Yemen’s Revolution Far From Accomplished
Most Western headlines about Yemen lately have focused on the “al-Qaeda threat” and “US drone strikes on suspected militants.” Unfortunately, neither give much credence to the real challenges facing Yemenis since former President Ali Abdullah Saleh transferred his powers to his Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on 27 February 2012 through a Gulf-brokered transitional plan.
The Gulf initiative was widely rejected among Yemenis as it did not fulfill the democratic demands of the revolution. The deal was more of an attempt to salvage the regime, yet some argue that it was the only option available. Sam Waddah, a Yemeni blogger, points out that “Yemenis in their revolution were not just up against Saleh and his regime, but also against the international community where major regional and international powers including the United States and Saudi Arabia backed Saleh up to the last minute.”
The initiative was viewed as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to subvert Yemen’s revolution and stop it from spilling across the border. The US worked behind the scenes and strongly backed the initiative after finding in President Hadi a suitable successor who would support their drone campaign in Yemen. US drone strikes have only intensified since Hadi assumed power and are causing popular outrage towards both the US and the Yemeni government as civilian death tolls mount.
Yemen’s 2011 revolution demanded an overall change in the economic, political, social and military spheres. Among the main demands of the 10-month revolution were the change of the regime, an end to Saleh’s corrupt family rule and the reconstruction of the army. According to the Gulf transitional plan, begrudgingly signed by Saleh on 23 November 2011, President Hadi will serve for an interim two-year period in which his main tasks will be the reconstruction of the military, conducting a national dialogue, drafting a new constitution and preparing for the 2014 elections.
Six months on, Hadi and his interim government are still facing many challenges impeding the achievement of these goals. Among these challenges are the weekly, if not daily, suicide attacks and car bombs allegedly by al-Qaeda, the assassinations and assassination attempts of military and political figures, the continuous attacks on the power grids and gas pipelines allegedly by tribes in Mareb, the Hirak separatist movement in the South, the Houthi rebels in the North, the deteriorating humanitarian conditions, and catastrophic food and refugee crises gripping the country. However, thwarting Hadi’s attempts to advance on any of these fronts is former president Saleh himself.
Those who are not following Yemen closely might be amazed to know that Saleh still lives in Yemen’s capital Sanaa and has awarded himself the title of “leader” to replace the lost title of “president.” He still heads the General People’s Congress (GPC), the former ruling party that is a 50 percent partner in the current National Unity Government, and is thus constantly disturbing the transitional process through loyalist supporters. His family members still hold key military positions. Ahmed Saleh, the son of the former dictator, remains the leader of the Republican Guards and Yahya, Saleh’s nephew is still the head of the Central Security Force. Yemen is paying dearly for the Gulf plan, which did not ban Saleh or his family from participating in the country’s political and military spheres.
The Saleh family still plays a prominent role despite some efforts by Hadi to remove some members and loyalists from the military and governmental posts. Some argue that Hadi lacks the power or the will to remove the two men close to Saleh entirely from their posts. “The fact that these two forces [Republican Guards and Central Security] were the reason behind almost all the blood spilt in the revolution and yet their leaders are still reigning is beyond me,” says Luai Ahmed, an 18-year-old Yemeni student and activist.
In a blatant sign of defiance to Hadi’s decision to reconstruct the military, the pro-Saleh Republican Guards troops besieged the Ministry of Defense on 14 August, while the president was out of the country, killing five people and wounding nine others. In late July a group of policemen and tribesmen loyal to Saleh occupied the Ministry of the Interior and looted its contents, killing 15 people. According to a local report, Hadi himself has already survived six assassination attempts in only seven months in office.
Yemen is often touted as an Arab Spring success story that has deposed its dictator, but reality is Yemenis are still suffering from political instability, violence, electricity and water cuts, inflation, unemployment, and food shortages, all of which have only intensified in the aftermath of the revolution.
“The fact that people are more aware of their rights and the corrupt deals the previous government made, forces them to escalate their demands and put pressure on the government,” said Shatha al-Harazi, a political and human rights journalist.
Many Yemenis do not feel that substantial change has been achieved since the ouster of Saleh. The state has lost control over some areas of Yemen, and the military is divided and on constant standby for any possible confrontation. They feel the intense power struggle between the old regime and the current one. A Yemeni journalist who asked not to be named describes the situation in Yemen as dire and chaotic. “The likelihood of a successful transition is up in the air and similarly the possibility of a potential civil war or armed conflict is also there.”
UN Envoy to Yemen Jamal Bin Omar stated that non-military sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Security Council Charter will be imposed against any official who attempts to hinder the political settlement, including the freezing of assets and a travel ban. However, the empty threats by Hadi and the UN, repeated ad nauseum, have not deterred Saleh and his loyalists from seeking to undermine Hadi’s power and hinder the implementation of the Gulf plan which ousted him from power.
Unless Saleh’s family is truly dismissed from positions of power and international sanctions are immediately imposed on them, Yemen will continue to suffer from political instability and insecurity.
Noon Arabia is a Yemeni blogger, wishing to write under a pseudonym for personal and security reasons