Medio Oriente,
se extienden
las protestas

El presidente de Yemen afirma que un cambio de régimen es "inaceptable"

Miles de personas siguen manifestando

Agencia EFE, 21/02/11

Saná.- El presidente de Yemen, Ali Abdalá Saleh, ha advertido este lunes que un cambio de régimen en el país "es inaceptable" y ha asegurado que quienes están protagonizando las protestas políticas contra su Gobierno "son una minoría". Las palabras de Saleh, que lleva 32 años en el poder, se producen mientras en la calle se suceden las manifestaciones, que empezaron el pasado enero al calor de las revueltas de Túnez y Egipto.

"¿Qué quieren los manifestantes? Si quieren cambiar el régimen como en Egipto y Túnez eso es inaceptable, pero si quieren pueden hacerlo a través de las urnas", ha afirmado Saleh en una rueda de prensa. El gobernante, en el poder desde la unificación entre el norte y el sur de 1990, ha invitado "una vez más" a la oposición a participar en un diálogo político y a sumarse a un gobierno de unidad nacional. "Incluso pongo a disposición la presidencia", ha añadido. Días después de las primeras protestas, Saleh anunció que no se presentaría a la reelección en el 2013. El presidente considera que "no todo el pueblo yemení pide el cambio", sino que "son una minoría" los que protestan.

Ajenas a las consideraciones de Saleh, miles de personas participan este lunes en una manifestación a las puertas de la Universidad de Saná para reclamar la dimisión del presidente. Los manifestantes, en su mayoría estudiantes aunque también hay dirigentes de la oposición, empezaron a concentrarse anoche. "La gente quiere el cambio", proclaman los yemenís.

Un muerto y cuatro heridos en Aden

Las fuerzas de seguridad supervisan la protesta pero no han intentado, por ahora, dispersar a los manifestantes. Las cosas no han transcurrido con tanta calma en Aden, la segunda ciudad del país, donde un manifestante ha muerto este lunes tras ser alcanzado por una bala disparada por la policía, según han informado fuentes médicas. Esta muerte eleva a 12 las víctimas en esta ciudad desde que el pasado16 de febrero empezaran las protestas.

El incidente ha ocurrido cuando agentes a bordo de dos vehículos han disparado contra un grupo de jóvenes que se manifestaban en el barrio de Khor Maksar. donde habían incendiado neumáticos para cortar una calle. Las balas han causado heridas a otras cuatro personas.

So Who Will Be Next to Fall?

AAS of Yemen?

By Stephen Day
Jadaliyya, 21/02/11

Following the removal of Husni Mubarak from power in Egypt, the inevitable question was “who’s next?”   As events of the last week have shown, there are plenty of candidates in this extraordinary season of rotating power in Arab countries. King Hamad ibn Isa and the Khalifa family of Bahrain are feeling pressure from protestors in the streets, as is Muammar Ghadafi of Libya. Yet no one may be more ripe for ousting than Ali Abdallah Salih of Yemen, or AAS, as he is known in some circles.

Salih has ruled from his military–enforced presidential palace in the Yemeni capital Sanaa since 1978. This makes him the third longest serving leader in the Arab world today, behind only Ghadafi and the Sultan of Oman. Prior to Mubarak’s fall, President Salih was frequently on the telephone to Cairo lending moral support to a man who had spent less time as a dictator than himself. When Mubarak sought to placate street protestors by pledging not to campaign as president in the next election, Salih did the same by promising not to run for reelection in 2013. But like the people of Egypt, the people of Yemen were not listening. They have heard empty promises like this in the past. The day Mubarak was forced to step down, protestors in the streets of Sanaa chanted: “A Yemeni revolution after the Egyptian revolution.”

One of the main factors contributing to this remarkable moment, besides the obvious bravery of citizens willing to confront fierce state violence, is this fact: old sclerotic regimes are proving incapable of holding power. Based on this criteria alone, there is no doubt that President Salih is likely to be the next to fall.

In the center of Sanaa is a square called Tahrir, named for the north Yemeni revolution in 1962 (itself inspired by Egypt’s 1952 revolution), which removed the last Zaydi imam from power. During the last week, President Salih has been careful to pack Maidan al–Tahrir with his own supporters, many of them tribesmen of Hashid and Bakil, who were supplied with mounds of qat to chew beneath large tents erected by the state.The opposition was forced to rally on the new campus of Sanaa University, where the spirit of the times is actually more likely to spread among the country’s youth.

When contemplating the near future in Yemen, it is important to consider the similarities and differences of conditions compared to Egypt and Tunisia. Only then can one seek the keys to a possible change of government in Yemen. First, the similarities. Like Egypt and Tunisia, Yemen is a country with a proud tradition as an Arab nationalist republic. Like Egypt and Tunisia, this tradition has turned hollow in recent decades because of empty pronouncements by a leadership compromised by a too close security alliance with the USA and other states in “the West.”

Like the former leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, Salih has maintained power by holding rigged elections that regularly result in 70–90% landslide victories by his ruling General People’s Congress (GPC). The opposition parties of Yemen frequently boycott the voting because of irregularities at all stages of the process –– from voter registration to vote counting. This was the case in 2009 when a united opposition, known as the Joint Meetings Party (JMP), forced Salih to postpone the country’s planned fourth parliamentary election. Whenever national and local elections are held in Yemen, they are accompanied by violence with many killed and injured.

In economic terms, most Yemenis, similar to majorities of Egyptians and Tunisians, live in crisis conditions, including extremely high unemployment and poverty (above 40%), and inflation, despite reasonably good GDP growth over the last two decades. The type of poverty in Yemen is harsher than Egypt and Tunisia, since this is the poorest country in the Arab world. Per capita income is less than US $70 per month. The cause of GDP growth is primarily due to higher government revenues from petroleum resources, first discovered in the northern half of the country in 1984. Once north and south Yemen united in 1990, the country’s oil production rose to moderate levels above 350,000 bpd, with most of the oil drawn from the eastern province Hadramaut and along the old jagged borderline.

Yemen’s oil production is nothing compared to less populous states on the Arab peninsula, and it is already beginning to decline. Among the peninsular states, Yemen has the largest population, now more than 25 million, the majority of whom were born after unification. Yemen’s central economic problem is the failure of the regime to utilize its financial resources for effective development and jobs creation, in order to fairly redistribute the nation’s wealth. The corruption of the regime has resulted in the enrichment of a few crony capitalists from the president’s family, and among his friends and military/tribal allies.

President Salih used the country’s oil wealth to buy off his rivals, and spends extravagantly on the military/security, palaces, villas, mosques (the enormous white mosque, bearing his name in Sanaa, cost hundreds of millions of US dollars), and expensive luxury land cruiser vehicles. For decades, he has handed out massive shipments of these vehicles each year, given as bribes to anyone who agrees to “play by the regime’s rules.” Corruption rots away the core of the state. Salih likes to flaunt the fact that he governs by immoral means, posing with corrupt associates and daring anyone to hold him accountable. Wikileaks released US diplomatic reports after 2007 that depict the Yemeni president inviting arms smugglers and gun runners to attend inter–government meetings in Sanaa, where he teased American officials about their inability to detain the men due to cutbacks at Guantanamo Bay.

Finally, Yemen is similar to Tunisia and Egypt because of its street protest movement, extending over the last few years. In fact, Yemen’s protests are arguably stronger and better organized than any moment in Tunisia, or Egypt, prior to the last two months. Moreover, there are strong indications that Yemen’s street protests are rapidly growing, and they will continue to grow until the regime’s power is ended or greatly reduced.

In contrast to these similarities, there are a number of significant differences. First, and perhaps most importantly, the Yemeni state lacks well organized, professional institutions, especially in the fields of military and security affairs. The structure of Egypt’s military forces, and the eventual restraint of its top commanders, helped the process of removing Mubarak from the presidential palace, once non–violent protesters occupied Tahrir square, and successfully defended their positions against an onslaught by the baltagiya. As in Egypt, regime supporters in Yemen have paid baltagiya to clash with protestors, using stones, knives, sticks, and occasional gunfire. The difference in Yemen is that the regime’s military and security forces are commanded by Salih’s closest relatives who all come from the Sanhan region, southeast of Sanaa.

The president’s son, Ahmad, commands the republican guard. Ahmad’s cousin, Yahya, the president’s nephew, commands the central security forces, as well as an elite US–trained counter–terrorism force. Brothers of the president and other kinsmen command the air force as well as tank and artillery brigades in the army. Removing the president would not have the same impact as Mubarak’s removal in Egypt because there is no military command in Yemen separate from the president’s family. Rivalries certainly exist between Ahmad and relatives of his father from the older generation, such as regime strongman General Ali Muhsin. But the family ties binding the Yemeni regime create a different dynamic than the former Egyptian regime. Husni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, fled Cairo before his father because it was clear that the president’s family had lost its standing in Egypt. This is unlikely to happen in Yemen, which more closely resembles Saudi Arabia where King Abdallah’s military and security forces are commanded by his closest family members. Salih and family are likely to survive or fall together because they command the military as a group.

Second, Yemeni social organizations are comparatively weak next to those in Egypt and Tunisia. Most social organizations depend on government funding. This is even true of political parties, although the GPC takes a far larger piece of the pie compared to the dozen or more opposition parties. It is part of the government’s long standing national pact that all parties, organizations, and unions receive a share of the annual budget. Those actors who operate independent of the government typically rely on contributors from beyond Yemen’s borders. In history, this meant Americans and Brits, Russians and Chinese, but mainly Saudis who wanted to buy influence across their southern border. Throughout the last six decades, Egyptians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Libyans also bought influence in Yemen. As a result, Yemeni politics has always reflected political divisions in the wider Arab and Muslim world.

Third, for nearly ninety years of the 20th century, Yemen was a divided nation state, north and south. Although it united in 1990, this national unification was a highly troubled process. After four years, the unconsolidated armed forces of north and south Yemen fought a three month civil war in 1994. Once the northern armed forces overran the south, first strangling and then sacking its capital Aden, regional divisions remained. In the late 1990s, many southerners complained of living under a northern occupation. The southern half had its own political divisions prior to unification with the north. And the same was true in the northern half, where Zaydis historically lived in the mountain highlands around Sanaa and north to the border with Saudi Arabia, while Shafi`is lived in the midlands toward Aden and along the Red Sea coast. On the southern side of the border, political divisions among its largely Shafi`i population surfaced during intra–regime power struggles in 1969, 1978, and then most violently, 1986.

After complaining of northern military occupation for more than a decade, the people of Yemen’s southern provinces initiated “tolerance and forgiveness” meetings to overcome their pre–unity divisions, and unite in opposition against the regime in Sanaa. By 2007, this led to widespread peace rallies and sit–ins, demanding “equality of citizenship” and restoration of jobs and pensions taken from citizens in Aden, Lahej, Abyan, and Hadramaut. This became known as the “Southern Movement” (harakat al–junub) or the “Peace Movement” (al–haraka al–salmiyya). In 2008, President Salih ordered that al–Harak be crushed by military means, and his army and security forces killed dozens, injured hundreds, and arrested thousands. This radicalized al–Harak. In 2009, more of its followers began using violence against the government, while demanding secession from the north, just as the old southern socialist leadership did briefly in 1994.

Two years before al–Harak started, there was a separate rebellion in a northern area of the country, inside the province of Sa`da along Yemen’s northwest border with Saudi Arabia. This was a rebellion by the religious followers of a traditional Zaydi cleric and his son, who organized a youth movement called “the Believing Youth” (al–shabab al–mumineen). The cleric’s son, Husayn ibn Badr al–Din al–Huthi, first rallied his followers to oppose Salih’s alliance with President George W. Bush at the time of America’s invasion of Iraq. Immediately after 9/11, the Yemeni president embraced Bush’s “war on terrorism.” When US troops entered Kabul in November 2001, and Baghdad in April 2003, he stood loyally shoulder–to–shoulder with the American president. Then in 2004, he was Bush’s specially invited Arab guest at a G–8 summit in the US, where Salih was photographed wearing traditional Yemeni tribal clothing (the “good Arab Muslim”). This error cost him considerable standing at home. After 2004, when the younger al–Huthi was martyred in a battle with government armed forces, the regime’s conflict with Zaydi tribal militias turned horribly violent. Thus, during the late 2000s, the regime faced separate, unrelated rebellions north and south of Sanaa.

Fourth, the regional divisions in Yemen (a rugged land with towering mountains, deep canyons, and broad deserts that historically separated its people in ways quite unlike the unifying effect of the Nile River in Egypt), combined with the deadly violence of the last six years (estimates of the numbers killed run above ten thousand, mainly in mountains north of Sanaa; the numbers killed in the south are likely under one thousand), are intersected by the jihad waged by al–Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP is now considered the most active regional branch of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist organization. AQAP was first announced in January 2009, merging the organization’s Yemeni and Saudi wings. Members of AQAP claimed responsibility for several headline grabbing attacks, such as the coordinated truck assault on the US embassy in Sanaa in September 2008; the August 2009 assassination attempt of Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism chief, Prince Muhammad bin Nayif; the April 2010 assassination attempt of the British ambassador; and two failed attempts to strike US bound aircraft on Christmas Day 2009 and October 2010.

Compared to Egypt and Tunisia, conditions in Yemen are different because of AQAP’s activities, for two important reasons. AQAP’s presence in Yemen heightens the concern of outside powers, namely the US, about the consequences of removing Salih from power. For more than three years, there has been a growing chorus of counterterrorism experts warning about “state failure” in Yemen, and advocating reliance on Salih to anchor US policy. Yet there are plenty of signs that the Yemeni regime, and its political opposition, use AQAP to advance their own agendas. AQAP’s entanglement in Yemeni politics creates problems that did not exist in Egypt and Tunisia. Simply put, some elements of AQAP are linked to radical members of al–Harak who seek secession from the north, while elements in the regime also rely on AQAP associates to repress al–Huthi rebels north of Sanaa. Salih’s regime and Islamists of AQAP both propagandize against the Zaydi rebels, just as they did against southern Marxists between 1990 and 1994.

What emerges from this complex picture of Yemen? It is difficult to imagine pulling off a Tunisia, or Egypt, by removing Salih from office through a peaceful uprising of people on the streets. But in the new environment of the Arab world, there are apparently no barriers to success. Two months ago, most analysts said it could not be done in Tunisia and Egypt. So Yemenis should dream big, and imagine the possible. There are millions of youth dreamers in Yemen who have arrived at a stage of mature political awareness, and they are eager to lift their country from the abyss in which it now exists.

There are several keys to a successful change in government in Yemen. The demonstration effects of Tunisia and Egypt must be used as models to make the regime fear the peaceful assembly of citizens more than citizens fear the regime’s military/security forces. They should also be used to unplug the militant rhetoric of AQAP, so al–Qaeda realizes that it has no place in a future Yemen, just as President Salih, his sons and nephews, and General Ali Muhsin realize