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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs