. Because most of our readers don't read German (myself included), I'm publishing the English version of my article here, and the German version is available at Zenith Magazine Online. I expect many readers to disagree with parts of this piece, or think that I'm oversimplifying things. I think there's a lot about these issues that needs to be discussed, so please comment if you feel so inclined. In particular, I expect some readers to take issue with the last section, where I lay out a very simplistic prescription for a very complicated problem. I'm aware that these things are easier said than done, but the problem at hand is an existential one and must be confronted, regardless of how hard this solution might be to implement.

On February 21, Yemen will hold a presidential election that will defy almost every notion of what an election should be. Contrary to Yemeni law, the “election” will feature only one candidate, whose victory has been decided ahead of time; but even if the election’s result is certain, its effects are difficult to predict.

The voting process in question—“referendum” is a more accurate description than “election,” but both words are far too suggestive of democracy for this occasion—has been mandated not by the Yemeni constitution, nor by popular demand, but by an agreement signed by the heads of Yemen’s largest political parties and written by representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), hardly experts in the science of representative government. The GCC initiative, which was heavily sponsored by the United States and brokered in part by the United Nations, was foisted upon Yemen as an ostensible solution to what the GCC liked to call Yemen’s “political crisis,” the year-long popular revolution against the regime of President ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh. In actual fact, the deal could fail to meet any the revolution’s demands, while giving Saleh everything he could ask for.

Vice President ‘Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi—who has served Saleh since 1994 and has no real power base of his own—has been “nominated” by both Saleh’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC) and the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), and will run unopposed (a few independent revolutionaries have declared their intentions to run, but none has been certified by parliament). With no opponent, Hadi is guaranteed victory. But other than a promotion for Hadi, it’s not clear what, if anything, the election will achieve.

The GCC initiative was drafted in late May after a series of negotiations that began in March, when a number of prominent political and military figures broke away from the regime in response to the March 18 massacre of over 50 protesters in Sanʻa. By the time Saleh signed the deal in late November, his forces had killed hundreds more and pushed the country to the verge of all-out civil war. Since the signing, incidents of large-scale violence have decreased, but otherwise not much has changed.

The unity government formed in December (another creation of the GCC deal) has thus far failed to achieve its most pressing objective, the demilitarization of Yemen’s cities and the restructuring of Yemen’s divided military. Saleh’s close relatives still command much of the armed forces and other coercive apparatuses. In fact, a great deal of Saleh’s regime remains intact. ‘Ali Saleh himself is currently vacationing in New York, and has said more than once that he plans to return to Yemen before February 21 to “participate” in Hadi’s big day. His exact plans for the near future are unclear, but neither the GCC deal nor the facts on the ground would prevent him from meddling in the political arena once the letter of the agreement has been carried out, especially since Yemen’s parliament has already passed a law granting Saleh and his henchmen full immunity from legal action (another stipulation of the deal).

Plenty of intelligent and well-meaning observers have argued in favor of both the immunity provision and the one-candidate election. Full immunity, they argue, was necessary to induce Saleh to sign the agreement and step down. In reality, however, the immunity provision has been counterproductive. It has alienated several revolutionary factions from the political process, prompting the so-called Huthi movement and much of the Southern Movement to announce boycotts of the coming election. It has deprived the new government of an avenue by which it could have removed regime officials from power and recovered purloined state revenues. Most important, though, is the lesson the provision teaches Saleh (not to mention Bashar al-Assad, Hamad al-Khalifah, et al.): that in the eyes of the world, ten months of brutality is no worse than four; that the reward for intransigence is leniency. The GCC deal handed Saleh a victory over his opponents he could never have won by force of arms; with that victory under his belt, and his loyal sons, nephews, and brothers still firmly ensconced in positions of power, what does it matter who bears the title of president?

The GCC initiative contains several provisions that are well thought-out and have the potential to be extremely beneficial. In fact, much of the initiative mirrors the original demands of Yemen’s revolutionary youth: the formation of a Conference of National Dialogue that includes all factions and parties, the drafting of a new constitution and a popular referendum to approve it, a sweeping process of political, judicial, educational, and economic reform to address the basic grievances of the people. But in order for any of those plans to come to fruition, two things must happen first. Before any other progress can be made, the entire Saleh family must be removed from power. With half of the military and huge tranches of the economy in their hands, any other reforms will be superficial. Second, the leaders of the transition and their foreign backers must convince all of the major revolutionary factions to buy in to the transitional process. By granting Saleh and his associates immunity from legal action and failing to place any other restraints on their behavior, the GCC agreement renders impossible the first of these. By forcing a farcical election on the country, it seriously hinders the second.

The international community’s mistakes can still be remedied, however, if the Yemeni transitional authorities are willing to take immediate, decisive action. President-elect Hadi should draft, with the approval of the unity government, a mechanism that would forbid ‘Ali Saleh from having any involvement in politics, and ban all of his immediate family members from military and political positions as well. This won’t be easy to accomplish, but one way or another it must be done if there is to be a meaningful transition. If the governments of the GCC and their friends in the west are at all serious about helping Yemen move forward, they must encourage Hadi in taking this step, and support the decision in any way possible. Once the complete removal of Saleh and his kinsmen is achieved, Hadi and the unity government must immediately assemble the Conference of National Dialogue and constitutional commission. The longer it takes the government to implement this phase of the GCC initiative, the more alienated the revolutionary factions will become, and the less likely groups like the Huthis and the Southern Movement will be to participate in Yemen’s transitional institutions.

If Hadi can summon the will to take decisive action now, Yemen may yet make the most of the deeply flawed transition plan. If not, come February 22, Hadi may find himself a president without a country.

Implementation Mechanism of the GCC Agreement

Although the GCC agreement was signed in Riyadh almost three months ago, most people have never seen a full text of the document, or of the implementation mechanism that was signed with it. Newspapers have only published quotations or summaries. Thanks to our friend in San`a, Abdulaziz al-Sakkaf, we're able to finally publish here the official English translation of the Implementation Mechanism. I plan to provide some commentary on this at some point, but for now, the document is here for all to read. Translated from Arabic

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Agreement on the implementation mechanism for the transition process in Yemen in accordance with the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)


Part I. Introduction

Part II. The transition period

Part III. First phase of the transition

Part IV. Second phase of the transfer of power

Part V . Settlement of disputes

Part VI. Concluding provisions

Annex: Draft Presidential Decree

Part I. Introduction

1. The two parties recognize that

(a) As a result of the deadlock in the political transition, the political, economic, humanitarian and security situation has deteriorated with increasing rapidity and the Yemeni people have suffered great hardship;

(b) Our people, including youth, have legitimate aspirations for change; and

(c) This situation requires that all political leaders should fulfil their responsibilities towards the people by immediately engaging in a clear process for transition to good democratic governance in Yemen.

2. The two parties deeply appreciate the efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its Secretary-General, the United Nations Secretary General acting through his Special Adviser, the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the Security Council, and those of the GCC and the European Union, to support an agreement on the peaceful transfer of power. The two parties adopt this Mechanism on the basis of the GCC initiative and fully in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 2014 (2011).

3. The following definitions shall apply in relation to this Agreement:

(a) The term "GCC Initiative" refers to the GCC initiative to resolve the Yemeni crisis in the draft of 21 and 22 May 2011;

(b) The term "the Mechanism" refers to this Agreement on the implementation mechanism for the transition process in Yemen in accordance with the GCC Initiative;

(c) The term "the two parties" refers to the National Coalition (General People’s Congress and its allies) as one party, and the National Council (Joint Meeting Parties their partners) as the other.

4. The GCC Initiative and the Mechanism shall supersede any current constitutional or legal arrangements. They may not be challenged before the institutions of the State.

Part II. The transition period

5. The two parties acknowledge that under Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011, the President of Yemen irrevocably delegated to the Vice-President the presidential powers to negotiate, sign and bring into force this Mechanism, along with all constitutional powers pertaining to its implementation and follow-up. Those powers include calling for early elections and taking all of the decisions necessary to form a government of national unity, including swearing in its members, as well as establishing the other bodies set forth in this Mechanism.

6. The transition period shall enter into effect as follows:

(a) In accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 2014 (2011), which notes the commitment by the President of Yemen to immediately sign the GCC Initiative and encourages him, or those authorized to act on his behalf, to do so, and to implement a political settlement based upon it, and in accordance with Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011, the President or the Vice-President acting on his behalf shall sign the GCC Initiative concurrently with the signature of this Mechanism by the two parties.

(b) Concurrently with the signing of this Mechanism, and acting under the powers delegated by the President in Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011, the Vice-President shall issue a decree providing for early presidential elections to be held within 90 days of the entry into force of this Mechanism. In accordance with the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the decree shall enter into force 60 days before the elections. The draft text of the Decree is annexed to this Mechanism (Annex 1).

(c) This Mechanism shall enter into force when the President or Vice-President has signed the GCC Initiative, all parties have signed this Mechanism in accordance with this paragraph, and the decree referred to in subparagraph (b) above has been issued.

7. The transition period shall begin with the entry into force of this Mechanism. The transition period shall then consist of two phases:

(a) The first phase shall begin with the entry into force of this Mechanism and end with the inauguration of the President following the early presidential elections;

(b) The second phase, which shall last for two years, shall begin with the inauguration of the President following the early presidential elections. It shall end with the holding of general elections in accordance with the new Constitution and the inauguration of the new President of the Republic.

8. During the first and second stages of the transition, decisions of Parliament shall be taken by consensus. If consensus on any given topic cannot be reached, the Speaker of Parliament shall refer the matter for decision by the Vice-President in the first phase, or the President in the second phase. That decision shall be binding for the two parties.

9. The two parties shall take the necessary steps to ensure that Parliament adopts the legislation and other laws necessary for the full implementation of commitments in respect of the guarantees set forth in the GCC Initiative and this Mechanism.

Part III. First phase of the transitional period

Formation of the government of national unity

10. Immediately on entry into force of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism, the opposition shall nominate its candidate for the post of Prime Minister. The Vice-President shall issue a presidential decree requesting that person to form a government of national unity. The government of national unity shall be formed within 14 days of the issuance of the decree. A republican decree shall be issued to that effect and signed by the Vice-President and Prime Minister;

(a) Each party shall account for 50 per cent of nominees for the government of national unity, and due consideration shall be given to the representation of women. With regard to the distribution of portfolios, one of the two parties shall prepare two lists of ministries and transmit them to the other party, which shall have the right to choose one of the lists.

(b) The Prime Minister-designate shall appoint the members of the government as proposed by the two parties. The Vice-President shall then issue a decree setting forth the agreed names of the cabinet members. Nominees shall have a high standard of accountability and commitment to human rights and international humanitarian law.

11. The members of the government shall take the constitutional oath before the Vice-President. Within ten days, the government of national unity shall submit its programme to Parliament for a vote of confidence within five days.

Functioning of the government of national unity

12. The government of national unity shall take its decisions by consensus. If there is no full consensus on any given matter, the Prime Minister shall consult with the Vice-President or, after the early presidential elections, the President, in order to reach consensus. If consensus between them is not possible, the Vice-President or, after the early presidential elections, the President, shall take the final decision.

13. Immediately after its formation, the government of national unity shall

(a) Take the necessary steps, in consultation with the other relevant actors, to ensure the cessation of all forms of violence and violations of humanitarian law; end the confrontation of armed forces, armed formations, militias and other armed groups; ensure their return to barracks; ensure freedom of movement for all through the country; protect civilians; and take the other necessary measures to achieve peace and security and extend State control;

(b) Facilitate and secure humanitarian access and delivery wherever it is needed;

(c) Issue appropriate legal and administrative instructions for all branches of the State sector to comply immediately with standards of good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights;

(d) Issue specific legal and administrative instructions to the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the police, prisons and security forces to act in accordance with the law and international standards, and to release those unlawfully detained;

(e) The government of national unity shall comply with all resolutions of the Security Council and Human Rights Council and with the relevant international norms and conventions.

Powers of the Vice-President and government of national unity

14. In implementing this Mechanism, the Vice-President shall exercise the following constitutional powers, in addition to those appertaining to his office:

(1) Convening early presidential elections; (2) Exercising all functions of the President in respect of Parliament; (3) Announcing the formation of, and swearing in, the government of national unity in the first phase; (4) All functions relating to the work of the Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability; (5) Managing foreign affairs to the extent necessary for the implementation of this Mechanism; (6) Issuing the decrees necessary for the implementation of this Mechanism.

15. In the first phase, the Vice-President and government of national unity shall exercise executive authority encompassing all matters pertaining to this Agreement, including the following, acting in conjunction with Parliament where appropriate:

(a) Formulating and implementing an initial programme of economic stabilization and development and addressing the immediate needs of the population in all regions of Yemen;

(b) Coordinating relations with development donors;

(c) Ensuring that governmental functions, including local government, are fulfilled in an orderly manner in accordance with the principles of good governance, rule of law, human rights, transparency and accountability;

(d) Approving an interim budget, supervising the administration of all aspects of State finance and ensuring full transparency and accountability;

(e) Taking the necessary legislative and administrative steps to ensure that presidential elections are held within 90 days of the entry into force of this Mechanism;

(f) Establishing the following institutions as provided for by this Mechanism:

(1) Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability;

(2) Conference for National Dialogue.

(g) The government of national unity and the Vice-President shall immediately establish a liaison committee to engage effectively with youth movements from all parties in the squares and elsewhere in Yemen, to disseminate and explain the terms of this Agreement; initiate an open conversation about the future of the country, which will be continued through the comprehensive Conference for National Dialogue; and involve youth in determining the future of political life.

Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability

16. Within five days of the entry into force of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism, the Vice- President in the first transitional phase shall establish and chair a Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability. The Committee shall work to

(a) End the division in the armed forces and address its causes;

(b) End all of the armed conflicts;

(c) Ensure that the armed forces and other armed formations return to their camps; end all armed presence in the capital Sana'a and other the cities; and remove militias and irregular armed groups from the capital and other cities;

(d) Remove road blocks, checkpoints and improvised fortifications in all governorates;

(e) Rehabilitate those who do not meet the conditions for service in the military and security forces;

(f) Take any other measures to reduce the risk of armed confrontation in Yemen.

17. During the two transitional phases, the Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability shall also work to create the necessary conditions and take the necessary steps to integrate the armed forces under unified, national and professional leadership in the context of the rule of law.

Early presidential elections

18.(*) The early presidential elections shall be held in accordance with the following provisions:

(*) Translator's note: this paragraph is mis-numbered 20 in the original Arabic text.

(a) The elections shall take place within 90 days of the signature of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism;

(b) The early elections for the post of President shall be organized and supervised by the Higher Commission for Elections and Referendums using the current register of voters on an exceptional basis. Any citizen, male or female, who has attained the legal age for voting and can establish as much on the basis of an official document such as a birth certificate or national identity card, shall have the right to vote on the basis of that document;

(c) The sides commit not to nominate or endorse any candidate for the early presidential elections except for the consensus candidate Vice-President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi;

(d) The Secretary-General of the United Nations is requested to provide and coordinate electoral assistance to help ensure the orderly and timely holding of elections.

Part IV. Second phase of the transfer of power

Functions and powers of the President and government of national unity

19.(†) After the early Presidential elections, the newly elected President and the Government of national unity shall exercise all of their customary functions as set forth in the Constitution. In addition, they shall exercise the powers necessary to continue the tasks specified for the implementation of the first phase, and additional tasks specified for the second phase of the transfer of power. The latter include

(†) Translator's note: this paragraph is mis-numbered 21 in the original Arabic text.

(a) Ensuring that the Conference for National Dialogue is convened, and forming a preparatory committee for the Conference, as well as an Interpretation Committee and other bodies established pursuant to this Mechanism;

(b) Establishing a process of constitutional reform that will address the structure of the State and the political system, and submitting the amended Constitution to the Yemeni people in a referendum;

(c) Reforming the electoral system; and

(d) Holding elections for Parliament and the Presidency in accordance with the new Constitution.

Conference for National Dialogue

20.(‡) With the beginning of the second transitional phase, the President-elect and the government of national unity shall convene a comprehensive Conference for National Dialogue for all forces and political actors, including youth, the Southern Movement, the Houthis, other political parties, civil society representatives and women. Women must be represented in all participating groups.

(‡) Translator's note: this paragraph is mis-numbered 18 in the original Arabic text.

21.(§)The Conference shall discuss the following issues:

(§) Translator's note: this paragraph is mis-numbered 19 in the original Arabic text.

(a) The process of drafting the Constitution, including the establishment of a Constitutional Drafting Commission and its membership;

(b) Constitutional reform, addressing the structure of the State and political system, and submitting constitutional amendments to the Yemeni people through a referendum;

(c) The dialogue shall address the issue of the South in a manner conducive to a just national solution that preserves the unity, stability and security of Yemen.

(d) Examination of the various issues with a national dimension, including the causes of tension in Saada;

(e) Taking steps towards building a comprehensive democratic system, including reform of the civil service, the judiciary and local governance;

(f) Taking steps aimed at achieving national reconciliation and transitional justice, and measures to ensure that violations of human rights and humanitarian law do not occur in future;

(g) The adoption of legal and other means to strengthen the protection and rights of vulnerable groups, including children, as well as the advancement of women;

(h) Contributing to determining the priorities of programmes for reconstruction and sustainable economic development in order to create job opportunities and better economic, social and cultural services for all.

Constitutional Commission

22. The government of national unity shall establish a Constitutional Commission immediately on the conclusion of the work of the Conference of National Dialogue within six months. The Commission shall prepare a new draft constitution within three months of the date of its establishment. It shall propose the necessary steps for the draft constitution to be discussed and submitted for referendum in order to ensure broad popular participation and transparency.

Organization of elections under the new Constitution

23. Within three months of the adoption of the new Constitution, Parliament shall enact a law convening national parliamentary elections and, if provided for by the Constitution, presidential elections. The Higher Commission for Elections and Referendums shall be reconstituted and the new register of voters re-compiled in accordance with the new Constitution. That law will be subject to subsequent review by the newly elected Parliament.

24. The term of the President elected under paragraph 7 of this Mechanism shall end upon the inauguration of the President elected under the new Constitution.

Part V. Settlement of disputes

25. Within 15 days of the entry into force of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism, the Vice- President and the Prime Minister of the government of national unity shall form an Interpretation Committee to which the two parties shall refer in order to resolve any dispute regarding the interpretation of the GCC Initiative or the Mechanism.

Part VI. Concluding provisions

26. Women shall appropriately represented in all of the institutions referred to in this Mechanism.

27. The Government shall provide adequate funding for the institutions and activities established by this Mechanism.

28. In order to ensure the effective implementation of this Mechanism, the two parties call on the States members of the GCC and the United Nations Security Council to support its implementation. They further call on the States members of the GCC, the permanent members of the Security Council, the European Union and its States members to support the implementation of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism.

29. The Secretary-General of the United Nations is called upon to provide continuous assistance, in cooperation with other agencies, for the implementation of this Agreement. He is also requested to coordinate assistance from the international community for the implementation of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism.

30. The following are invited to attend the signature of this Mechanism: the Secretary-General of the GCC and the Secretary-General of the United Nations or their representatives, as well as the representatives of the States members of the GCC, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and the League of Arab States.

(Signatures and dates)


Exercising(**) the authority conferred on me by the President under Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011, I hereby solemnly convene elections for the office of President of the Republic to be held on 00/00/2012. This Decree is deemed to be in force from today, and the convening of elections contained therein is irrevocable. The convening of elections shall take effect in accordance with the provisions of the Mechanism, without any need for any further steps, sixty days before the holding of elections as set forth in the Mechanism.

** Translator's note: On the basis of the unofficial English translation, the following may be missing from the Arabic text:

" Annex: Decree issued by the Vice-President concurrently with the signature of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism.

The Vice-President of the Republic, acting under to the authority conferred on him by the President under Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011."

This decree shall be published in the Official Gazette.

He what?

We're honored once again to offer our readers a guest-post by University of Exeter PhD candidate and renowned Yemen-watcher Fernando Carvajal. I should probably stop calling them "guest-posts," though, since Fernando is responsible for more of our recent content than we are. This one offers some much-needed insight into the behind-the-scenes politics of the formation of the new unity government and the immediate future of Yemen after the signing of the infamous GCC agreement. Fernando prefaces his post with a phrase familiar to American readers: "Sic semper tyrannis"

So far this has been one of those intense weeks for Yemenis and our group of observers.  Events began to develop on Saturday November 19th with news that UN Special Envoy Jamal Ben Omar would cancel a planned trip to Riyadh with Opposition leaders and representatives from president Saleh’s government, and instead would remain in Sana’a until the final deal would lead to agreement on the GCC Initiative introduced in April.  Ben Omar pressed both sides for a final agreement as the 30 day deadline imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 2014 approached. This deadline would require Ben Omar to produce a report on the situation, which would not paint a favorable picture for President Saleh, who already began to feel the heat from calls to freeze his assets outside Yemen and impose sanctions on his relatives and government officials by activists like Tawakkol Karman and others online.  Such efforts against Saleh gained the ear of French officials who made their opinion public and threatened to act on sanctions if the stalemate and killings continued in Yemen.

As I left Yemen on Monday November 21st it looked like I would miss another historic event this year, even though my Yemeni friends remained pessimistic about the president’s intentions.  On Wednesday, as I waited for my flight from London to Los Angeles I began to read the news that President Saleh had signed the GCC initiative in Riyadh, which was then followed by a series of signatures elsewhere of the documents containing amendments and additions to the initiative as agreed by the Joint Meeting Parties and government officials like FM Abu Bakr al-Qirbi and Dr Abd al-Kareem al-Iryani.   As people in Sana’a informed me before my departure, two points were essential to ensuring signatures on both sides. First was the issue over immunity. Many people still think this only concerns President Saleh and his relatives, but indeed the deal includes immunity for about 16 major personalities directly involved in the conflict since February in areas like Aden, Arhab, Sana’a and Taiz.  All individuals involved in violent clashes with official posts are covered by the immunity deal, even so-called defectors who curiously enough have remained on official government payrolls since March 20th.

Second, the Southern question had been a vital issue to address before any deal could be agreed. This was Dr. Yasin Saeed No’man’s main agenda.  Dr. No’man, head of the Yemen Socialist Party, has remained the primary face of the Southern issue since the failed National Dialogue process. Al-Harak, or Southern Movement, has been unable to become a legitimate representative of the South within political negotiations as an ‘unconstitutional’ entity.  This leaves Dr. No’man with the burden to carry on under pressure from the population in the South and obstacles created by ‘leaders’ in exile.  Dr. No’man, and his junior political allies within the JMP, had to press for the issue to be included in the agreement in order for it to remain in the agenda for the Dialogue process leading to the interim government. The issue had to be recognized within the agreement in order to marginalize any communiqué produced during the two day meeting of southern leaders in Cairo between November 21 and 22.  Fortunately for Dr. No’man the meeting in Cairo was a fiasco. Only a few activists attended the meeting and the few opted to continue supporting secession, moving away from loud voices supporting negotiations on the establishment of a Federal Republic, whose political entities are still debated inside and outside Yemen.  The matter remains highly volatile but at least the Southern question has not been completely ignored as the Houthi issue, which remains completely outside the political process today.

Finally, today we began to hear news of Mr. Mohammed BaSundwa as the most probable candidate from the JMP for the post of interim Prime Minister for the 90 day period under the GCC Initiative.  The Twitter-sphere also began to transmit opinions of many at Change Square who claimed BaSundwa was not the ideal candidate but would be acceptable, we assume this is the case for JMP youth, not independents who continue rejecting the legitimacy of the GCC deal.  I was told last weekend that the other two candidates would be Dr. Yasin No’man and Abd al-Wahhab al-Anesi of al-Islah.  The former would be the ideal candidate but Dr. No’man failed to accept President Saleh’s offer after 22 May 2010 and he would lose further credibility in the South by merely participating in the interim government.  People have hopes for No’man as a Prime Minister after the elections, not merely within the 90 day transition period.  Mr. al-Anesi would be problematic as a candidate since he is the head of al-Islah party, blamed for hijacking the youth revolution, and representing the old guard within the party with a more conservative image.  His candidacy would also represent Islah’s hegemony over the JMP and would raise red flags for the US and UK governments at a time when Islamist parties begin their ascent through the Arab Spring in North Africa.

As for Mr. BaSundwa, a former UN Ambassador and Foreign Minister under president Saleh, his candidacy appears the most appropriate for the interim period.  I spent my Fridays during Ramadan this year with him and a group of opposition personalities in Sana’a, where I had the opportunity to gain further insight into the complexities faced by the National Transition Council.  It was also a great opportunity for me to understand some of the personalities involved.  My most memorable exchange with Mr. BaSundwa and company was when I complained to the group about the Council’s holiday announcement. I was a bit harsh, in a diplomatic way, when I expressed my disgust of the idea that politicians could go on Eid holiday in the middle of a ‘revolution’ while youth remained at Change Square and Freedom Square away from their own families. Many agreed with me but at the end they said ‘this is Yemen’.  Mr. BaSundwa impressed me with his understanding of the crisis and international actors, but I have to say that we must keep our expectations low during his brief term in office.  His role will be to maintain the parties engaged, as he did during the National Dialogue process.  We must also keep in mind that his presence will not be well received by President Saleh, who still holds BaSundwa responsible for the direct attacks on him produced by the final communiqué from the Central Committee of the National Dialogue.  Saleh also opposed BaSundwa’s presence during the signing of the GCC Initiative in May.  We must also keep in mind that the interim government, if it includes BaSundwa, will actually be an ‘all Southern government’. Both VP al-Hadi and BaSundwa are southerners, and if we look at the overwhelming majority of Deputy Ministers they too are Southerners. We need to see who will be the new Vice President and how many Deputy Ministers are changed after the 90 day transition period.  I guess Hamid al-Ahmar will get his wish.

