Monday, July 18, 2011

Yemen: Six Months Into Revolution, What Have Protesters Accomplished?

By Ray Moseley
In a country with a 30-year dictatorship, rampant corruption, a discredited opposition, a failed economy and a population dominated by young people, it was inevitable that the youth of Yemen would set in train the wheels of revolution.
They were inspired by the youth of Egypt and they mobilized thousands to come into the streets to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Yet, unlike Egypt’s 18-day revolution, theirs goes on into its sixth month. They have seen the president forced to leave the country for hospital treatment in Saudi Arabia after being seriously wounded in a rocket attack on his palace.
Beyond that, what have they accomplished? And what does the future hold for them, and for Yemen, if the tottering regime of President Saleh’s placemen finally crumbles?
Four young men with intimate knowledge of the youth movement—two of them Yemenis—came together in London on Thursday to discuss these questions at a meeting of the Royal Institute of International Relations.
They provided no firm answer to critical questions about the future, not surprising in a situation that remains in flux. But they were in general agreement that the aims of the youth movement are freedom and democracy, an end to corruption, holding their fragmented country together despite secessionist impulses and helping to end the economic misery that has deepened as a result of the revolution.
All of them expressed disappointment at the failure of the international community to give their movement greater support.
Abdullah Alshamery, editor of the Yemen Voice magazine in Britain, suggested that the lack of support may be due in part to American and other sensitivities about Saudi Arabia’s key role in Yemeni affairs. He said the Saudi aim was to keep Yemen stable but not allow it to become too strong or democratic lest that set an example for its own population.
Saleem Haddad, editor of the online foreign policy magazine, said the youth movement was not monolithic but from its debates there had emerged a progressive movement calling for democracy. People have taken to the streets, he said, because of the failure of opposition parties to represent the youth, among the main victims of the country’s 65 per cent unemployment rate.
Mr. Haddad said the youth movement has three main grievances: exclusion from political life, corruption and violence.
“They had to convince a very divided country to protest,” he said. “There is a big focus on transparency and on consensus building, which has a long history in Yemen.”
He said it remained to be seen how capable the youth would be in building political coalitions and in grassroots organizing at the village level.
Thanos Petouris, a doctoral candidate at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, spoke about a movement in southern Yemen that is challenging the agreement under which North Yemen and South Yemen united in 1990.
The youth, he said, want to prevent the breakup of the country and recognize that the current political system will need to give way to a federalist structure. But he said the movement is not as visible in the south as it is in the north.
“The youth are the only ones with political legitimacy in all areas of society,” he said. “The youth movement does not have a magic wand, but they have the support of the people to move Yemen into the 21st century.”
He noted that, in a letter to President Barack Obama on March 17, the youth movement said President Saleh had turned the south into “a torture chamber” and he and his family had hoarded the wealth of the country.
He said the international community was choosing to ignore the opportunity created by the president’s enforced stay in Saudi Arabia.
-This commentary was published in The Yemen Times on 18/07/2011
-Abubakr Al-Shamahi, editor of the London-based Comment Middle East

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