February 3

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 (http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/206707.php) 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 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ELVlCH7nfs).  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 (http://yfrog.com/3wxzgz).  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.

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.

San‘a Bulletin #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San‘a Bulletin #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth in the streets and YPP on the radio

Monday marked the YPP's first foray into public broadcasting. Two of our co-directors, Dana Moss and myself, were featured in an hour-long interview on a local university radio station. An hour on the radio is more than most talking heads get at a single time, but it goes fast. If we'd had two hours it still wouldn't have been enough time to cover everything, and I'm sure some who listen to the interview will fault us for leaving something out, or for getting something wrong. But that's how it goes. I think Dana and I did a pretty good job of covering the basics; ironically we didn't manage to talk very much about the recent and ongoing demonstrations, which were ostensibly the subject of the show. Listening back to the interview, though, I don't think that was a mistake. A number of sources have minimized (you could also say ridiculed) Yemen's February 3 demonstrations. These sources seem to be working on the assumption that every popular protest in the Middle East must have the same goals and follow the same pattern. This idea ignores the obvious fact that Yemeni politics are quite different from Egyptian, Tunisian, or Algerian politics, and that no two countries have exactly the same constellation of circumstances. The fact is that Yemen's various opposition movements, whether within the political mainstream or on the fringes of society, have different goals from each other, not to mention from their counterparts in other countries; and the regime of 'Ali 'Abdullah Salih is itself very different from the Mubarak and Bin 'Ali regimes. So if the actions of last Thursday (some participants won't even refer to them as protests, though I would disagree) did not result in an immediate challenge to President Salih's political or physical survival, or in the sustained occupation of public spaces, that does not mean that they failed.

I'll save my elaboration on the many strands of opposition for another post. I'm also not going to get into all of the ways in which Yemen differs from the other Arab states currently facing protests. For now I just want to argue the point that the February 3 demonstrations were far more important than many commentators (and participants) have made them out to be. Here's why:

  • They forced President Salih to realize that he is not immune from popular discontent. This may seem like a silly thing for a politician to have to realize, but he and his fellow despots are a special breed, adept at delusion. He is also incredibly talented at dodging disapproval, or redirecting it by force.
  • They forced the Yemeni people—including the leaderships of the GPC and JMP—to realize that their president is not immune from popular discontent. Again, this should be self-evident, but it's not. Even in "truly" democratic countries, people routinely forget that they wield political power. While I doubt that anyone in Yemen is under the illusion that a few protests will solve their country's deep-seated political problems, they have now seen their president raise his head at their raised voices, and that simple fact means that the relationship between ruler and ruled has changed.
  • They demonstrated popular ties between Yemen and the wider Arab world. President Salih has long been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia and other friendly (you could also say opportunistic, manipulative, exploitative...) states; now his citizens have shown that they too have connections abroad, that they can learn from and participate in regional and global developments.
  • They engaged a significant number of young people. Yemen is mostly made up of young people these days, but in recent years Yemen's protest culture has not been a youth culture. Protest has been something that secessionists, Islamists, insurgents, veterans, and journalists engage in, not something for students or the non-radical youth at large. The February 3 protests and subsequent actions have appealed—and will continue to appeal—to young people  who have not previously identified with any marginalized or activist group.

The points listed above all seem to favor of the opposition(s). But there is one big point in the regime's favor: the events of February 3 were completely mis-covered and misunderstood by the international media. Nearly every article in the press focused on the demonstrations in San‘a. If another city was mentioned, it was only briefly and only because some editors seem to insist that a story about Yemen include a bit of violence. But the coverage ignored the major differences between protests in different cities. For instance, San‘a's demos included very few women, while much larger demos in Ta‘iz hosted thousands of women. San‘a's protests were calm, and dispersed in time for lunch, while those in some cities lasted all day and were met with violence from the police and military. But so long as the press stays in San‘a, and San‘a stays calm, the regime retains a free hand to deal with unrest elsewhere with more force.

The list above is not exhaustive, and some people will surely argue with one or all of these points. But I think the importance of these protests will become increasingly visible in the coming weeks and months. I doubt we'll see a revolution in Yemen, and I think that's fine. Revolutions are painful things, and they're not necessary if substantive change can be achieved some other way. I think the people have found their voices, and I'm excited to see where this leads.

The JMP and other, non-mainstream groups have more demonstrations planned for February 10 and 11. The army is apparently pouring into Aden, and opposition/Southern Movement demos there will probably be met with force. We'll have to wait to see how protesters in the rest of the country will respond.

From San‘a: Developing the Grassroots Movement

Through a mutual friend, I recently got into contact with someone who is in Yemen right now and who has spoken with an off-shoot student activist group of the pro-democracy movement in San‘a. For obvious reasons, all involved want to remain anonymous, but this person kindly wrote up his/her reflections for us. The recollections below cannot be verified, as journalists say, but this person has provided a fascinating account of how young people are working to organize themselves. I thank the contributor for taking the time to share this on our blog. Another day of protests are planned for tomorrow, Feb. 10th. We will be sure to update you on what we find out. Very interesting -- check it out! Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar and Foreign Minister Dr Abu Bakr al-Qirbi are correct, Yemen is neither Tunisia nor Egypt.  By this we mean its social composition and structures, although everyone will agree the 20-year old Republic of Yemen has been part and parcel of the 60-year old Arab nationalist project.  Yet what we saw in Tunisia and now witness first hand day by day throughout Egypt would be difficult to replicate in Yemen.  A number of socio-political obstacles stand in the way of similar popular uprisings, although economic conditions throughout the Republic are indeed much dismal than drivers behind the Jasmine Revolution and now al-Thawra as-Shab.

Activism of the type we’ve witnessed since 14 January remains problematic here due to institutional monopolies on mobilization and tribal resources at government’s disposal which act as deterrents, as we witnessed on 3 February.  Such are the challenges new youth activists face in organizing a truly non-institution based grassroots movement for tangible change.  Today we begin to learn of a youth movement that began with one young university student, AJ, who--after watching media reports of events in Egypt--took it upon himself to upload images on his Facebook wall and to tag his friends, something he admitted was otherwise never his practice.

We first learned about this new group of 100 Yemenis through asSharah (The Street) newspaper on 5 February, which reported on a group of young Yemenis who ‘spontaneously’ began to clean al-Dayri street following the JMP organized protests of 3 February. AJ filled me in on his first reaction to organize his friends on Wednesday before the "Day of Rage." He promised that Feb. 3rd would become a turbulent event after President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned the population during his address to Parliament the morning of 2 February of potential violence organized by protesters.  AJ mentioned the initial response came from 100 of his Facebook friends, some of whom met later on Wednesday at a local café (about 30 of them) for a preparatory meeting, which was followed the same evening by a meeting at a friend’s house. In this meeting they all agreed to contribute YR200 (less than one US dollar) in order to purchase trash bags and plastic gloves.  Another friend, not on Facebook, offered to print flyers for the group.  This is the account of what may become Yemen’s grassroots movement toward credible change in the months to come.

I asked AJ to describe the ambitions and expectations of this small group of young university students, he began by commenting on the t-shirts worn by the 20 group members who participated in the 3 February protests, the slogan was ‘Peaceful Change’ written under a Yemeni flag.  While the protesters were told to wear Pink during the protests, the Facebook Youth chose white to symbolize their priority, a peaceful expression of their ambitions.  AJ commented on his personal hopes for the group as he perceived the motivation of others in the group.  The priority is to contribute to a new “culture of change”, which they intend to manifest by advancing a civil movement that cares first and foremost about Yemen’s future.  He believes the president’s initiatives were part of a political game, but granted Saleh a great deal of credit for preventing chaos similar to the Tunisian or Egyptian events.  Yet, the initiatives are not enough, and AJ and the ten groups now joining the Facebook Youth look for expanding freedom of speech and progress in democratization of the political process.  Yemeni youth want improved education and health care, as well as a stronger fight against corruption.  His most striking comment came when he mentioned that most important for the movement is a “revolution of mind”, a change in the mentality of people who are blinded by the rhetoric of security over development toward a brighter future for the country. [bolded for emphasis]

AJ believes that change will come, whether at the hands of conservative forces or under the current regime, but may be not within the next six months.  He spoke to me about the limitations for the groups who are mainly found in urban centers.  Also, he spoke of the limited connectivity via social media, which only a very small percentage of young Yemenis engage with on a daily basis.  Technology is one instrument of many to utilize in order to reach a wider sector of Yemeni society, said AJ. In the coming months it will become vital for group members to reach beyond their local environment, but this may still depend on traditional methods that involve more personal contact than technology’s global reach.  Another major obstacle remains the uncertainty of people’s participation. He indicated many youth are still hesitant to take part in any activities due to fear of reaction by the government and the opposition, who may fear an end to their monopoly, or even portions of the population who do not understand their activities. AJ hopes that Thursday’s (10 Feb.) peaceful demonstrations will not only bring the movement to the surface but also allow the youth to network in order to expand awareness.

More to come after what appears to be a successful and peaceful demonstration Thursday.

From Sana’a…

Guarded optimism

We've been following the demonstrations in San‘a on Twitter since they began this morning. At the moment, the JMP-led events—which were described as festivals of political expression, dancing, music, rather than rage—are breaking up voluntarily. It seems people are happy to have had their say, and they are leaving to avoid any confrontation with pro-Salih demonstrators. We will keep an eye on things, as anything could happen later this week. Also, I'm curious to see what demos have been like in other cities. Have Ta‘iz and Ibb seen the same joyous scene?

Ta'iz especially is home to strong anti-regime and anti-northern sentiments. New tweets are claiming much larger crowds there than in the capital, perhaps as many as 200,000. If that's the case, we might still expect a response from security forces.

For that matter, what about demos in the south? In 'Aden, Abyan, and Hadhramawt, state violence is almost commonplace. I'll still be surprised if those places avoid a crackdown today.

But I'm not trying to spoil the mood. In San'a, at least, the demonstrators have proved that civil, peaceful political action is possible, even in such heady times.


Mass demonstrations in San‘a are scheduled to begin at 10:0 am tomorrow—just ten hours from now. According to Yemeni activists on Twitter, San‘a's Tahrir Square, which is one block from the Yemeni parliament, and surrounded by other government buildings, has been occupied by "armed thugs." Accordingly, protest organizers plan to gather their followers near the university, on the other side of town, instead. Yesterday's announcement from President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih that he would neither seek reelection nor allow his son to run for the presidency seems to have been accepted by the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP)—the opposition coalition that includes Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party—but it may not satisfy the street. The internet is a poor indicator for real-world events, especially in places like Yemen, where so few people have internet access on a good day, but judging from the current buzz, I expect tomorrow's demonstrations to draw significant crowds.

Some observers have minimized earlier protests, saying that they were little more than opposition party rallies. Tomorrow will see events in several cities organized by the JMP, but I think we'll also see expressions of real popular anger, which the parties may not be able to contain. The presence of "thugs" in advance of the protests is very worrisome, especially in light of today's tragic events in Cairo. It also means that Salih and his party haven't yet decided how to handle these events. Will they offer more concessions and let the citizens blow off steam, or will they crack down? I think the answer may depend on the scale of tomorrow's demonstrations. But then again, I said in my last post that I wouldn't be making any more predictions. The best any of us can do is work for change, and hope for peace.


The sun is rising now in San‘a, and although I'm thousands of miles away, I am extremely uneasy about the coming day. Massive demonstrations are scheduled to begin in a few hours in San‘a and in other cities. These are meant to be peaceful protests, but recent developments make peace unlikely. As I write this I'm listening to Al Jazeera's live coverage of the battle in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which in 24 hours has changed, in Al Jazeera's words, from a festival to a war zone. According to Twitter, San‘a's Tahrir Square has been preemptively occupied by pro-government forces. Security forces have allegedly lined the streets in other parts of the city.

Governments do not send soldiers into the streets to maintain peace, but to enforce their will. I've promised twice now not to make predictions, but what's happening right now in Egypt feels like the prelude to a massacre. The government, which just days ago seemed to be on the verge of collapse, is still firmly in control, and its proxy forces now occupy positions surrounding the protesters. I really hope I'm reading the situation wrong, but the constant sound of gunfire gives some credence to my theory.

Earlier today, according the website of Yemen's ruling party, US President Barack Obama called President Salih to congratulate him on his "wise decision" to offer (totally meaningless) concessions to the opposition. The US government has continuously criticized Egypt's violent crackdown on protests, but has done nothing at all to really discourage the repression. Now with the blessing of his American patron, what reason will President Salih have to restrain his own response to anti-government demonstrations?

We at the YPP want nothing more than to see the Yemeni people express their grievances in public, and to have their voices heard. I and my co-directors would give anything to be in San‘a this morning. At the same time, I am terrified for the Yemeni people. The international community, despite its harsh language, is content to stand by while Mubarak's regime in Egypt attacks its own citizens; America has not hesitated in the recent past to fund and carry out attacks on Yemeni civilians, so we can be sure that if tomorrow's protests turn violent, no one in the outside world will come to the aid of the people.

We support and praise our brothers and sisters in Yemen who are exercising their rights of expression and protest, and we strongly condemn any violent response to popular protest. We hope that the United States government, from the lowest embassy officers to Secretary Clinton and President Obama, understand that they will bear responsibility for any violence against the Yemeni people, and we urge them to do everything in their power to prevent such violence.

Finally, we encourage our friends in Yemen to share their views and their experiences with us, and with the wider world, by sending emails, writing on our discussion boards, tweeting, and texting; and we urge the Yemeni and foreign media to cover today's events responsibly, in all their complexity. We will post updates as we are able.

P.S. Yemenis without internet access can post messages to Twitter by leaving voicemails at the following international phone numbers: +16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855.

Rage and roses

While the eyes of the world have shifted from Tunis to Cairo and become fixated there for the time being, Yemen--always the global blind spot--has been stirring as well. The always-insightful Brian O'Neill has been blogging up a storm at Always Judged Guilty since last week; we at the YPP meanwhile have maintained a cautious quiet. It is far too soon to make predictions about what the ongoing public protests in Yemen will achieve, but it's clear that they will have a serious—and possibly permanent—impact on the larger political and social situation there.