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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents 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.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid