News / Middle East

Tensions in Yemen: An Inside View

Thomas Finn of the English-language Yemen Times offers insights and observations he has gleaned from living and working in the country.

Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sana'a, Yemen, March 3, 2011
Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sana'a, Yemen, March 3, 2011

For weeks, thousands of protesters have been gathering regularly in a central square in the Yemen's capital, Sana’a, demanding an immediate end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule. Even though some rallies have turned violent resulting in the loss of human life, Saleh has, so far, only offered not to run for re-election in 2013 and not pass power to his son.

To get an inside view of events in Yemen and to examine them in the context of revolutions in other Arab countries, we contacted Thomas Finn, Features Editor at the English-language Yemen Times, who also files reports for The Guardian. VOA’s Davin Hutchins spoke to him ahead of another planned large anti-government rally in Sana’a, which traditionally take place on Fridays.

Hutchins: In recent weeks, Yemen has witnessed rallies - those which strongly reject the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh and others strongly supporting the regime. Which protest group do you think better represents the wider sentiment in the country?

Finn: Actually, it is something that is not that easy to gauge. Talking to people in the streets in Sana’a, shopkeepers and taxi drivers, you would reckon that it is somewhere about fifty-fifty. You have lots of people saying that the president is the only person who can hold Yemen together. And you have other people saying that the president is the only thing that is stopping Yemen from developing and growing out of being such a poor country.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, center, flanked by body guards in Sana'a, March 10, 2011
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, center, flanked by body guards in Sana'a, March 10, 2011

But something that you do notice about the pro-government protesters and the anti-government protesters is the age gap. The people who are protesting against the government are generally young and educated, unemployed, some of them English-speaking professionals, whereas the government supporters tend to be in their thirties and forties, and traditionally dressed. They are not wearing jeans. They are wearing traditional Yemeni garb.

Now, three quarters of the population is Yemen is under the age of 25. It has a massively young population. So, if you went by that, you would suggest that the wider sentiment in Yemen is against the president. But it’s by no means as clear as it was in cases like Egypt and Tunisia.

Hutchins: What are the anti-regime protesters specific demands?

Finn: The protesters in Yemen are a mixed bunch. As I said, you have young people, students but, firstly, almost everyone is calling for the president to go. Demands other than that differ a lot. You have young people who want jobs, who want an end to unemployment. And you also have tribesmen who are against the government and who are calling for an end to corruption and an end to bribery.

And the other demand that you often hear on the street is for the president to remove his family from positions of power in Yemen. His sons all hold powerful positions in the military. And aside from the president stepping down, something people would like to see here is him removing them from those positions.

Hutchins: You had an article in your paper recently from the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, who says that the opposition movements have not really articulated what kind of rule they would want or how the government would function after Saleh. Do you think that this is a fair characterization?  

Finn: Yes, it probably is. As I said, the opposition here is very divided. It’s a mixed bunch. You have an Islamist party called the Islah and some within it are calling for an Islamic caliphate in Yemen. You also have a bunch of time-worn socialists from back-in-the-day, who have a completely different set of demands. But the hardest question you can put to anti-regime protesters at the moment is – give the name of Yemen's next president. It is something that people are very unsure of.

However, young people with whom you would speak at the university, who are protesting, say that once the president is gone, that would clear the path for true democracy in Yemen. And the reason why they really don’t know the name of the next president in Yemen is because they would like for it to be a civilian, somebody who is not a powerful figure in Yemeni politics at the moment…

And, certainly, if [Saleh] continues to stay in power and things continue to escalate the way they are, they could get a lot more anguish and violence as a result of him being in Yemen rather than him not being here, and we could see parts of the country completely breaking from his control if things continue the way they are.

Hutchins: Speaking of that escalation, have you seen from Friday to Friday an increase in tension? And what do you expect to see this coming Friday?

Finn: The pattern so far has been that the protesters gather en masse on Friday. They all go to the mosque at 12 o'clock and pray, and then they all pull out together afterwards and head to the protests. Now, what we have been seeing in Sana’a University is protesters praying en masse together on the grounds. I mean thousands and thousands of people.

And they also, as well as praying, hold memorials and ceremony [in memory] of the protesters that have been killed recently. Last weekend in Yemen we saw seven protesters killed by riot police using tears gas, water cannons and batons. So I expect this rally to be a bigger turnout than last week’s – over 40 of 50,000 people in the capital, I would imagine, and a mass prayer in memory of these martyrs, as they call them.

Hutchins: Do you think Saleh will call a state of emergency if [these rallies] get much larger?

Finn: I think it is unlikely that President Saleh will call a state of emergency unless he really has to. He has been doing his best not to give the media much in terms of reporting on these protests. His strategy at the moment seems to be to prevent foreign journalists from entering the country. He also kicked four foreign journalists out of the country last week. But I don’t think that he is likely to call a state of emergency, unless things really escalate and we start seeing people getting shot in the street and severe violence in the streets.

Hutchins: And if these are Saleh’s final days, do you think he will approach a transition more like Mubarak or more like Gadhafi?

Finn: I spoke to a member of the ruling party who has recently resigned from the party, and he said that while Saleh is aware of the opposition against him, he still does not really believe it. He’s ruled the country for 32 years and he really views himself as a savior of this country. We saw him the other day blaming the unrest in the Middle East on America and Israel to, in a way, scapegoat himself. I would say that President Saleh is more likely to behave like Gadhafi in his final days than Mubarak.

 

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid