Samstag, 17. September 2011

The revolution at a crossroads

The following article is by far the best I have read on the "revolution" in Yemen, sind February. It is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in what is going on in the country.

Yemen's counterrevolutionary power-play
Foerign Policy, Septermber 16, 2011
by Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani

Observers of Yemen are often asked why the revolution there has taken so long and why it has been so inconclusive. The more basic question -- never asked, though inextricably tied to this -- is why an uprising started in the first place. 

When the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and began to spread in the region, I did not think the conditions in Yemen were ripe for it. Indeed corruption, inequality, and the callous disregard for law were much worse in Yemen than any other country in the region. However, the conditions usually viewed as prerequisites for revolution -- a large and mobile middle class, a strong civil society, high literacy rate, and internet penetration -- are all non-existent. Yet the state does benefit from an historical accident, the adoption of a multi-party system in 1990 as part of the unity agreement between South and North Yemen. Twenty years of multi-party experience and the attendant mobilization skills of politicking made it possible for Yemeni activists to launch the revolution. Unfortunately, the absence of a broad middle class and a dynamic civil society has stunted the movement's momentum. The revolution has gradually transformed into what is largely an elitist struggle for power. 

In February, the revolution was in its purest form, an escalating popular protest not controlled by political parties or political factions. Activists demonstrated a degree of national unity rarely witnessed in Yemen. But the Joint Meeting of Parties (JMP), the main coalition of opposition groups, was reluctant to participate in the protests. As a result, youth in squares across Yemen cried out, "No partisanship and no parties. It is a youth revolution." 

Junior partners in the JMP, especially the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP), were more forthcoming in support of the revolutionary platform from the start. Meanwhile, the Islamic party Islah, the main opposition faction, which until recently had an alliance with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was hesitant to commit until the revolution gathered pace. They had the most to lose by openly challenging the regime. Islah eventually joined the youth in full force and successfully maneuvered to control the organizing committee of Al-Taghyeer (Change) Square in Sana'a and was instrumental in setting up many provincial protest squares. It's worth noting that the exception to Islah dominance played out in al-Hurreyah (freedom) Square in Taiz, Yemen's third city, which came to be referred to as the heart of the revolution. 

From then on, the slogans and the rhetoric of the protestors came to represent the voice of the JMP rather than the youth. A notable example of this shift in rhetoric is the attacks on the General People's Congress (GPC), the nominal ruling party which lacks hard power and which the masses do not perceive as a primary adversary of the revolution. Islah's disparagement of the GPC is seen as a self-serving tactic, a ploy which they hope would lead to disbanding the GPC and thus giving Islah a real chance of gaining a majority in post-revolution elections. 

The situation transformed in March after the massacre at al-Karamah where snipers shot dead 54 unarmed youth and injured many more. That horrific event led to mass defections within the regime, the military, the bureaucracy, and the ruling party. 

General Ali Mohsin, Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahmar, and Sheikh Abdul-Majid Al Zindani were the most notable converts to the revolution. Mohsin, the second-most powerful person in Yemen, was Saleh's closest ally. As Saleh succeeded in concentrating power around him and his closest relatives, Mohsin was sidelined and, in turn, became Saleh's greatest competitor. Al-Ahmar inherited the powerful position of the Paramount Sheikh of Hashid Tribal Confederacy from his father, the legendary Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, whose approval of Saleh was sought by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia before it agreed to install Saleh as president in 1978. Moreover, Zindani is the most popular and best-known Yemeni hard-line cleric with links to Osama Bin Laden. A leader of Islah, he was Saleh's ally against Islah moderate leadership in the past few years. 

Read the full article here.

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