Some analysts in Sana’a also point to BaSundwa’s relations with Hamid al-Ahmar as a major point of friction between him and President Saleh.  After all these negative points against BaSundwa one may wonder why him?   We must keep in mind the process engaged in ending the nearly ten month long stalemate merely included regime actors, not the youth or groups beyond existing political parties.  Choices are few from within the political elite.  Many of us will agree this has been a direct negative consequence of the many opportunities missed by the independent youth to organize themselves and become active participants rather than marginalized and co-opted numbers contained by Firqa and al-Islah.  The major theme over the past ten months in Yemen has been the absence of viable alternatives.  None have surfaced, even from among the defectors, like Muhammad Abu Lahum of the Justice & Building Bloc or from within the newly announced Democratic Awakening Movement.  No individual or group has been able to challenge the JMP leadership, yes, not even Tawakkol Karman.  The lack of viable alternatives leaves the elite to negotiate among themselves and to proceed along expected political lines without any plans to change the status quo.

We must keep in mind that no political actor, not Abu Lahum or the Democratic Awakening, have produced any vision for progress following the transition process.  It is a shame that after ten months neither the government nor groups of activists have a program for constitutional reform, economic recovery or national reconciliation.  We are now in the days after the signature and since March all I hear is ‘the plan will come out after the signature, it will be ready’.  Well, where is it? As a foreigner I understand that my role should be limited to that of an observer, but after spending so much time with activists and government officials I cannot avoid asking such questions. I truly hope that some vision is announced within hours, otherwise the youth will find themselves having thrown away ten months of their lives for nothing.  Occupation of streets in Sana’a or Ta‘iz will mean nothing without a vision of what the ‘post-Saleh period’ should look like.

Saleh's return

Fernando Carvajal, PhD candidate at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. The author has visited Yemen for over eleven years and witnessed the initial five months of the popular uprising in Sana’a. His most recent visit to Yemen was during the past month of August. I am one of those who hates blurb and sound-bite articles so as soon as I heard the news of Saleh’s return this past Friday morning I decided to sit and write about conversations I had in Sana’a during Ramadan.  Everyone I met with from the ruling party assured me the president would return and that even though some in the Saudi ruling family preferred him not to, Saleh would return, as long as his health permitted.  The original version of this piece was written before I had a chance to catch up with news of the clashes and dozens of deaths. This is an updated version based on information from Sana’a and my own analysis.  The article changed direction from the idea of ‘Saleh’s major opportunity to rescue any legitimacy he had remaining’ to ‘the major opportunity he failed to capitalize on’.  Much still remains unclear about the events of September 23rd, but we can be assured that even with the support of Saudi Arabia, the US and UK, he is now the one with his back against the wall instead of the opposition elements. It’s a bit long, but this was the plan agreed by members of the GPC to address the crisis.

As Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh abruptly returned to Sana’a under the cover of dawn on “the Friday of Confidence in God’s Victory” protesters and outside observers brace for prophetic escalation into civil war.  The immediate reaction from Yemenis at the protests sites and observers outside the country was one of surprise to Saleh’s apparent ‘defiance’ of the US and UK stance and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s brokered plan for peaceful transition of power.  A second reaction raised prospects once again of a devastating civil war as consequence of Saleh’s expected revenge against the opposition for the June 3rd attack inside the Presidential Palace.  Saleh’s close advisors and members of the ruling party dismiss such views back in August and for a month spoke of a deal that would work to de-escalate the crisis and present a more realistic plan for the peaceful transition of power from Saleh to his Vice President, Abdo Rabo al-Hadi.  Essentially, Saleh’s last opportunity to prove he is able to be part of the solution.  The events of September 23rd shocked everyone, even those    predicting  Saleh’s savage revenge, which seemed to be released upon unarmed protesters at the perimeter and center of Change Square in Sana’a.

Most important to president Saleh’s return to Sana’a has been his health.  After spending nearly “112 days” convalescing in Riyadh, as Mohammed al-Basha of the Yemeni Embassy in Washington DC indicated, Saleh’s return indicates his health is in good condition.  His spokesman in Sana’a, Abdo al-Janadi, had often reported on Saleh’s imminent return since late July, as if teasing people each week.  Another sign of why his return indicates Saleh is now in good health is the lessons learned over past two months as his close allies injured along with him began returning to Yemen.  One such official was mentioned during my last visit to Sana’a in August, who upon his return from Riyadh in early Ramadan passed away as result of complications from his burns and the poor medical care available in Sana’a.  No doubt Saleh arrived with what should be substantial medical assistance.

While most people in opposition to Saleh and many observers in the West began writing Saleh’s political obituary following the attempted assassination, his relatives, along with political and tribal allies have worked for nearly four months to hold the fort until his return. As many have speculated, the timing of his return is no coincidence, as the crisis once again escalated following deadly clashes on Sunday September 18 leaving over 60 peaceful protesters dead in Sana’a. We can deduce from his unannounced arrival that President Saleh perceived this to be the right time to re-engage the opposition in dialogue to prevent further escalation and show regional and international allies he indeed represented the only solution to the crisis.  His return followed a private meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on September 19 and renewed efforts to implement existing transition plans brokered by the US, UK and the GCC.  Until the morning of his return we knew this was completely rejected by independent youth protesting in Sana’a, Taiz and the port of Aden, and further complicated the opposition’s efforts to negotiate a transition directly with the Vice President.

Most observers and opposition personalities now see no solution to the crisis beyond a protracted and devastating civil war as result of the savagery this past Friday.  Yet members of the ruling party continue to see things different and the membership remains confident President Saleh’s own initiative from August still provides the best way forward.  This is evident by the lack of defections from Saleh’s camp following the clashes this past Friday.  I can only assume that the plan drafted under the umbrella of a committee established by Saleh in late July to address amendments to the GCC Initiative introduced in April remains en force.  The ruling party assumes that even after the violence of the past week the president holds enough political capital to force the opposition to sit at the negotiating table.  The committee stands firm with the arguments they original resented against the transfer of power to the Vice President as unconstitutional, and second, arguing the provisions in the GCC Initiative to hold presidential elections within 90 days after Saleh stepped down remain unrealistic. The latter view gained unsolicited support from a report produced by IFES on June 7th, titled transitions in Yemen: An Overview of Constitutional and Electoral Provisions, where it argued much had to be done before any legitimate elections could be held in Yemen.  The committee agreed to a number of changes to the GCC plan under the guidance of President Saleh.

While Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, head of the 1st Armored Division, strongly condemned the acts of September 23rd and blamed Saleh for the savagery against unarmed civilians, the ruling party believes the opposition is has more to lose and will still be forced to accept negotiations along with the Joint Meeting Party (JMP) and tribal leaders and allies of the al-Ahmar family.  It is understood that the independent youth will never accept anything short of a full transfer of power beyond the hands of the president and his relatives, which has been the case from day one.  Yet, the more ‘realistic’ plan to be offered to the opposition, and diplomatic actors, was drafted to include seven steps: 1) an initial plan for de-escalation; 2) following the ceasefire we could expect direct dialogue; 3) an extensive agreement for de-militarization of the Capital; 4) the formation of a military council to oversee de-militarization and address the security vacuum; 5) a committee to pave the way for Parliamentary elections in six to eight months; 6) the new Parliament would address reforms and presidential elections would still be held in September 2013, and 7) President Saleh would delegate most of his authority to the Vice President until 2013.

None of this could actually move forward of course until the president announces a comprehensive amnesty retroactive to February, and seeing that Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahmar signaled a willingness to negotiate on Saturday September 25th we assume there is no talk of amnesty for the president.  In order to de-escalate the crisis it is understood the youth would have to abandon their positions across the country, now made even more difficult following the events of this past week. The opposition will not be able to guarantee demobilization on its own and if Saleh is to be taken seriously as the only ‘light of hope’ it cannot be achieved by force, as it is rumored to occur in the coming days.  Persons within the government and the ruling party mentioned in August that the amnesty would be a guarantee for all youth participating in protests across the country and that no one would be arrested or prosecuted.  No one mentioned the mechanisms guaranteeing such safety, and I am sure the youth and activists would live under constant fear of random arrests.  Without a legitimate body to serve as guarantor and capable of investigating violations of the amnesty the youth would not receive this as a credible offer.

President Saleh’s plan has plenty of support among ruling party members and allies, who also believe the GCC plan is completely unrealistic.  The ten main points contained in the GCC plan, from elections in 90 days to a new constitution before parliamentary elections, would be unachievable under a working government, never mind under a fractured coalition where the opposition has not presented to the people of Yemen or international mediators the ability to manage such transition.  Prior to leaving Riyadh President Saleh should have clearly expressed his views to King Abdullah and GCC officials denying his defiance of the Initiative but rather ‘considering the reality of the situation.’  His defiance is more directed at demands from the people on the street, who continue to be firm in their demand for Saleh to step down and be prosecuted along with his son Ahmed and nephews Yahya and Ammar Mohammed Saleh.

Up until this past Friday the opposition had their backs against the wall, they either escalate to full direct military conflict or acquiesce to sit at the same table with Saleh.  At this point, the president’s plan would not grant the opposition the same offer as in early February of a shared government until Parliament elections are held.  He will insist on the current care-taker government, under Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar, to oversee his conflict resolution plan.  As we await President Saleh’s first address to the people of Yemen, tentatively scheduled for Sunday September 25th (a day before celebrations of the 1962 Revolution) we already witnessed the usual moves by Saleh of offering a cease-fire while continuing to engage with force on the day of his arrival.  His first step was to address the cease-fire between the opposition’s military forces and government security forces led by his son Ahmed and nephews Yahya and Ammar, which in reality led to a violent strike against protesters and al-Firqa in order to attempt to regain lost territory around the streets of Sana’a.  We now expect Saleh to speak on Sunday and an olive branch once again in order to gain the support of diplomats once again.  Who would sit with Saleh at this point is beyond reason.  Saleh will naturally aim for direct negotiations with his former confidant Gen. Ali Muhsin, and while the JMP would be tempted to have either Mr. Mohammed BaSundwa, president of the National Transition Council and former head of the National Dialogue Committee, or someone like Abdul Wahab al-Ansi, Secretary General of the Islamist party al-Islah (less likely a candidate since he always remains in the background) they will risk political suicide in the eyes of the youth.  In any case Saleh will instantly oppose Mr. BaSundwa, even tough he served as Ambassador to the United Nations and was Foreign Minister under Saleh in the 1990s.  General Ali Muhsin has already indirectly expressed his objections to engaging Saleh as consequence of Friday’s clashes and especially after a blatant attempted assassination following his defection in late March of this year.  But since Saleh will never sit with any member of the al-Ahmar family after all the animosity from Shaykh Hamid al-Ahmar and his eldest brother Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahmar, Ali Muhsin appears as the only logical actor to sit with Saleh, which may ultimately have to include Shaykh Sadeq keeping with Yemeni political tradition.  This meeting will undoubtedly have to take place at the house of Vice President Abdo Rabo, which now lies within the perimeter secured by forces loyal to Ali Muhsin following last Sunday’s clashes.

Having overcome the most difficult steps, which may likely be aided by US and UK diplomats who often meet with Gen. Ali Muhsin, the second most difficult step would come when the committee is formed to oversee de-militarization of the capital.  The most difficult step will remain asking the youth to accept such rapprochement. Mistrust on both sides will be the most difficult obstacle to overcome once the decision is made, considering the regime’s atrocities against unarmed civilians since March and the fact that al-Firqa maintains nearly 40,000 soldiers and militia within Sana’a’s borders.  To this we add the protesters’ heightened mistrust of the regime, and if Ali Muhsin were to ever agree to de-militarization it would leave protesters absolutely vulnerable if they remain within protests squares around the country.  The opposition will lose further credibility in the eyes of the youth who already believe they will only protect their own interests.  The response to Saleh’s overture will depend on whether the opposition wants still wants to risk civil war or prevent further atrocities, which it can later claim as their virtue for saving hundreds of lives.  Ali Muhsin, the JMP and the al-Ahmar family will only save face if they become the primary mechanism to guarantee full amnesty and prevent violations until final solutions are in place.

It is believed that once the primary confidence building measures are in place the remainder of Saleh’s plan will allow for a “peaceful” process toward holding elections.  A remaining obstacle will be opposition from the youth to the fourth point in Saleh’s plan, a military council, which would include direct participation by Saleh’s son and nephews.  This point is in no doubt in response to US concerns over control of the armed forces and assurances the regime will not allow subversive elements to gain safe-haven anywhere in Yemen.  How this military council will incorporate officials who defected still remains unclear. Ali Muhsin has already expressed his assurance to Western diplomats he will remove himself from all military service once transition begins, yet we still don’t know at what exact point he will do so and what his role would be in a post-transition Yemen.

The most important issue for the youth is reform, and it appears as the major task.  Yemen has not had a full voter registry since February 2009.  Many of the youth protesting today were under age and will instantly demand access to the electoral process.  IFES also commented on the state of the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCRE), which was a primary source of conflict in December 2010 when Saleh appointed a number of judges without consulting the opposition.  If security were to return to the entire country and ensure safety of polls and transport of ballot boxes following the elections there still remains the problem that poll committees need to be appointed and staff trained, in addition to training local and international observers.  None of this could be accomplished within the 90 days set by the GCC initiative.  Once the committee is in place to begin work on elections, whether parliamentary or presidential, dates must be set and a number of benchmarks met before legitimate elections can take place.  This will also test the credibility of the opposition in the eyes of the independent youth as the opposition’s dedication to democracy will definitely be tested.  This process may take six to eight months, and the thought of such a long period will continue to worry the youth who believe Saleh will pull another ace from under his sleeve in order to prolong his term in office or guarantee his son’s succession in 2013.

The prospect of president Saleh remaining in office until 2013 will lead to a demoralized youth movement which has proven its resolve over the past eight months.  The movement has revitalized each time following clashes with government forces, and proven they do not fear death or clandestine persecution.  Yet, if the opposition sits with Saleh to negotiate a deal short of removing him from office, they ill feel as though all their efforts would have been in vain as they do not see anything at all positive from an electoral process including Saleh and his regime.  The youth will also question the credibility of the plan drafted by the ruling party concerning the authority and power of Vice President Abdo Rabo. The Vice President has disappointed all in the opposition, and some in the care-taker government, for his lack of authority during Saleh’s absence.  Abdo Rabo is also perceived as having given into the power of Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh and his cousins Yahya and Ammar.  The reality of any deal negotiated by the regime and the opposition clearly indicates that Abdo Rabo will remain without real authority and power under a military council and an interim coalition committee drafting the electoral procedures in the coming months.  President Saleh will still have the ability to influence the military council, as commander-in-chief (a position difficult for him to give up), and the elections’ committee, as head of the ruling party.

Prior to September 23rd it was difficult to imagine the opposition rejecting Saleh’s olive branch under such scenarios.  Without a doubt Saleh will once again publicly offer dialogue to the opposition and if they reject such offer, the opposition will risk losing any credibility they have left in the eyes of Western diplomats who are desperate for final solution to the crisis. Saudi Arabia is however a different story.  By rejecting dialogue they would all then be risking their own lives during direct military conflict beyond the numerous ongoing proxy battles around Sana’a and Taiz.  The only way the opposition would retain some credibility with the masses will be if they were to organize the National Transition Council as a legitimate entity truly safeguarding protesters under full immunity and acting against the regime in cases where violations take place in full view of the public and with international collaboration.  Anything short of this will seal their political suicide in the eyes of the independent youth.  On the other hand, Saleh has a much tougher road to travel as he attempts to de-mobilize the streets occupied by his opponents.  His first step would have to be a public address to his own supporters in the streets of Sana’a to withdraw and allow only government forces to oversee security.  This would mean Saleh will have to appease many of his tribal supporters already used to nearly eight months of sustained financial contributions.

Saleh’s return to Sana’a has proven many correct on predictions of his vengefulness, but he is now forced to prove to his allies that he can end the crisis.  Friday’s events ultimately destroyed Saleh’s image as the responsible head of state willing to contribute to the stability of the region and Western interests.  Relations with the youth after so many deaths will be irreparable.  Saleh knows that political and financial support from Saudi Arabia will never be sufficient to avoid Bin Ali’s or Hosni Mubarak’s fate, especially since all Western diplomats from the start rejected the immunity clause within the GCC initiative.  If he is to retain what ever legitimacy he has left in the eyes of Western diplomats, President Saleh simultaneously must rein in his son and the rest of the regime, de-militarize the capital and other cities, complete the defeat of terrorist elements in the southern provinces of Abyan, Lahj and Shebwa, and fully engage a credible process that delivers as many of the demands from the youth as possible.  Anything short of this will definitely etch his political obituary in stone once and for all.

Activists and protesters on the street will object to this analysis in full, but reality in Yemen still adheres to traditional modes of positioning and both sides look after their own interests, not the people’s interests.  For those of you who follow Yemeni history remember al-Sabaeen (70 days) when Sana’a was besieged by Royalists forces and all retreated at the end.

Why Mr. Brennan should shut up

President Obama's counter-terrorism advisor, John O. Brennan, visited President Saleh in Riyadh recently. Almost nothing new was said in this meeting, but in that "almost" hides a great deal of trouble. The penultimate sentence of the White House press statement on the matter reads:

Mr. Brennan said that the United States is working closely with Yemen's friends and supporters in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Europe, and elsewhere to ensure that much needed assistance will flow to Yemen as soon as the GCC proposal is signed and implemented.

The Yemen Peace Project has, since its inception, called upon the US to cut off aid to the Saleh regime, or to make such aid contingent upon political reform. The contingency Brennan suggests, though, is absolutely contrary to the objective of reform. There are two major dangers with this formulation.

First, foreign aid to Yemen has always gone through Saleh himself, or members of his inner circle. Saleh has appropriated foreign military aid to fight his own political enemies, while non-military aid has mostly gone into the president's own pocket. The US administration thinks it's offering Saleh a way to help his country, but the fact is that President Saleh has absolutely no interest in securing the welfare of the Yemeni people, only in protecting his own wealth and power (though the latter is now greatly diminished). Right now, that means keeping his closest allies, particularly his son and nephew, in Yemen and in power. The continued presence of Ahmad and Yahya Saleh in Yemen is the main cause for the current stalemate, and the continuing loss of life in Yemen. But telling Saleh that aid will start pouring in once the GCC deal is signed only gives him more incentive to keep his relatives in place, directing a new flow of funds and perhaps a measure of power back into his own hands.

Second, this formulation denies the demands of Yemen's revolutionaries, the only ones in the equation that actually do care about their country. The White House is essentially telling them (despite the embassy's effort to reinterpret the message) that to secure foreign aid for Yemen, they must give up their movement for democracy and reform.

Gregory Johnsen called Saleh (before the assassination attempt) a warlord with half an army. He may never return to Yemen, and the dynamics within his inner circle may change if and when he finally signs the GCC deal. But whether Ahmad and Yahya continue to serve the interests of 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh, or whether the inner circle fragments after the president steps aside with each member pursuing his own goals, the result for the Yemeni people will be the same.

We have argued, along with many in Yemen, that the GCC deal represented an attempt to maintain the status quo. In fact its result could be much worse. What the US wants is a quick fix for Yemen, one that will allow the administration to pursue its stated objective of fighting al-Qa‘idah, and allow Mr. Obama to enter the 2012 election having not "lost Yemen." But if the deal goes ahead as envisioned, it will once again place power and foreign money in the hands of the most irresponsible, destructive elements in Yemen, leaving the country in tatters, and the Yemeni people at the mercy of the same warlords, newly empowered and rearmed.

Breaking daggers

This week and last have brought few if any real developments in Yemen. Daily life for most Yemenis gets harder day by day, as water, fuel, and money run out. Politicians continue to bicker and play for points, and the remnants of the regime continue to lash out at their enemies. At present, we can see the regime using a few different kinds of violence. There is the violence of deprivation, experienced by people all over the country. In Arhab, Nihm, and Ta‘iz, Republican Guard units launch artillery barrages against civilian neighborhoods. In Abyan artillery is complemented by air strikes and ground attacks. In Lahj and 'Aden, it seems that regime agents may be responsible for sporadic, random incidents of gunfire and the like. In this post, I'm less concerned with detailing such acts of violence than with looking at the motivations behind them.

Essentially, I want to look at the regime's use of what anthropologists call "symbolic violence," what political scientists would refer to as "signalling." The best academic treatments of symbolic violence in Yemeni society can be found in Shelagh Weir's A Tribal Order and Steve Caton's Yemen Chronical. The basic point they make, in reference to uses of violence among Yemen's northern tribes, is that in the tribal context a violent act is usually intended primarily as a means of communication. This does not mean that the violence isn't "real," that people don't get hurt; rather, it means that the primary function of such violence isn't to harm or to kill, but to signal an intention or a demand.

To give a basic example: if a tribesman feels he has been wronged in some way by another tribesman, he may attack his enemy in a public place, where neutral bystanders will be present. He does this because tribal law, 'urf, forbids "ganging up" and requires bystanders to intervene in such a situation. He's not attacking because he wants to hurt or kill the other man, but because he wants a third party to mediate and provide him with redress for his grievances. The same principle applies to bigger acts of violence within the tribal system, even pitched battles or prolonged wars between tribal factions. People are hurt and killed in such events, but the violence always retains a symbolic and communicative dimension as well.

For most of Yemen's history, violence between the state and other segments of society has tended to follow these precepts as well, though some rulers have been more willing than others to use extreme force to subdue unruly subjects (Ahmad ibn Yahya Hamid al-Din, the last real Imam of Yemen, was one such ruler, and his violent tendencies were a big part of why he inspired the overthrow of the imamate). But violating the social norms of symbolic violence is also a symbolic act. 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh is a legendary violator of tribal law and social order; and much like Imam Ahmad, Saleh's crimes against these norms are directly responsible for the fact that he's now in a hospital bed covered with burns. And I believe that we can see in each of his crimes--each of his unacceptable uses of violence--a clear message to his opponents.

I'm not going to go too far back into the past in this blog post, because I tend to get a bit wordy as it is, but suffice it to say that the civil wars of 1994 and 2004-2010 were marked by excesses intended to send certain messages to Saleh's enemies and to outside observers. Here I'm just going to look at some of the regime's uses of violence since the start of the 2011 revolution--using two specific but representative examples--and what I think they mean.

On a number of occasions, forces directly answerable to the president have committed acts that are flagrant violations of Yemeni social codes of honor and decency. One that comes to mind, from mid-April, was the kidnapping of four female medical volunteers on their way to Change Square in San‘a. This one doesn't take much explaining: male security forces--maybe soldiers, maybe paid thugs--physically grabbed and abducted women, and not just women, but women doctors. Just in case violating Yemeni social codes wasn't clear enough, the act violates international laws, or at least norms, about the protection of medical aid providers in a conflict zone. This incident came a month after the Change Square massacre, at a time when the youth and other protesters were demonstrating their strength and resilience with great effect and the movement was drawing in new tribal and political allies by the minute.

The regime's intended message with this abduction was clear: Saleh and his security forces would make no consideration for decency in their campaign against protesters; they would combat the revolution without any concern for honor. In fact, the abduction signals clearly that regime intended to fight dishonorably. This message, I believe, was entirely deliberate. It was intended to intimidate, and to signal (especially to the tribal factions of the revolution) that the regime was not interested in an honorable process of negotiation or mediation.

In the tribal/traditional system (non-tribal segments of society, like sadah and qudah, historically adhere to the same system), all negotiation and mediation is based on a recognition of mutual honor. Although it seems like a strange thing to do, the regime's goal was to do the opposite of what warring parties are supposed to do: the regime sought to demonstrate that it was without honor, and thus could not be bargained with. The regime pursued the same tactic throughout the Sa‘dah wars of 2004-2010.

This message was sent most explicitly on the morning of May 23, when Saleh's forces shelled the home of Shaykh Sadiq ibn 'Abdullah al-Ahmar, the paramount leader of the Hashid confederation. To attack the private home of such a man, without provocation, is one of the most shameful crimes that one can commit. This, and the fact that attacks on al-Ahmar's compound were launched while a mediation committee was present (seriously, Saleh?), sent Saleh's message in the clearest possible terms: the regime was not interested in coming to terms. The revolution would be crushed, not negotiated with, and not mediated away. I should note that it was Imam Ahmad's assassination of Shaykh Sadiq's grandfather and uncle that swung the bulk of Hashid's weight behind the Republican movement last century.

While such acts of violence are reprehensible, and especially disgusting within the traditional Yemeni frame of reference, Yemen has certainly been overshadowed, in terms of the ferocity of its regime, by Syria, Libya, and, I believe, Bahrain. The regimes in these countries have shown no mercy and no restraint in attacking their opponents, and they have the military capability--for now--to demonstrate this lack of restraint. In Yemen, however, we've seen what looks like a greater level of restraint. Yes, there have been terrible and costly attacks on unarmed protesters, most clearly the May 29 Freedom Square massacre in Ta‘iz. But it could all have been much worse (though maybe not in Abyan. Things seem to be almost as bad as they can get there). So we have a regime that signals no respect for rights or for laws, but security forces that fail to destroy the regime's enemies. What accounts for this gap?

I argue that it is, in fact, the inability of Saleh's security forces to crush the revolution that necessitates such extreme symbolic violence. Saleh, and now his son Ahmad and nephew Yahya, knows that his men just aren't up to the task. The Yemeni military has never been a reliable institution, and its commanders know that if the Republican Guard and the Central Security forces are pushed too far, they will disintegrate. This is why these forces now favor artillery barrages and other indirect applications of force. Since May 29, there has been no ground assault against protesters, and I get the feeling that none of the regime's commanders would feel confident in ordering such an attack. So, the symbolic demonstrations of ferocity were intended to scare the regime's opponents precisely because the regime knew it couldn't match such symbolic acts with real, effective violence.

And for the record, it didn't work. But the violence expended in the effort has been only too real for thousands of Yemenis.

Just read this:

I'm working on a series of elaborate, analytical posts for this blog. But in the meantime, please just read this recent post by our friend Woman From Yemen. The peaceful revolution for change in Yemen, for the sake of which hundreds have given their lives already, is under significant threat today, as factions within Yemen connive and maneuver for position, and foreign powers worry about their own domestic politics at the expense of the Yemeni people.

The Yemen Peace Project is still working to support the work of volunteer health workers in Yemen, and the work of those helping to resettle and care for internally displaced people within the country. Help us help them.

On borrowed time, but how much?

Wednesday the 25th: the bloodiest day of street battles San‘a has seen since the start of the revolution. Accurate numbers aren't available, but it's possible today's fighting claimed more casualties than the March 18 massacre, or any of the massacres since. The obvious difference is that this was warfare, not a one-sided attack on unarmed protesters. And to be totally fair, the term "street battle" doesn't really cover it, since most of today's casualties came from artillery and rocket fire. On Tuesday, President Saleh's forces attacked the home of Sadiq al-Ahmar, oldest son of the late 'Abdullah al-Ahmar and current paramount shaykh of the mighty Hashid confederation of tribes. This alone would have been a bad move, but the timing of Saleh's attack made it an indefensible crime. Saleh's forces bombarded al-Ahmar's compound as the shaykh was hosting a mediation committee, come to negotiate an end to the fighting between Hashid and the president. A number of other notable shaykhs, not all of them from Hashid, were killed or wounded. The head of Yemen's Political Security organization was among them. This single incident has become a rallying point, and has brought the Bakil and Mur'ad tribal groupings into the San‘a conflict on the side of al-Ahmar.

On Wednesday the fighting and bombardment spread beyond al-Ahmar's neighborhood in north central San‘a. The airport seemed to be engulfed in fighting, and shells landed near Change Square as well, probably killing a number of soldiers from 'Ali Muhsin's 1st Armored Division (commonly known as al-Firqah, or "The Division").

But the significance of the tactic of bombardment goes beyond its potential to cause tons of casualties, among combatants and non-combatants alike. It goes beyond the fact that it raises specters of the Sa‘dah Wars, when civilians in Huthi-controlled areas were labeled as foreign enemies and infidels, unworthy of life or justice. What matters most about Saleh's tactic of choice is what it tells us about his range of options.

To make a long argument short, Saleh is relying on artillery and other medium- to long-range weapons because they are the only military assets he can trust. He's lost most of his military to the revolution; some of the units he has left are tactically worthless. A couple weeks ago, Saleh sent one of his younger sons--fresh out of Sandhurst but with the rank of Colonel--to subdue anti-regime protests in Hadhramawt at the head of a large, newly-formed mechanized unit. Their advance to the east was stopped by the tribes of Nihm, who forced the colonel to retreat, leaving behind his armor (which in Yemen is not so easily replaced).  In the south, the tribes of Yafi‘ forced the surrender of a Republican Guard garrison. The abandoned base and the villages that led the battle against the garrison were then bombed from the air, but the point had been made: Saleh's soldiers cannot, or will not, impose the president's rule by force.

Many soldiers are too young, or too old, or just untrained and unmotivated. Given the country's economic situation, they are likely unpaid. But there are also many in the Republican Guard and other loyal units who have personal ties to those they're being asked to kill. Now that Saleh has violated tribal law and gone to war with nearly all the tribes of Yemen, this is even more the case. There are today very few soldiers under the president's command who will be willing to kill for him, face to face, in street or mountain combat. His once-stalwart air force is divided as well, with some ranking officers defecting and a general shortage of planes, parts, and fuel.

But I'm getting away from the intended subject of this post, which was the people on the other side of the artillery. Since March just about every segment of Yemeni society, with the exception of his own immediate family and those they command, has been united against President Saleh. Huthis, Southern secessionists, Hashid, Bakil, Mur'ad, Yafi‘, you name it, they all called for the fall of the regime. Many of us thought and hoped that this united show of will would be enough to convince Saleh that his time was up. All of the tribes thought that the threat of their presence in San‘a would be enough to dissuade any more attacks. Clearly this was not the case. Now Saleh is testing the determination and unity of the tribes. His goal is the same as it has been since February: outlast the opposition.

The GCC deal was perfect for Saleh. Its content was abhorrent to most of the revolutionary factions, but it offered a way out. He hoped that it would splinter the opposition, draw the JMP leadership and the traditional elite away from the Youth. It didn't. Now that the tribes have taken his bait and started fighting, his hope is the same. First, he figures, the tribes and other armed groups will put themselves at odds with the Youth. Then, eventually, they'll turn on each other. All he has to do is survive long enough to reap the benefits.

This is not an unlikely path for events to take, now that fighting has begun in San‘a. Violence in Yemen can mean many things: in the tribal context, violence is usually symbolic, even when bloody (I'll be writing more about the symbolic value of violence during the current revolution in another post); in the political context, violence has sometimes served as a currency, a means by which power is transfered from one faction to another (from Socialists to Islamists, for example, during the 1994 war). But one universal truth about violence is that it is very good at perpetuating itself. Right now all the armed factions in Yemen may have a single enemy, but for this two-sided war to turn into a twenty-sided one, all that is required is time.

Back when the Yemeni revolution was just a twinkle in the eye of a few brave activists, analyst Gregory Johnsen made a conditional prediction: that revolution in Yemen would only stand a chance of taking off if 1) popular protest could break free of the mainstream opposition and sustain itself outside of the JMP, and 2) the Egyptian revolution was successful in deposing Hosni Mubarak (I think I'm summarizing accurately). In that spirit, I'm going to make my own prediction: that 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh will survive in some position of power only if 1) major conflicts erupt among the important armed factions currently opposing him, and 2) Saudi Arabia and the US re-change their minds and throw their full weight behind Saleh again.

The first of these conditions is not too unlikely. As for the second, I can see the US re-backing Saleh, because they haven't fully un-backed him yet, and because the Obama administration lacks any kind of real vision for Yemen. But I doubt the Saudis will go back to supporting Saleh against all enemies. Unlike the US, they understand Yemen, and they recognize that Saleh is no longer as useful to them as many of his rivals are or could be.

I've been wrong before, including a few times in public and on this blog. What I'm offering here are my best guesses, based on a  good deal of research and hard thought. Your responses are welcome.

Playing with fire

President Saleh's speech earlier today was a textbook example of the first rule of propaganda: attribute all of your crimes to your enemy. It's the kind of political rhetoric that is beautiful in its pure dishonesty. That is to say that every single sentence in this speech is not only false, but the exact opposite of the truth. If you could take a photographic negative of this speech, or somehow reverse the polarity of it, it would become a perfect statement of fact. For your edification, the BBC's translation of today's speech is below:

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

O large crowd, brothers and sisters, my young sons and daughters, may God bless this Friday and many happy returns of the day.

We salute this million-man crowd of great Yemeni people in all the governorates. This month, we will celebrate the national day of the 22nd of May.

We congratulate the great Yemeni people on these feelings and unprecedented enthusiasm and support for constitutional legitimacy.

We call upon all the sons of the country to be united in one rank to face all economic, political, and subversive challenges caused by the operatives of the Joint Meeting Parties, the JMP, who block roads and kill the people whose souls it is not permissible to kill.

O JMP and your allies, stop playing with fire. Our people, in all villages, districts, and suburbs, backed by our brave Armed Forces, will not stand idle; they will respond properly. On Wednesday, you attacked government institutions, killed people whose souls it is not permissible to kill, and assaulted the building of the Council of Ministers and the  radio building, and previously assaulted Al-Thawrah Sports City. These are acts of sabotage; you have damaged in three months what we have been constructing for 32 years. These are the subversive elements that want to profit at the expense of those in power to slaughter our Yemeni people, cut out their tongues, behead them and block roads. O JMP and the lawless elements that support it, stop playing with fire.

Our people will have to defend their institutions, villages, houses. We will face the challenge with a challenge. Those who want power have to get it through ballot boxes. No killing the souls of the people whose souls it is not permissible to kill, no road blocking, no cutting off gas and oil in Ma'rib; these belong to the people, not the General People's Congress [GPC] or the JMP - these belong to the people. You get your salaries through them, people live on these resources. O JMP, stop playing with fire.

These are subversive elements; they are not loyal to the country. We call upon everyone to start constructive dialogue, sponsored by any side, anywhere. We call upon you to start a reasonable dialogue.

A tribute to the millions of our people, and may God's peace be upon you.

Source: Republic of Yemen TV, Sanaa, in Arabic 13 May 11, BBC Monitoring

We've seen Brother President 'Ali 'Abdullah use this kind of quasi-religious talk before; he's not very good at it. After this week's massacres and pre-escalation activities in San‘a, Ta‘iz, and Hodaydah (and now Ibb), and a promise from the leading Youth organization of major escalations next week, the subtext of this speech is that Saleh has few or no cards left to play. He's slipping into the realm of Qadhafi-esque self-parody with this speech; all that's missing are the helwasa pills.

Saleh has threatened the collapse of the state. Done: the banks are out of money, there's no cooking gas, drinking water, or fuel. There's no parliament, most foreign missions and more than half of the military is in a state of mutiny. But the protests continue.

Saleh has threatened the rise of al-Qa‘idah. Well, according to Shatha al-Harazi and others, AQAP is operating in the open in parts of Yemen, and in other parts tribal leaders have AQAP on the run. And the Americans (the real audience for Saleh's hysterics) have re-started their own mis-guided counter-terror operations, and will continue to shoot up southern Yemen with or without Yahya Saleh's help.

Saleh has played all manner of games with the GCC, which is trying its best to save him from destruction despite his own best efforts to the contrary. But Yesteday Qatar—the only Gulf state that commands respect and admiration outside its own borders—publicly removed itself from the GCC's Yemen process, in what I take to be a challenge to the other Gulf states. Qatar has long been angling for regional influence and prestige; by taking a more realistic, tough line on the Saleh regime, it will certainly gain both from the Yemeni people and opposition factions.

Finally, President Saleh has threatened outright civil war. Of course no one wants war, but signs are that leaders on various sides are preparing for it. General 'Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar is ready. The tribes of Nihm and Yafi‘ proved this week and last that they are more than ready. Saleh still commands a military force, to be sure, but not necessarily the most formidable one in the country. Gregory Johnsen described him as "a warlord with an army"; my suspicion is that if he tried today to order that army into war, he would not be at all pleased with the results.

The Youth are planning the final stage of their protests, with the full knowledge that dozens if not hundreds of them will die. The rebellious military units and tribal armies are becoming more bold and more willing to take on the regime. The only one who doesn't know that Saleh's time is up is Saleh himself. The GCC deal was the best he'll ever see; in prolonging the endgame, he's the one playing with fire.

Yemen's other Islamists

Our loyal guest blogger in San‘a sends us this well-researched piece on the role and structure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen. YPP's leadership pretends no significant knowledge on this subject. Reader comments, as always, are welcomed. In Yemen, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) begins to position itself directly within the post-Saleh political structure. While their primary struggle to date has been an internal balance within at-Tajammu al-Yemeni lil-Islah‎ (The Yemeni Congregation for Reform), the two month old anti-government protests have allowed the Brotherhood sufficient opportunities to either split from al-Islah or become the primary ideological force, possibly marginalizing the more radical Wahhabi elements.

While their physical presence inside the Sahat al-Tagheer (Change Square) remains minimal at a tent named after Abdo Mohammed al-Mikhlafi (major MB personality in 1960s), the Brotherhood is well organized under highly influential and charismatic leaders. Since the 1994 Civil War they have remained behind the scenes as part of al-Islah, led by radicals such as Shaykh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani and other Muslim Brothers within Wahhabi networks. But now they attempt to follow the approach of Egypt’s Brotherhood within the context of the Popular Revolution. This more covert approach in Yemen was revealed by President Saleh during his interview on 28 March with the Saudi network al-Arabiyya, joining the fear-mongering chorus appealing to the West. This approach to attack Brotherhood elements, instead of pro-Saudi Wahhabis, was followed by comments from Abdo al-Janadi, Deputy Minister of Information, to a Yemeni newspaper (Yemen Observer utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter) Al-Janadi directly linked the Brotherhood to the leadership of the Joint Meeting Party (al-Mushtarak) through al-Islah, and argued that the “Muslim Brotherhood has managed to convince America that they are liberals” and be part of the negotiations for the transition plan.

The leadership

There are many major political personalities that while they remain behind the scenes today most analysts are quick to recognize their particular roles. Under the current Morshed (Guide) Yassin Abd al-Azziz, who happens to be Tawakkil Karman’s maternal uncle, the network extends to local preachers as well as major personalities atop Islah’s leadership, such as Mohammed Al-Yadomi, Chairman of al-Islah and Abdul Salam Khalid Karman, former Minister of Legal Affairs and member of Islah’s Majlis As-Shura (father of Tawakkol Karman). Amongst the leaders we also find Ministers of Parliament such as Mohammad al-Hazmi (, Muhammad al-Sadeq (often mentioned as a successor to Shaykh Zindani), Haza al-Maswary, as well as Shaykh Hamud Hashim al-Dharihi, Abdullah al-Homeidi and Muhammad Hassan Dammaj (former Minister of Local Administration).

Personalities in political leadership positions may still number a few, but the Brotherhood relies more on local group leaders at Universities, such as al-Iman, and inside mosques in every city, which grants it a major force multiplier within al-Islah in regards to popular mobilization. The Brotherhood still operates through small cells developed from within mosques or institutions, secret groups that remain apart from other members and leaders. Many members are recruited in their early teens, and are groomed and indoctrinated at week-long summer camps in areas outside Arhab (near Sana’a), Mahweet or near Taiz. Here students get to interact with major personalities such as Shaykh Zindani, Mohammad al-Hazmi and Abdullah Sa’ttar. Such structures may present a difficulty in separating Brothers from other Salafi adherents loyal to al-Islah, but it may all become clear once the dust settles if Saleh is removed from office. The aftermath may see a proliferation of political parties gaining advantages in a political vacuum, but a fractured Islah party, Wahhabis and Brotherhood, may lead to a strategy whereby conservative Islamists may gain a larger majority in the new legislature due to their abilities to mobilize support and produce a larger alliance within Parliament obscuring more secular parties. This fragmentation of al-Islah will also guarantee the dissolution of the JMP, which may render Socialists, Nasserists and Ba’thists completely marginalized without major constituencies.

The politics of the Brotherhood in Yemen

While President Saleh engaged a demonizing campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, his history with the Brothers paints a different picture. Some members, like Shaykh Hamud Hashim al-Dharihi are said to have been close allies like Shaykh Zindani. Also, even though analysts cannot directly confirm dates when people like Brg Gen Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar (Senhan) gave their bay’a (allegiance) to the Brotherhood, they are clearly identified as part of the organization. Even Shaykh Hamid b. Abdullah b. Hussein al-Ahmar is said to have a loose relationship with the Brothers, primarily as a financial supporter. The latter has maintained a rather conflicting relation since the major source of support has traditionally come from areas like Ibb and Taiz, where major economic competitors to Shaykh Hamid are more interested in marginalizing him within the Brotherhood. Al-Ahmar gained a stronger footing within the organization due to his strong financial support for al-Islah during the 2006 presidential campaign.

Public attacks by Saleh’s regime on the Muslim Brotherhood intensified after the 18 March massacre. This has to do more with Ali Muhsin’s ‘defection’ and support for anti-government demonstrators. Observers in Yemen have commented on the large Brotherhood-based network maintained by Ali Muhsin, within al-Firka (1st Mechanised Division) and civilians extending to the 1994 Civil War. Some of the most public figures within this network include Mr. Nasr Taha Mustapha (former manager of Saba News), Mr. Faris al-Saqqaf (former Chairman of the Book Authority), Ambassador Abd al-Malek Mansour (Arab League), Omar al-Arhabi (Director of Yemen Oil Company and nephew of Abd al-Kareem al-Arhabi, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation), Muhammad Abdulillah al-Qadhi of Senhan (nephew of President Saleh and alleged acquaintance of Sahykh Omar Abd al-Rahman), and Ambassador Abd al-Wali al-Shamiri (co-owner of al-Saeeda TV and former Arab-Afghan). The latter is said to have raised his profile during the 1994 Civil War as a recruiter of Jihadi militias for Ali Muhsin.

This network also includes brothers Hamed and Abd Ghani al-Shamiri, the latter was by Ali Muhsin’s side in Aden in 1994 and now allegedly serves as a main communication’s advisor to the general. Both men work as executives of Saeeda Television, which is said to have captured much of the advertising funds from the Hail Saeed Group after family members hailed their support for the anti-Saleh demonstrators. When we analyse the background of most of the officials who resigned and sided with Ali Muhsin we can see the other face of Saleh’s intentions when attacking the Brotherhood. His intent was to discredit a faction of the Islamist party without attacking the Wahhabis, linked to Saudi Arabia, and also raise suspicions among Western diplomats looking for reliable alternatives to president Saleh and to marginalize some of those approached to take part in the dialogue process proposed by the US and EU Ambassadors.

Thirty Plus Sixty

The events of the last few days deserve a long and thoughtful blog entry, or several, but right now I just want to get a few thoughts down on various subjects. Yesterday the GCC foreign ministers met to discuss the Yemen situation "after hearing from both sides." The fact that the ministers think there are but two sides in this revolution tells us right away that the revolutionary Youth are not going to get what they're after from the GCC. The plan that has leaked out of these meetings so far confirms this. It goes something like this: President Saleh steps down within the next 30 days, handing power to his vice president (as per the constitution). It's not clear whether he would retain the current VP, 'Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, or appoint someone more likable. Then, 60 days after the transfer of power, new elections would be held.

Now, Yemen's ruling party--the GPC--and its main opposition bloc--the JMP--have been at loggerheads for about three years now over the country's election laws, and parliamentary elections have been postponed twice. Why anyone thinks elections could be organized in three months is beyond me.

Then again, maybe I'm being unfair. Unlike many countries, Yemen has at least held successful elections before; maybe it would be best to just push ahead with them, if the parties could agree to a set of emergency election rules. Previously the main bone of contention was the fact the the GPC effectively controlled the election process, and could disqualify whomever it saw fit. If this system were to be suspended and elections monitored by some third party (the GCC has lots of experience with democratic elections, right?), perhaps 90 days would be enough time.

But I forgot to mention real selling point of the current GCC plan: Saleh and his whole family get a guarantee of immunity from prosecution. They probably don't even have to leave the country, and there's no mention of assets being frozen nationalized. That's right: the family that has run Yemen into the ground, and motivated millions of people to revolt, and has allegedly emptied the central bank in the last two months, gets to stick around, maybe run for office, maybe start that civil war 'Ali 'Abdullah's been promising.

So why would the GCC and the Saleh regime put forward a plan that the other side will certainly refuse? Because, as I suggested earlier, there isn't an "other side." The other way to put it is that there are at least five different "other sides" (maybe a hundred, it depends on how you count). The GCC can play dumb, but they know this quite well, as does the president, of course. Sure, the Youth in the protest squares will be disgusted, and the regime is counting on that. But the other rebellious groups--the major tribal confederations, the Huthis, several pieces of the military, the JMP establishment--will all understand that a compromise is being offered here, one that could give them all exactly what they want. General 'Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the shaykhs of Hashid and Bakil, the JMP leadership; they all know how to talk a good revolution, but for the most part they are in this revolution because it's where the action is. They will stand behind the Youth until they hear a good enough offer, and no longer. And of course, the Youth will catch the bullets and the beatings until then. Once these various segments of the political mainstream agree to negotiate with the regime, the Youth will appear to be the sole rejectionists, and will be blamed for all the chaos and disunity.

Oh, and of course the Southern Movement folks will also be left behind, and the regime will be given all the excuse it needs to intensify its crackdowns until the revolutionaries can no longer sustain their movement.

So that's what the regime and the GCC are really working toward in these negotiations, or at least that's how I read it. The big question is whether the activists who started this revolution have learned enough about politics in the last three months to prove me and the regime wrong. Can the Youth maintain their shaky coalitions long enough to outlast Saleh? Can they convince the mainstream opposition forces to take a chance, when cutting a deal with the devil would probably pay off faster and better? The GCC plans to send an envoy to Yemen later this week with the official details of the deal, so perhaps we'll learn the answers to these questions very soon.

Oh, and as a footnote: the UN Security Council met this week to talk about Yemen as well, for the first time and at the request of Germany. They failed to draft an official statement, as China and Russia blocked all proposals (I really doubt the US was too upset about this, either). The next time you catch me or any other Yemen watcher saying that all Saleh has left are his own relatives, remember that two of the most powerful nations in the world are still unwilling to criticize him.

The President's speech

President Saleh's brief speech this morning has sparked a good bit of talk on Twitter and the blogs, mainly for his reference to "illegal mixing of the sexes" at anti-regime protests. With this and several other comments, this speech takes on a much more Islamic tone than we usually here from Brother President. It looks like he's trying on every outfit in his political closet, hoping one of them turns out to be bulletproof. It won't be this one; as you will see, he's not very good at sermons. For your edification, I'm posting the full English translation of today's speech here, as published by the BBC's World Monitoring Service. Enjoy.

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,

O great crowds,

O brothers and sisters,

Peace, mercy, and blessings of God be upon you,

First of all, I would like to thank the crowds of the great Yemeni people - youth, men, women, and elderly - for these kind and abundant feelings, and thank those who came from all over the country to support constitutional legitimacy, freedom and democracy, and security and stability.

I would like to thank our great crowds in the Amanat al-Asimah [the governorate within Sanaa where government bodies and ministries are located], who came from all the governorates, and thank our crowds in Ta'izz Governorate, and the crowds in all governorates and districts for their kind and abundant sentiments.

These millions of demonstrators who came to these squares are saying yes to constitutional legitimacy. These are the crowds of 2006 [year of the Yemeni presidential elections, when Salih was elected], who said yes to freedom, to democracy, and to President Abdallah Salih as president of this ummah [global community of Muslims].

This is the message; it is a clear message to the whole world. This is a referendum for constitutional legitimacy. The crowds in Sanaa, Ta'izz, Hadramawt, Ibb, Al-Hudaydah, Hajjah, Amran, Raymah, Dhamar, Al-Bayda, Lahij, Abyan, and Shabwah are saying yes to constitutional legitimacy. These are our crowds in Al-Dali, in the proud Al-Mahwit Governorate, Sa'dah, Ma'rib, Al-Jawf, and everywhere. They support freedom, security, and stability, and reject chaos, the blocking of roads, and the killing of innocent people. They reject the stoppage of fuel pumping and the hindrance of the delivery of gas that the citizens need. However, the Joint Meeting Parties and the bandits are to bear responsibility for these acts.

These are our crowds gathered in Al-Sab'in Square; these are the unswerving and expressive crowds. No more lies through the satellite channels, through the Joint Meeting Parties, those pathetic souls, and those apostates. Stop lying to the people, and stop misleading them.

O great crowds, our loyalty is mutual. We salute you. However, the crowds of the Al-Jami'ah Street are the pre-2006 crowds. We call on them and call on the Joint Meeting Parties to use their conscience and to join dialogue in order to agree on one decision for the sake of the security and stability of this nation. I call on them to reject the mixing of sexes as it is forbidden by Islam; the mixing of sexes is forbidden in the Al-Jami'ah Street.

O brothers and sisters, from here, from the Al-Sab'in Square, I salute the heroic military institution and the brave security personnel for their endurance and for taking on their duties. They did not believe those outlawed, and did not answer their call to deviate from constitutional legitimacy. I salute the military and security institutions everywhere. Once again, I salute you for these abundant sentiments; our loyalty is mutual and this is our message to the whole world.

Peace, mercy, and blessings of God be upon you.

Source: Republic of Yemen TV, Sanaa, in Arabic 1047 gmt 15 Apr 11

BBC Monitoring

San‘a Bulletin #6

After a brief absence, we're pleased by bring you another dispatch from our friend in San‘a. This entry gives a useful recap of previous incidents of violence against protesters in San‘a, and looks at the possibility of more attacks in the coming days. For al-Thawrat as-Sha‘b in Yemen, the tipping point has now passed and protesters now live in a very tense environment. In Aden the violence reached an extreme degree of violence at the end of February when riot police used dangerous gas against protesters while snipers shot dead a number of demonstrators and individuals linked to the Southern Movement (al-Hirak).  In Taiz, escalation peaked when Ahmed Kayran (Security Director) was transferred from Aden to deal with protestors camping out at Tahrir Square (Taiz), and the city was surrounded by armored vehicles from the Republican Guard.  While in Sana’a, the situation began to escalate beyond mere clashes between hooligans (baltagiyya) and pro-change demonstrators when check point guards on a side street from Justice St. (Central Security) shot protestors ( on 8 March. Then the following Saturday snipers and hooligans clashed with anti-government demonstrators on al-Dayri St. This was definitely an escalation from the stone-throwing clashes on al-Rabbat St weeks earlier.  Individuals responsible for organizing such violent clashes still remain unknown, although there is plenty of speculation since one of the buildings utilized by snipers on the deadliest day so far, 18 March when 52 anti-government protestors were killed, is allegedly owned by an official in Mahweet.

March 18th was a massacre, and Yemenis doubt it will be the last attempt to violently disperse demonstrators camped out on al-Dayri St.  We are now a couple of days of two months since demonstrations began in Sana’a, and the area with tents has grown tremendously from February 4th when only a handful of young students began their sit-in. Friday, the day of the massacre began after Jum’ah prayers when protesters at the periphery began walking across the security corridor in order to pull down fences and break brick walls set up by pro-government hooligans.  When the youth began to reach the walls and fences hooligans began to set tires on fire, followed by sniper fire aimed at protestors’ head, eyes, neck and torso (  Government officials, including President Saleh, were quick to blame local residents as both having erected the walls and shooting protestors from their home windows in retaliation for public nuisance.  Eventually, anti-government protestors managed to capture two snipers and confirmed through their IDs they worked for the government.

Rise of Hooligans

On February 2nd President Saleh pre-empted a protest organized by the JMP by speaking at Parliament and promising to abandon three amendments to the constitution introduced in late December 2010.  Also, he order a number of tents set up in Tahrir Square (Sana’a) in order to deprive the JMP from the symbolic location following events in Cairo.  Tahrir was then filled with government supporters from Sana’a and surrounding tribal areas.  JMP’s protest was then moved to a stage set up next to the Obelisk near the main gate to Sana’a University’s main campus, a spot made permanent by young student protestors since 4 February.  The presence of thousands of government supporters prevented pro-change protestors from moving to Tahrir, but the threat of clashes with pro-government hooligans, paid up to YR3000 per day, permanently discouraged the youth from advancing to Tahrir.

These hooligans were primarily recruited by government officials from within Sana’a.  Eventually, it is alleged most were recruited from within the police and army as well as known delinquents, often seen walking along al-Dayri street, from the old Sana’a University campus toward the unprotected area near the new campus, carrying wooden sticks and harassing pro-change youth. Recruitment of such hooligans has become more organized since the days of clashes on al-Rabbat st.  As of this morning (Sana’a) local residents around the intersection of Zubayri St and Hail St confirmed many of these hooligans are camped in a government own property across from the Ministry of Youth and Sport.  This property, often referred to as al-Mu’askar, is used by the Special Forces (under Tarek Muhammad Abdullah Saleh).  This property has a large number of men in tents next to a military training area.

People believed there is a clash brewing.  On Tuesday 29 March a small group of pro-change demonstrators dared march on Sixty Metter Rd. toward Sabaeen.  The group stopped near the Zubayri St. bridge which allowed them to protest in front of  Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi (VicePresident) house.  The crowd was also forced to make a U-turn back through al-Rabbat St. after a number of hooligans crossed the over pass and settled in tents near Aser road.  The hooligans marched from al-Mu’askar on Zubayri st. to the intersection with Sixty Metter Rd., this allowed them a perfect position blocking the protestors advance.  Had the pro-change demonstrators continued on Sixty Meter Rd. they would have been completely exposed to attacks by hooligans from atop the bridge.  Some Yemenis have mentioned this march was a test by the youth to identify the government’s resources after the 18 March massacre.  This tactic was then followed by a mid afternoon march that began at the intersection of Zubayri St. and al-Dayri St., very near the Mu’askar and Ministry of Youth and Sport.  The youth marched undisturbed from this intersection to Change Square (Sana’a University) through Agriculture St. They were followed by a number of ambulances.

Escalation is anticipated for the coming days. It seems that while Gen. Ali Muhsin promised to protect protestors at Change Square he failed to position his most experienced soldiers at check points (  It is doubtful these young, inexperienced soldiers from al-Firqa will be able to deter another clash like on 18 March or return fire if hooligans attack the youth. Security is weaker now that tents have expanded beyond City Mart all the way to 20th St.

After today...

This post will be updated throughout the day today, as things unfold, but I want to throw out a few thoughts and questions about the coming transition before it is upon us.

'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh's last two televised speeches have not sounded like the words of a man ready to board a flight to Riyadh. But then, neither did Mubarak's final speech suggest his impending surrender. I'm not optimistic enough by nature to accept the rumors that he'll be gone by Saturday, but it does seem possible.

So what then? 'Ali Muhsin is a butcher, but could he possibly be a butcher with a soft spot for democracy? Or will he make himself a "temporary" military ruler, like the last three?

And the opposition: the JMP exists because of Saleh; when he's gone, what need will there be for such an odd coalition? Islah, however, gains legitimacy among the non-Islamist, non-tribal public because of the other parties in the bloc, and the Socialists, were they to take the only other viable route and style themselves as the party of the South, would be deemed counterrevolutionaries. So maybe they're all still better off together.

But what of the GPC? It won't be the "ruling party" anymore, but it could still be a party. And let's not forget that it is no less a coalition of strange bedfellows than the JMP.  

The biggest question for me, though, is about the army. Already there are obvious fractures between different commands and units in what has been the bedrock of Saleh's rule, but such divisions have been overcome in the interest of national survival (and personal survival, for many) a few times in the history of the republic. The real question is whether the military, and the generals who profit from their positions in it, are willing to exist as a national institution subordinate to a civilian government, something that hasn't truly been the case since the early 1970s, if then. A transitional government can't run the country without the army's consent, but will the generals really consent to their own disenfranchisement?

As of yet I have no answers. Hopefully we'll get at least one today.

Statement from Zaydi 'ulama in support of the revolution

Our resident expert on Zaydiyah, James King, has generously shared with us his translation of a statement issued last week by a group of prominent Zaydi scholars, along with his own commentary on the statement: The statement translated below was issued by twenty of the leading Zaydi scholars in Yemen today. To varying degrees, the signatories have historically situated themselves between the Salih regime and leaders of the Huthi movement. While a number of these men (most prominently Miftah and al-Daylami) have faced imprisonment and severe persecution for their criticisms of the regime’s actions during the Huthi conflict, they have not publically aligned themselves with the Huthis, although many of them undoubtedly maintain close ties. In other words, while there’s no love lost between this group, or the constituents they represent, and the regime, this represents a significant public defection. This is particularly true considering the prestige the ‘ulama hold in the Zaydi tradition.

Another important community has fully thrown its lots in with the revolution.

Furthermore, for a community that continues to face severe repression and marginalization, they are taking a major risk. If the revolution fails, this will only intensify. Of course, if it succeeds, they will likely enjoy some enhanced credibility in a future state. My sense, however, is that their statement reflects the signatories’ sincere commitments to peace and justice more than political calculations.

In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.

A statement from those ‘ulama who fear God.

“Intentional killing is an unforgivable crime”

What has happened in the land of faith and wisdom is unthinkable! [This is a reference to the Prophet’s declaration that “faith and wisdom is Yemeni.” Protestors in Sana’a are camped out at Sana’a University near a monument that quotes this hadith.] Young and old, men, women and children – demonstrating peacefully, not carrying weapons, and demanding their rights – are being killed. Those who attack them in front of the world do not fear God, and they have no deterrent. They throw the laws of God behind them and disregard the Qur’an and its verses as if they have no relationship with Islam and its rules. The attack on [these protestors] is a sin and a crime.

Attacking these protestors is forbidden and it is impermissible for any soldier to attack a protestor or demonstrator, because this is considered an intentional killing.

God Most High said: “Whoever kills a believer intentionally has the recompense of Hell, where he will abide eternally. God has become angry with him, cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.” [Surat al-Nisa’ (4), verse 93]

God Most High said: “Whoever kills a soul – unless for murder or ‘corruption in the land’ – it is as if he had slain all of mankind. And whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved all of mankind.”  [Surat al-Ma’idah (5), verse 32]

We not only call the military, security services and police to protect our brethren, but also to join them for the sake of bringing down this corrupt and unjust regime. We also call all sons of the Yemeni Muslim people to descend to the “Square of Change” – the square of honor and dignity – in order to support our brethren in repelling the discord [fitnah] that only happened due to some people’s negligence in coming out to protest, which encouraged the regime to carry out these attacks.

What humiliation! What shame, like what happened in the land of faith and wisdom!

The curse of God, the angels, and all people be upon the killers and whoever orders [the attacks] or silently consents. The ‘ulama condemn this disgraceful behavior and place all responsibility for these actions and their consequences on the regime.

God is witness to what we are saying. He is the best Lord and the best Defender. He is sufficient for us and the most Dependable.

The ‘ulama of Yemen:

  1. Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Mansour
  2. Hamoud b. ‘Abbas al-Mu’ayyad
  3. Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Muta’
  4. Qasim Muhammad al-Kibsi
  5. Muhammad Ahmed Miftah
  6. Al-Murtada al-Mahturi
  7. Isma’il al-Wazir
  8. Taha al-Mutawakkil
  9. Abdul-Majeed Abdul-Rahman al-Huthi
  10. Abdullah Muhammad al-Shadhili
  11. Ahmed Dirham al-Huriyyah
  12. Abdul-Salaam al-Wajih
  13. Yahya al-Daylami
  14. Shams al-Din Sharaf al-Din
  15. Muhammad Abdullah al-Shar’i
  16. Yunis Muhammad al-Mansour
  17. Muhammad b. Ali Luqman
  18. Salah Muhammad al-Hashimi
  19. Muhammad b. Qasim al-Hashimi
  20. Muhammad al-Ghayl

The Huthi movement in revolutionary Yemen

Today we have the honor of sharing a guest post by James King, an expert on Zaydi history and the Huthi movement. James has written extensively on these topics elsewhere, and has done first-hand research in northern Yemen. His insights are extremely valuable. Enjoy! The days of President Ali Abdullah Salih are likely numbered. We’re still miles from that point, but it appears increasingly doubtful that he can survive the end of his term in September 2013, despite his insistence otherwise. More and more, the question is one of how rather than if.

Will he step down at the year’s end to allow for presidential elections, as called for by the JMP? If the protests continue to escalate, will he attempt to mount a Gaddafi-esque megalomaniacal crack-down, likely forcing civil war(s)? Or will the protest movement coalesce around even bolder demands, not merely Salih’s departure, but the fundamental transformation of Yemen’s political order?

As analysts debate how a post-Salih Yemen might look, we must remember that the regime already faces three existing conflicts. These run the gamut from full-blown revolutionary groups like AQAP that seek to overthrow the republican system; to the al-Hirak coalition, whose members’ ambitions range from greater Southern autonomy to secession; to the Huthi movement, a family of prominent Zaydi sayyids and their tribal allies that have spearheaded armed confrontation with the state in Yemen’s northernmost provinces.

Perhaps the most pertinent question on Yemen’s future is whether these groups will play (or be allowed to play) a role in any new government. And does this represent a unique opportunity to resolve conflicts by drawing them into a more inclusive state?

For the Huthis in particular, I am convinced that if given the opportunity, they would participate in any pluralistic state that respects Zaydis' communal rights, whether led by a transitional government or in the context of a new constitutional order.

For starters, the Huthis’ relationship to the Salih regime is far more complex than most people realize. In the early 1990s, Salih supported a nascent Zaydi revival movement in Sa’dah and its neighboring provinces in response to the proliferation of radical Sunni groups. This included the Believing Youth (BY), a sort of predecessor group to the Huthi movement (many of the latter’s eventual leadership were key figures in the BY), whose camps and schools received small amounts of government patronage. While some BY leaders were politically active (including Husayn al-Huthi, who served in Parliament), it was a primarily religious and educational movement, aiming to repel Wahhabi and Salafi influence in traditionally Zaydi areas.

The BY-Huthi transformation from pietistic movement to loyal political opposition to militant resistance group was neither linear nor straightforward.

In fact, the disparate groups that either support or participate with the Huthis’ core leadership remain loosely defined and without a concrete political agenda. Their demands have evolved from the first round of fighting until now, particularly as the conflict escalated. Both employing resonant Zaydi and Islamic rhetoric and appealing to the Yemeni Constitution and human rights discourses, they claim to defend their religious and constitutional rights in the face of government aggression and tyranny. In many ways, their grievances parallel other opposition groups in Yemen, whether al-Hirak or the unaffiliated youth now pouring into protests.

Despite a concerted propaganda campaign from the Yemeni state that labels them as foreign-funded and inspired (Iran, Hizbollah, even Libya) or separatists seeking to re-establish the Zaydi Imamate, the Huthis and their allies have not declared independence or overthrowing the Republic of Yemen as their ultimate goal.

That is not to understate the massive gap between the Huthis and the Salih regime, particularly as the former now de facto controls several provinces in and around Sa’dah. But the point is, this isn’t simply a “rebel” group that categorically rejects the Salih regime, let alone a Republican, non-Imamate form of government.

The Huthi leadership could be brought into a robust process of national reconciliation and dialogue, even if in the context of reform rather than revolution. As one Huthi supporter told me months ago, before these protests: “If the Huthi movement were given the opportunity, it would evolve into something more, even a political party. Because of the current context, they’re unable. They’re not allowed by the government.”

To guarantee their constructive involvement in this process, any future state must prioritize political and religious freedoms, embrace democracy and broad-based participation, and perhaps most significantly, reject the political, economic and military cronyism that cripples Yemen. And it must respect the Zaydi madhhab and cultural and religious rights of Zaydis.

The challenges involved in establishing the framework for such a state, let alone achieving it, are immense.

Ideologically, it would require reforming Yemen’s educational institutions and mediums for public discourse – school curriculum, the media, mosque programming, etc. – which now reflect a Salafi bent.  Considering the political and economic influence of hostile Sunni movements, as well as the strength of anti-Shi’i discourses in general, this will not be easy. Politically, any future government must reverse the divide-and-rule politics that have defined the Salih presidency and which re-enforce these communal tensions. It would also need to grant at least the Sa’dah province, where the government presence has remained weak since it first entered in 1967, considerable autonomy.

Like in the South, the best hope for achieving long-term stability in Yemen’s northwest is to bring together diverse – and until now, alienated – leaders into a negotiation that can facilitate meaningful change and democratic transition. In other words, invest them in the formulation and implementation of a framework for Yemen’s constitutional, political and economic future that is more inclusive and representative.

The Huthi movement would participate in such a negotiation, and if realized, a new Yemen.

San‘a Bulletin #5

The fifth guest post by our anonymous friend in San‘a, this update focuses on the potential for an Islah hijacking of the protest movement. I'll share my own thoughts on this and other issues later this week. This past week we have witnessed events develop almost by the hour here in Sanaa (events in Aden, Amran, Hodeida and Taiz have also developed very rapidly).  The protests continue strong even after Shaykh Abd al-Majid az-Zindani’s intervention on Friday 1 March.  The rumors still abound concerning the conflicting relation between the original organizers of protests at Sana’a University’s main gate since the evening of 3 February.  The talk of the town is whether Islah has taken full control of the protests in Aden, Sana’a and Taiz through its Muslim Brotherhood wing.  Many in Sana’a comment on the differences between this group and the organization active in Egypt, where in Yemen the MB simply represents the right wing of the religious conservatives within Islah who represent policies such as the continued defense of early child marriage led by people like Shaykh Abdullah Satter. Many youth began to promise their withdrawal if demonstrations fell under stronger control of Islah, which has not officially announced any type of party policy aiming to control the protests in Sana’a or elsewhere.  But increasing presence of Islahi students and students from al-Iman University since Zindani’s speech gives everyone plenty to worry about.

Mobilizing Islahi members or sympathizers is a double edge sword for the original group.  On the one hand, Zindani’s weight brought in huge numbers at a vital point since 3 February, which helped increase pressure on Saleh.  The crowd mobilized by Islah was composed of Sana’a University students (mainly through the Student Association), al-Iman University (headed by Zindani) and tribal elements from the northern regions.  The direct involvement of Islahi students from Sana’a represents a direct challenge to the original group, many of whom are students at Sana’a University, so the hierarchy started to dominate.  Then students from al-Iman University, who have more experience and training (as some observers have mentioned) began to control the security perimeter set up from day one.  This is not a concern of decreased security for protesters, but rather more vigilance over who comes in to the area and what activities are engaged.  The main incident distinguishing Islah control of security over the original group was an incident last week where a young female activist and her male journalist friend were interrogated at the ‘security tent’ by Islahi students. The questioning concerned a survey distributed by the young activist.  As more information surfaced on this incident, some people indicated the survey was actually prepared by the president’s Information Advisor, Sufi, but it still remains unclear.

The main impact of Islahi influence is seen on the main stage.  It is now mostly controlled by Islahis to the point where music, for example, is now coordinated by them.  There is no more tribal music, which could primarily be credited with the lively spirit we witnessed all day long before Zindani’s speech. Now, most music is organized from groups with links to Suhail channel.  The newly set up Socialist corner, with pictures of Jar’allah Omar (assassinated Secretary General of Yemen’s Socialist Party), still tries to maintain Yemeni traditional music and poetry.

Adding to such fog, we now read about the increasing number of ruling party members resigning in protest against the president. Up until 4 March, when MP Ali A. al-Amrani (Baydha) announced his resignation on stage at Sana’a University, observers indicate many of the resignations were clearly genuine an with no other political agenda.  Most MPs resigning prior to al-Amrani were ordinary MPs truly concerned with issues of importance to the masses. But, in addition to such resignations, we now see a media myopic reporting on the number of government employees and MPs related to Shaykh Hamid Abdullah al-Ahmar.  Hamid’s brothers began to follow Hymiar’s (Dpty Speaker of Parliament) example as Hussain (between Sadeq and Hamid) resigned his post in the GPC and gave a strong speech before a huge crowd in Amran, then followed Hashid (Min. of Youth and Sport) and then their cousin Sam b. Yahya b. Hussain al-Ahmar ( Min. of Culture).  These resignations included others like Nabil al-Khamiri (married to Saba, Hamid’s sister) and the oil businessman Fat’hi Tawfeek AbdoRaheem (married to Anissa, Hamid’s sister).

Observers are disgusted by the media’s obsession with such personalities rather than focusing on the protests around the country.  Some people say the focus on al-Ahmar might have some positive consequences for the president.  If the media focus on the family then people will gain insight to their political aims, which do not carry much support south, west or east of Sana’a. The political game engaged by Bayt al-Ahmar might back fire, including the theatrics of canceling a press conference with Sadeq al-Ahmar and Zindani at the last minute.  Not only are the number of al-Ahmar family members involved in the regime on the surface and making the family look more a part of the regime, but also people begin to realize the individual ambitions within Bayt al-Ahmar and the distance from aims of masses on the streets.

According to observers…..

Why is Yemen like Egypt and Tunisia….?

  • the three decade old presence of a head of state
  • role of president’s family members within government and the economic
  • the presence of a dominant ruling party. The GPC becoming a ‘burden’ on the president

Why is Yemen not Egypt or Tunisia…?

  • Yemen is part of the Emerging Democracies Group.
  • Security forces maintained a mixed image in the north, but hated in the south (prior to protests)
  • The army is fragmented, unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, and therefore not a primary agent of change

San‘a Bulletin #4

In another dispatch from our anonymous scholar in San‘a, we see some of the maneuvering behind the current dialogue (or lack thereof) between Saleh and the opposition. We also get details from an eyewitness of the recent violence against protesters in 'Aden. Like earlier guest posts, the following has been only minimally edited, and does not necessary represent the positions of the Yemen Peace Project. This past Wednesday saw another attempt by President Saleh to re-engage the opposition party (JMP) and revive the dialogue process that would aim at stopping the wave of protests throughout Yemen, as well as preventing a scenario similar to Egypt or Tunisia. This attempt was spearheaded by the same group of Ulama that met with Saleh and Abdul Majid al-Zindani last week. The Ulama met with the leadership of the JMP in order to persuade the opposition to rethink their decision rejecting Saleh’s offer of a national unity government.

The Ulama are identified with the regime, so their influence at this time seems to diminish, just as we’ve seen Zindani’s Friday sermon to have clearly failed to win Saleh any gains vis-à-vis protesting youth at Sana’a University. It was reported by an individual close to those meeting with the Ulama that Shaykh Hamid al-Ahmar was absent during the meeting but managed to relay a message via telephone to the JMP committee and instructed the group to reject any and all proposals.  His influence clearly persuaded the group as they rejected proposals presented by the Ulama.

It is said that the Ulama are presenting an honest effort to avert any violence or a larger wedge between regions of Yemen.  Some Ulama at the meeting attempted to persuade the party by indicating that if they rejected the proposals any social conflict would be on their shoulders and their responsibility for any injuries/deaths.  Zindani’s role, in society and during the protests, played an important part in persuading the JMP to sit with the Ulama, but it is doubtful it will ultimately persuade non-Islah members of JMP to heed calls for Dialogue and a national unity government.

A Small group of around six JMP members drafted a document with five points on Wednesday. These points were then forwarded to Ali al-Ansi (Head of National Security and Saleh’s Presidential Office) who initially believed they were fairly ‘ambiguous’.  This was reported by al-Wassat newspaper in the afternoon, which led some people to believe al-Ansi began to engage a media PR battle to influence the process.  It is said al-Ansi called the JMP group and accepted the five points, which were forwarded to Saleh.  The group presented the document, which it called ‘The Key to Solution’, primarily to appease the Ulama group and present an attempt at reconciliation, but people close to the group say it is in fact ambiguous.

5 key points to solution:

  • [guarantee] right to demonstrate and protest
  • open investigation [into] violence vs protesters / punish responsible and court /compensation to families
  • smooth peaceful transition based on Saleh’s promises – no extension, no reelection, no inheritance
  • provide time schedule within this year based on Saleh’s suggestions
  • communication w/ all political actors inside and outside Yemen for dialogue

There are two issues that are most interesting about the five points. One, what is missing. None of the points demand the removal of Saleh’s family members from government positions. This has been a primary demand from protesters from Sana’a to Taiz and Aden. Second, the group mentions political actors inside and outside Yemen, clearly referring to southern exile leaders.  While president Saleh has often mentioned they would be welcomed in Yemen and included in the National Dialogue process, not many people in Yemen really see a role for al-Attas, al-Baidh or Ali Nasser, never mind can they assure their safety.


It has also been reported that president Saleh’s uncle, shaykh Ali Maqsa’a (mashaykh of Senhan), in the presence of Shaykh Dah’mash and Shaykh al-Qardai gave his ‘assib (jambiyya and belt) to Khawlan tribe a couple of days ago as apology for having been stopped at Sana’a’s check point and prevented from entering Sanaa.


Soon after Zindani’s speech, youth at Sana’a University made their position clear through their strong chants of ‘No GPC, No Islah’.  The chants reinforce speeches by young activists from the main stage during Zindani’s speech and since Friday.  A clear message to all parties that the youth will not allow any party or political personality to hijack ‘their protests’.  It is also clear that the youth believe there is no need for middle men in the process. Their problem is with the president and only they will solve it.

It is reported that up to 12,000 meals per day are being provided each day by ‘caterers’ paid by donors.  This information continues to show evidence of a clear presence of organization and contact between the youth and major donors.  Islah is making attempts, through youth from the Student Association, to inject funds to the movement in order to control protests and agenda.


Deaths in southern provinces did not originate with the February 3rd protests, rather they have been a constant reality since 2007, when the Southern Movement began to demonstrate from al-Dhale to Abyan in favor of secession.  Nonetheless, what we witness in Aden (Crater, Shaykh Othman, al-Mansura and other areas) the whole month of February has clearly been a part of a strategy from the top to legitimize aggressive policies.

Observers indicate president Saleh’s strategy is to have Southern populations express such hate for him that it will have southerners simply focused on a secessionist discourse.  this will allow Saleh to rally support in the north  and grant him a ‘legitimate’ purpose for his use of force there. He would hope this strategy will safeguard his ONLY legacy, Unification.

A friend who just returned from Aden provided some very intimate accounts of what occurred last week, when deaths were reported from among peaceful protesters.

The most revealing information addresses the role of security forces in the killing of peaceful protesters.  Observers mentioned that Central Security forces, training by the US for CT operations, are on the frontline in shootings and killings by snipers who were given different army uniforms in order to avoid being identified and avoid repercussions from governments such as the US and UK who have committed further funding for the army and special forces for CT operations.  Personnel trained for operations against AQAP are now used against Yemeni civilians in the south.

The following is the account as written by my friend….

Five people were arrested and the criminal investigation stalled with their families, they were taken to al-Mansura jail, then they were transported to Sana`a on a military aircraft. These five people are thought to be members of the Southern Movement .

They are at least three university professors and one engineer and a former ambassador.  They were arrested at the house of one of them when the Central Security forces broke into the house.

Another case of forceful disappearance for a man called Hasan Ba`um, which is around 75 years old , and believed to be a leader in the Southern Movement, he was at Al-Naqib hospital for medical check up, he suffers from diabetes and hypertension, and he was arrested in the hospital .


12 people confirmed and reported killed from the 15th – 25 of February 2011.

These are called martyrs in the local society and funerals took place for some of them, and others are still in the morgue of Al-jumhuria hospital since their families refuse to take the bodies and their families demand a just forensic examination and a just trial for the criminal behind their sons murder .

The families of the killed people claim that the central security forces shot and killed those people in the protests, and the families also say that some of the people killed were protesters and others were trying to escape and some others were just walking in the street and at least one of them – Moqbil Al-Kazimi – was murdered while he was trying to save and rescue a shot kid named " Muhammad Munir ".

Locals and protesters and eye witnesses accuse central security and national security with these murders, forceful disappearances and arrests.

Eye witnesses testify the presence of snipers from central security, climb on top of buildings and hotels during the times of demonstrations which are described as peaceful.

False names and incidences are being exchanged in the local society for killed and arrested people , and unfortunately these false names might be confirmed by doctors , paramedics and journalists , despite the fact that we had interviews with the families and relatives and confirmed our own list.

In some lists , same people are mentioned twice by changing the last name or the second and last name , for instance Muhamad al-Alwani was verified to be Muhammad Sha`in , and he was mentioned twice .

At least one is reported unknown where no one knows anything about him except his first name which is claimed to be Ghassan .

Central security forces have violated so many of human rights , and after the statements and the press releases which say that  the Yemeni forces and counter terrorist unit , trained by American funds, were used against the charters agreed on", the central security forces changed their uniforms to Army uniform, but they still drive around in Central Security vehicles and receive daily food through Central Security cars and their former hats which are of blue color, the fact that exposes them .

Also one of the names reported killed , and during my visits to the families of what is so called martyrs, we drove by the house of Muhammad Salih Bin Salih , and he was reported killed, and we met this very man, and he said that he was shot with a rubber bullet in his left leg , and was attacked by water cannon with boiled water on his feet , and also while he was throwing the tear gas grenades towards the sea near Aden Hotel , his right hand got burned .

Muhammad Salih thinks the reason why he was reported dead was because he lied on the ground for 10-15 minutes after he was shot in his leg and right before he managed to stand up again and run away.