San‘a Bulletin #5

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

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

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

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

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

According to observers…..

Why is Yemen like Egypt and Tunisia….?

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

Why is Yemen not Egypt or Tunisia…?

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