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

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid