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Yemen Seeking Reform Through Revolution
Yemen Seeking Reform Through Revolution
With daunting challenges facing President Saleh's regime in Yemen for many years, the uprisings there, triggered by unrest in Tunisia and Egypt , were not surprising. Yemen is dealing with the Huthi rebellion, a secessionist movement in the south and a growing Al-Qaeda presence in the country.
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Monday, March 14,2011 14:47

With daunting challenges facing President Saleh's regime in Yemen for many years, the uprisings there, triggered by unrest in Tunisia and Egypt , were not surprising. Yemen is dealing with the Huthi rebellion, a secessionist movement in the south and a growing Al-Qaeda presence in the country.

There are more and more reasons for people to take to the streets. At the same time, the average Yemeni is struggling to survive under worsening economic conditions. The people are on edge fearing the protest movement could push the country to the brink and unleash broad civil strife. To avoid blood shed there must be great struggle and the ability to work boldly together to bring about positive change.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired people of the Middle East beyond imagination. Yemen has responded and mobilized themselves socially, consciously copying their fellows' methods and demands as they take to the streets openly calling for Saleh to step down.

At first, tribal leaders, religious clerics and official opposition groups stood by quietly looking on. However, the protests have grown in size and popularity, so the regime security forces have used heavy-handed violence; a signature of despotic Middle East autocracies.

The regime was caught off guard and in a knee-jerk reaction has used characteristically harsh tactics, particularly in the south, arresting, beating harassing and even killing activists. Security personnel have failed to protect protesters, and some even encouraged or participated in the repression.

Mobilizing counter demonstrations was not difficult for Saleh, as he still enjoys genuine support born of tribal loyalties and nurtured by a deep patronage system that doles out benefits. Under pressure, Saleh has been compel­led to make a series of unprecedented concessions, particularly regarding presidential term limits and hereditary succession. However, this is not enough and violence continues, enraging the youth and only attracting more anti-government supporters.

Although the regime has managed to rally supporters, there are more defections every day, including tribal heads and clerics.

If regional patterns come into play, it is easy to assume that Saleh's regime will be removed. Yemenis suffer in terms of poverty, unemployment and rampant corruption. Indeed, Saleh's regime has good reason to be concerned. So far Yemeni protestors are being bold enough not to back down in the face of the regime's counter measures.

It is difficult to predict political outcomes in the Middle East ; each nation has its societal differences that render speculation useless. Saleh's regime is more broadly inclusive and adaptable and has perfected the art of co-opting its opposition, and it has an extensive patronage network that has discouraged many from directly challenging the president. Yemen also has a multi-party system, a parliament, and local government as well as informal forums of discussion and together these provide meaningful outlets for political competition and dissent, while preserving space for negotiation and compromise.

However, negotiation is only one side of the political coin in Yemen , as tribal affiliations, regional distinctions and the widespread availability of weapons are more likely to determine the future of the nation. There is nothing resembling a professional military with a national identity. The security apparatus is fragmented between personal fiefdoms and all the top military commanders are Saleh's blood relatives who abide by tribal affiliations.

As the north and south struggle for their own causes, it is almost impossible to preserve unity of purpose like that which exists in the Egyptian Revolution. At the same time, youth activists are seeking to transcend geographic divides, and the umbrella opposition group – the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) – is building closer ties with rebels in both north and south.  

No one in Yemen wants the country to fall into tribal warfare. As the rules of the game are in a state of flux, there is an uncommon opportunity for serious reform but also for violent conflict.

Simply put, the protesters want the president’s quick ouster, however, the president and those who have long benefited from his rule are unlikely to give in without a fight. To assuage conflict and tension, the regime will have to make more significant concessions than they have thus far been willing to and these would have to touch the core of a system that has relied on patron-client networks and on the military-security apparatus. The opposition and civil society activists must bring about a long-overdue democratic transition.

If Yemen is not to fall into further civil strife, opposition parties need to support youth and civil society to lead peaceful protests and participate officially in the Joint Meetings Parties (JMP). There must also be negotiations with the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and religious leaders to make a plan for the peaceful transfer of power with a specific timeline and agenda.

The promises the regime has made must be implemented so as to usher in a more representative civilian government.

If Saleh's regime respects the rights of all citizens, those who perpetrate violence against demonstrators should be prosecuted. At the same time, the international community should develop stronger ties with civil society and opposition groups that are committed to peaceful protests.

tags: Middle East / Yemen / Qaeda / Qaida / Tunisia / / Egyptian Constitution / Egyptian Protestors / Peaceful Gatherings / President Saleh / Yemenis / Egyptian Revolution / Civil Society / Yemeni Government / Congress / Peaceful Protests /
Posted in Reform Issues  
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