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

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid