As Yemen’s revolution approaches the one year mark, Yemen has endured many adversities in order to be commonly referred to as ‘the longest most peaceful revolution’. Outgoing president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s defiance kept the world guessing and the Yemeni people determined poured into the streets. On November 23rd after many failed attempts and false promises Ali Abdullah Saleh finally signed the Gulf Cooperation Council brokered deal. The road leading up to this point was not easy for the people and thus we revisit a year in Yemen.
The Arab Spring hit Yemen after Egypt and soon picked up momentum, gathering immense support as the days went by. The people began sit-ins in the major cities like Sana’a and Taiz; other parts of the country soon followed suit and youth committees quickly formed. Yemen being the poorest nation in the Middle East, with more than half the population under 18; the people wanted to topple a dictator of three decades simply for doing nothing of benefit other than increasing corruption and contributing to the low standards of living – the people wanted democracy. As there were hardly any journalists in the country, Yemen had for nearly throughout the revolution effectively a media blackout. (Independent journalists were few and far between, but included the likes of Tom Finn, Iona Craig, Laura Kasinof, Adam Baron and Jeb Boone) Social networks such as Facebook and twitter became a popular means of communication and a tool of organization as it were in all of the ‘Arab Spring’ protests.
Although the youth had primarily set up sit-ins (camp) and had started the revolution, opposition party JMP soon started supporting the Youth revolution; they also gained the support of several tribes. The regime began counter-protests to legitimize it (regime) still had support; when all else failed there were reports of ‘hired thugs’ and security forces who stepped in and attacked the sit-ins. When attacks began they progressively became more violent with many activists and doctors confirming attacks were clearly in some cases ‘shoot to kill’.
On February 22nd the youth were attacked in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. This latest attack by pro-government forces claimed the lives of two students and injured several others It soon became clear that neither the revolutionist’s nor pro-government were willing to give up anytime soon. On March 9th change square in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a was yet again attacked, this time with what was claimed to be ‘nerve gas’. Several people seemed to be showing signs of inhaling something stronger than just tear gas. To add to the suspicions of suspected nerve gas independent journalists and activists seemed to also believe something wasn’t right. Iona Craig a Freelance journalist stated “I’m no chemicals expert but symptoms last night did not include eye & skin irritation like teargas. People just passed out after trouble breathing” This was however not the first time the regime was accused of using suspected nerve gas. Jane Novak a Yemen analyst reported in 2005 during the Sa’ada war claims from people on the ground that the military may have used nerve gas to quash the Houthi rebellion.
The attacks in Taiz on May 29th claimed the lives of twenty people and injured dozens more. Some of the dead included a group of handicapped men whose tent was lit ablaze; subsequently they burned to death. Some of the bloodiest days of the revolution include what was dubbed the ‘Sana’a massacre’ on March 18th killing over 45 and leaving 200 injured. The injured were taken to a make shift hospital which is actually the square’s mosque named the ‘Field hospital’. As they died they were lined up, with Qurans on their chests as a sign of respect. At this point in the southern port city of Aden at least 22 were known to be dead and 122 injured due to the regime’s crack down.
On September 18th many protesters were fired at while peacefully staging a sit-in in the capital Sana’a, this attack was one of the clearest in the pro-governments reported ‘shoot to kill’ methods. Many of the protesters sustained injuries to the head and neck; 22 died as a result and hundreds were reported injured.
On September 24th as Saleh returned from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after receiving treatment sustained in an assassination attempt; activists deemed the day a ‘blood bath in Sana’a. At least 18 were killed that day taking the death toll in four days to 100. Among the killed in the Sanaa’s were several children. That day Sana’a bore witness to the youngest recorded victim in the Yemeni revolution – 10 month old baby Anas.
Much to the discontent of the youth Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the GCC brokered deal in Riyadh (KSA). It is widely believed that the outgoing president Ali Abdullah Saleh left fully on his terms, with guarantees of impunity. The people undeterred carried on with their protests, reiterating ‘No immunity to killers’. The youth fully rejected the GCC deal as it went against their main goals and aspirations on which basis they started the popular uprising. As the ‘unity government’ was put in place consisting of the ruling party GPC and the opposition JMP; the youth were not satisfied. Many revolutionary youth expressed they believed they were sidelined when it came to forming a unity government. The unity government has still neither addressed the southern movement nor the Houthi’s in this process of political reform.
Although a one man race; elections are set for February 21st there are already talks that the ‘elections’ are to be boycotted. The southern movement and the Houthi’s not surprisingly have said they will boycott. Many argue that February 21st cannot be ‘deemed’ an election as there is only one candidate. Others argue that this is merely to take away power from Saleh and legitimize that he (Saleh) is no longer in power. Abdo Mansour Hadi Is to ‘officially’ have power after February 21st elections he is to be in power throughout the two-year transitional period. Many are split on whether this so called ‘election’ is the right move, as it would mean an almost enforced leader – to get rid of one is why they revolted. Others believe that a slow and steady reform is much better – especially with the worsening humanitarian crisis all attempts at stability should be a priority.
The Yemeni revolution has seen – unexpectedly people from all walks of life coming together in the hope of achieving democracy, freedom and justice. In the process Yemen has shown the world what it means to be peaceful against all odds. The revolution has been a long journey one which has seen a conservative nation embrace women joining in and marching freely. Even though Saleh is in the USA he still has many relatives in high ranking positions. If the revolution is to succeed all broken ties must be addressed and attempts to reconcile should be and must be a priority. Relatives of Saleh should also be dismissed of their positions. As we enter February 3rd, as the struggle continues even as a year has gone by – revolution still echoes in the streets.