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.
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Resigns

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid