News / Middle East

Yemen's Opposition Binds Young Activists, Armed Fighters

A former army officer, who defected to join anti-government protesters, shouts slogans during a rally demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana'a October 4, 2011.
A former army officer, who defected to join anti-government protesters, shouts slogans during a rally demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana'a October 4, 2011.

Young activists in Yemen spearheaded the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, turning grassroots protests into a national movement.  Now, with pro-democracy demonstrations in their ninth month, many fear their efforts have been co-opted by other opposition groups. 

The aims of the Yemeni youth movement are clear, and echo a call heard across the Middle East and North Africa all year. 

A member of the Media Committee for Change, activist Adel Abdo Arrabeai, says the main goal is to form a modern civil society.  In order to make that happen, he adds, Yemen's long-time leader must step down.

And that is a central dilemma of the pro-democracy movement: wanting President Saleh gone has won the protesters many allies, but many of them may not want a civil state.

Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee says defecting military commanders and anti-Saleh tribal leaders are exploiting the youth movement, a development he feels is very dangerous.

"The pro-democracy movement is very weak," said Arrabyee. "If it were strong, the Yemenis would have succeeded.  Now, we have been nine months [and] we did no succeed. Why?  Because of the old and traditional rivalry, because of the tribal leaders and defected commanders."

Foremost among the military-trained leaders is Ali Mohsen, a major general in command of Yemen's armored units who has switched to open support of the opposition.  Others in the anti-Saleh movement include fighters loyal to Abdel Hamid al Ahmar of the influential Ahmar family.  Activist Arrabeai says he is well aware of the limits of some of these partnerships.

Their only point in common so far, he says, is the focus on removing the president.  None of the activists' allies in the opposition, he adds, have shown any indication they want a civil state.

More immediately, military violence has often eclipsed young protesters' efforts.  Running gun and rocket battles in the capital have left ordinary citizens terrified, while fueling government claims that the opposition offers only chaos.

Yemen's foreign minister recently dismissed the pro-democracy movement as having been co-opted.

In addition, the increasing use of armed supporters to protect protesters has led some to question whether the youth have let their position be compromised.  Journalist Arrabyee says it is only natural that unarmed demonstrators, under attack from government forces, would seek protection, but activist Arrabeai concedes that some parties are forcing the movement toward violence.

He says the youth movement adheres to one principle and that is peaceful protest, and the greatest challenge of any revolutionary is keeping that as the basis for action.

Journalist Arrabyee worries that peaceful or not, the pro-democracy movement has a bigger problem:  it is, he says, simply outnumbered.

"The young people could not do anything because they are few.  The independent people, the real independent people, are very few among the whole protesters," said Arraabyee.

Independence, in the broader sense of the word, may be more deeply rooted in Yemen than first imagined.  

The director of the American Institute of Yemeni Studies, Stephen Steinbeiser, believes the youth movement could yet find a binding, common cause with another temporary alliance - Yemen's anti-Saleh tribes.

"Yemenis are generally very proud of their democracy," he said. "Now how they define that is very different than how people who come from a European or a North American background [might].  There is a sense that the people have the power in Yemen, and in fact that's also a very tribal notion, to some extent: that the tribes have more power than a central government."

It's an unusual idea, and according to Steinbeiser a complicated one.  But, he adds, he thinks the Yemeni people consider themselves "controllers of their own destiny" - a concept that could be fundamental to a Yemeni idea of democracy.

It may take some compromise and adjustment, but ultimately the youth movement may have more enduring allies than it seems right now.

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

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid