Experts reflect on connections between 2011 revolution & today's war - AJE

A recent episode of Al Jazeera’s Inside Story featured human rights activist Baraa Shiban, researcher Adam Baron, and civil society activist Mohammad Al Shami, discussing the country’s failed revolution, ongoing war, and humanitarian crisis. The consensus among the three experts was that the failed transition following the 2011 revolution, which allowed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to stay in the country, is largely to blame for the current situation in Yemen. According to Shiban, there was an underestimation in 2011 of the counter revolution and how willing Saleh was to push the country into all-out civil war. It was already clear in 2011 that Saleh would try to spoil the transition, and the GCC agreement simply delayed the conflict that Yemen is now witnessing, according to Shiban. Baron agrees that the transitional period only managed to postpone further bloodshed. “The transitional authority was incompetent and split between parties that had been at war for a year.”

The alliance forged between Saleh and the Houthis is one of convenience and survival, according to Al Shami, and the threat now posed by the Houthis to Saudi Arabia exacerbated the already deeply complex situation in Yemen as it pushed the Saudis to intervene in 2015. Baron states that the conflict in Yemen is not a proxy war as much as it is a series of inconnecting political battles. At its essence, he argues, it is locally rooted.

The incessant fighting in Yemen has taken a toll on all citizens, but Al Shami says that the younger generation is most profoundly affected as many young people are participating in the war, mostly as a way to earn money or privilege from various factions.

In order to end this war and prevent future conflicts, Shiban says that Saleh must be removed from Yemen or face sanctions. Baron notes that “unless there’s a genuine shift in how politics is done in Yemen, we’ll just see conflicts repeating in some other form.”

View the episode here (not available in all countries).

Mafraj Radio Episode 14: an accidental war correspondent, and two Yemeni-Americans making a difference

On this episode, we speak with journalist Laura Kasinof about her forthcoming memoir, which details her experiences covering Yemen's 2011 revolution for the New York Times. We also meet Rawan al-Halali and Jenna Zabarah, two young Yemeni-Americans who are working to make a difference in Yemen and beyond through their new organization, Lift Up Mankind.

Laura Kasinof began filing stories from Yemen as a freelance reporter in 2009. During 2011 she covered Yemen's popular uprising for the New York Times and other publications. She was also part of our panel of foreign journalists on episode 4 of the podcast. She tweets at @kasinof.

Laura's memoir, Don't Be Afraid of the Bullets: An Accidental War Correspondent in Yemen, is available in stores on November 11. You can pre-order the book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Laura says that anyone in Yemen who wants a copy of the book can contact her; send us an email and we'll pass it along.

Rawan al-Halali is the founder of Lift Up Mankind, and a student at George Mason University.

Jenna Zabarah is a recent graduate of George Mason University, and a founding member of Lift Up Mankind. She is also a photographer; her work was featured in our 2014 International Yemeni Film & Arts Festival. She tweets at @notaphotographr. You can see more of her photos on her blog.

Mafraj Radio Episode 4: The Foreign Press Corps

This episode features highlights from a conversation with journalists Jeb Boone (Global Post, CSM), Tom Finn (The Yemen Times, The Guardian), and Laura Kasinof (The New York Times), about their experiences in Yemen--which include covering the 2011 uprising--and their observations on contemporary journalism.

About our guests:

Jeb Boone Jeb Boone is a journalist, former managing editor of the Yemen Times, and blogger at GlobalPost's "The Grid". Boone's work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, Foreign Policy, The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Telegraph, and Global Post. He has also appeared on the BBC World Service, BBC World News, Sky News, and Anderson Cooper 360. Jeb tweets at @JebBoone

Tom Finn Tom Finn is a British freelance journalist currently based in New York.

He lived in San‘a from 2010 until June 2012, where he worked as an editor at the Yemen Times and later as a freelancer, reporting on the mass uprising and military infighting that ended the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. He has written for The Guardian, TIME, Reuters, Foreign Policy, The Economist, Newsweek, and other publications.

A recipient of this year’s Alistair Cooke Award in Journalism, Tom is currently completing an MA in Journalism and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University. Tom tweets at @TomFinn2

Laura Kasinof Laura Kasinof is a freelance print journalist. From 2009– March 2012 she was based in San‘a where she reported regularly for The New York Times on Yemen’s uprising.

Her articles have also appeared in The Economist, Foreign Policy, The Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, and Al Jazeera International, among others. She has appeared on radio and TV outlets such as BBC World Service, Democracy Now, Al Jazeera International and NPR. Laura has also been invited as a panelist to speak about Yemen at institutions such as the Atlantic Council, Chatham House, The New America Foundation and the National Counterterrorism Center.

She also helped produce the Yemen segment of the documentary-in-progress, Shake the Dust.

Laura graduated from New York University with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Politics. She lived between Cairo and San‘a for nearly five years. Laura tweets at @Kasinof

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.


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.

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.

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

Finally, a dialogue!

Ok, so the world's dreams of "peaceful dialogue" between President Saleh and his opponents may not be happening, but at least this week has seen one important dialogue on the Yemeni political situation. Gregory Johnsen of Waq al-Waq (@gregorydjohnsen) and Prof. Charles Schmitz of Towson University (@cpschmitz) held forth on Yemen's affairs on the topical video blog site Bloggingheads has invited us to share the video with you here. Enjoy:

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.

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

Playing dumb: US policy in the face of popular protests

Yesterday the Yemen Peace Project had a chance to talk at length with a US State Department official about US policy toward Yemen and the current political and security situation there. I began by mentioning the March 8/9 incident in which security forces identified by witnesses as Republican Guard units attacked protesters at Sanʻa University with live ammunition and gas. I asked if the State Department or the White House would be issuing a formal condemnation of this attack, or the previous attacks on protesters in Ibb (thugs with guns and clubs) or ‘Amran (tanks and small arms). The official said that no such statement would come from the State Department, but that DoS would urge an investigation into the incident. I can’t quote my source, but DoS spokesman Mark Toner matched him almost ver batim in yesterday’s press briefing:

We’re still working to establish the facts of what happened. We’re aware that there was an altercation where security forces reportedly used tear gas and live fire to disperse protestors. We understand there was one fatality, and we certainly extend our condolences to that individual’s family. And we urge the Government of Yemen to investigate and hold accountable those who appear to have utilized excessive force.

Again, we’ve seen security forces in Sana’a. They’ve made efforts to improve security by preventing clashes between the demonstrators and the – screening demonstrators for weapons. But they need to do more to prevent these kinds of incidents in the future. We remain deeply concerned about ongoing violence in Yemen, and we continue to call on security forces and demonstrators alike to exercise restraint and to refrain from violence.

The laughable part of this statement is the idea that US officials are diligently “working to establish what happened.” US embassy staff in Sanʻa don’t go outside on a good day, much less head to the center of anti-government protests to conduct interviews. Bottom line, the US is going to strongly urge that an investigation be carried out by the same Yemeni forces who did the shooting. That investigation will (already has done) conclude that it was really the protesters who started the shooting. This will be a lie. The US will not raise the issue again.

More troubling is this insistence that Yemen’s security forces have been trying really hard to prevent violence. While the incident in question was the first instance of uniformed personnel firing on protesters in Sanʻa, they have been doing so with regularity, and horrific effect, in ‘Aden, and more recently in ‘Amran and maybe Saʻdah. And as Greg Johnsen and most of the Western freelance journalists currently in Yemen have made clear, the thugs responsible for most of the violence thus far in Sanʻa—the ones DoS thinks security forces are doing a great job of restraining—are largely plain-clothes soldiers and other government employees.

I stressed the fact that if it is Republican Guard and—as witnesses have reported in other cases—Counter-Terror units attacking protesters, that would mean that US funding and training is being used, in a very direct and undeniable way, in the repression of what President Obama has said are legitimate popular demonstrations. My source fell back on the statement that DoS does not have enough information to have an opinion on this.

I asked my source about the embassy’s ability to investigate incidents like this, or really to know anything about what’s going on in Yemen, from within the walls of their compound. He assured me that they do have their ways of gathering information, including asking other foreign missions in San‘a what’s going on. I was less than reassured by this.

I asked about Secretary Clinton’s statements on Iranian involvement in protests in Yemen and elsewhere. My source, strangely, was not aware of the Secretary’s claims, but was sure that the DoS does not have any reason to believe that Iran is involved in protests. We were also able to agree on the complete falsehood of prior claims by the Saleh regime of Iranian involvement in the Huthi movement. I have since emailed to my source copies of news articles quoting Clinton on this subject. I await a response.

The big take-away from this interview can be summed up this way: the US supports democracy everywhere, and insists that the rights of assembly and free speech are universal human rights. The US further insists that it is up to the Yemeni people to decide how and by whom they are governed. However, the US will only support a process of peaceful dialogue between the government and the opposition parties. This position essentially ignores the will of the Yemeni people. Protesters in all of Yemen’s cities have made it clear that most of them don’t trust the JMP to represent them, and the JMP, smartly recognizing this fact, has said that dialogue with the government is impossible while Saleh remains in power. I asked if, using the case of Egypt as a parallel, the US could foresee a point at which it may change its position and call for Saleh’s resignation. The clear message I got back was that US support for Saleh is essentially unconditional, and that the US really, really wants Saleh to stick around. DoS also insists that Saleh is sincere in his calls for dialogue and that it’s the opposition and the protesters who are preventing or sabotaging progress and reform.

Given the position stated above on the right of the Yemeni people to choose their own government, I felt it made sense to ask if the US position on the question of Southern secession might change, in light of the fact that over 70% of southerners support independence. The answer was a simple no. The US will continue to support Yemeni unity, essentially at any cost.

I can't say I was surprised by what I heard yesterday, but I was disappointed by the State Department's conviction that Saleh is leading the way forward, and that the opposition had better get on board or be left behind. This is willful ignorance. The US government isn't stupid. They know that no one is going to be punished in Yemen for killing protesters, and they know that Saleh isn't interested in sharing power or restructuring his rule in any meaningful way. That the US insists on pretending to believe otherwise makes it complicit, in my opinion, in the violent repression of protests and the trampling of democratic expression.

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 #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.


I've neglected this blog for a few days, as I've been spending most of my time this weekend trying to keep up with developments in Yemen and responding to these via Twitter and Facebook. But there are a few people who read this blog who don't follow the YPP elsewhere (they really should, though), so I thought it would be useful, while I work on my next piece of forward-looking analysis, to post some of my recent updates here. Things are going to change a great deal in the next few days, so this post will help us remember what came before. The excerpts below are in reverse chronological order. All times are Yemen time (GMT +3).

2/20 10:30pm: Protests in San'a are very organized, and have persisted throughout the day. This looks like a turning point, the first day of sustained, peaceful occupation of public space in San'a. If San'a and Ta'iz can both sustain such protests, a significant shift will have occurred. Large demos are also reported in Ibb today.

The military seems to be in control of Aden, though large protests continue in every district of the city. One protester was reported killed by gunfire in the Shaykh Othman district, north of the city.

2/20  8:00pm: San'a demonstrations are more peaceful today. Protesters at the university massively outnumber thugs, who have seemingly given up for the day. President Saleh addressed tribal leaders this morning; foreign journalists were invited to attend as Saleh tries to undo the damage to his image after journos were attacked and intimidated earlier this week. No concrete news from Aden, but last night the city was surrounded by military forces and phone service was cut. A major leader of the Southern Movement, Hasan Baumi, has been kidnapped by security forces for the second time this year, if I'm not mistaken.

2/19 12:00pm: Tweeters from Aden report two children are among the latest casualties, shot by security forces.

2/19 10:39pm: Security forces in San'a have just now started shooting at protesters near al-Zubayri bridge. Students and others were marching away from the University. Police told them to disperse, which they did. Then police began shooting.

Yemen's main opposition bloc, the Joint Meeting Parties, has announced that it stands with protesters in advocating an end to the Saleh regime. It will not engage in dialogue until the protesters' demands are met.

2/19 9:20pm: Yemen gov. says that if the regime falls, anarchy will prevail and "tribes may raid the capital." Translation: "if you keep protesting, we will pay loyal tribes to raid the capital." It's happened before. The struggle between the president and other leaders for the loyalty of northern tribes may determine the success or failure of this movement, especially in San'a. For related analysis see:

2/19 7:30pm: One protester has been killed and at least ten injured after security forces opened fire on protesters at San'a University [it was later reported that all of those injured had in fact survived]. According to Al Jazeera, guns have been used today by both sides. It's unclear to me whether clashes are still going on.

The military has cut off the city of Aden and imposed a curfew there. Protesters have burned government buildings and continue to gather.

2/18 2:15am: As of now it seems that protests/clashes might still be going on in some neighborhoods of Aden. Sources indicate that at least 2 have been killed there today. Either one or no deaths from the grenade in Ta'iz, and around 80 injuries. Protesters there are maintaining a round-the-clock occupation of the public square there. In San'a it seems that there were no night-time clashes. Protesters were attacked and beaten this afternoon.

2/18 10:00pm: Witnesses say army and special forces have emerged on the streets of Aden. We may see a much more intense crackdown tonight.

2/18 8:36pm: Today's protests in San'a: protesters stopped, attacked, turned back by police. Other sources claim greater violence against protesters than this report indicates.

2/18 6:18pm: At least one killed in Aden today. That's three days in a row with protesters killed there. Government has appointed a new head of security for Aden, a man who yesterday blamed Southern Movement activists for deaths.

2/18 5:52pm: A man said to be an employee of the mayor of Ta'iz threw a grenade into a group of peaceful demonstrators there earlier today, killing one and injuring at least thirty. Marib Press also reports that the entire army garrison near Ta'iz was emptied as ruling party officials paid soldiers to participate in mandatory pro-regime rallies.

2/18 5:42am: Protest organizers in all of Yemen's major cities have called for massive protests today. Most groups had planned events for the 24th or 25th, but events seem to have pushed the timetable ahead. This could mean that organizers have less control over the protests (that was certainly true in San'a yesterday).

2/18 12:04am: "Tens of thousands" of demonstrators have gathered in Ta'iz's Tahrir Square, and plan to remain there as long as possible. The locals have been joined by crowds from all over the province, and demonstrators have begun to form committees to protect the crowd from security forces.

2/17 10:21pm: A shaykh of the northern Hashid tribal confederation and member of the al-Ahmar family has said that his group is ready to intervene to protect demonstrators if the government continues its crackdown. This is likely more a bargaining maneuver than a viable threat, but we'll see.

2/17 6:30pm: Today seems to have been a very bad day in San'a. Lots of violence between pro- and anti- government demonstrators on the streets, but it seems to have ended peacefully. It's not clear to me whether Aden was calmer today [it wasn't].