Saturday, March 12, 2011

Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series: Yemen

The protests in Yemen kicked off on January 18, 2011.
See the whole Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series.
Yemen comes next in the chronological order. You don't hear much about Yemen in American news. You may hear more if you go to the global news pages of websites, but this definitely one of those countries of which America is wholly uninformed about the people and places and culture that makes Yemen the country it is.

Basic History
Yemen's official name is the Republic of Yemen. Geographically, Yemen is located in southwest Asia, and it considered a Middle East country. Important bordering countries include: Saudia Arabia and Oman. The capital is Sana'a. Yemen is actually made up of a mainland and over 200 islands, the largest of which is called Socotra. The population estimated at 23.6 million people. The language is Arabic.

Yemen's most recent leader is President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He has been ruling Yemen for over 32 years. The President is the head of state, and they have a Prime Minister who is the head of government, over the two legislative Parliament bodies. The Prime Minister is Ali Mohammed Mujur. Their government is setup as a presidential democracy, though the upper body of Parliament's members are all appointed by the President.

In terms of  independence, Yemen gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Yemen (and the entire region of southern Arabia) has a long history of being under the control of whoever the big controlling power was at the time, going all the way back to 12th century BC. The country was two separate entities ruled by a monarchy and the British. North and South Yemen each gained their republics in the 1960s and in 1990, they united at the Republic of Yemen.

The Protests
The main causes cited as the reasons for the protests include: unemployment, government corruption, the government's plans to modify Yemen's constitution, and poor living conditions.

The Yemeni protesters chose the color pink to signify their revolution attempts as a Jasmine Revolution, and to suggest their non-violent intentions.

The main problem outside of economic problems for the Yemeni people was President Saleh's plan to run again for President and then eventually pass the Presidency on to his son. The people saw this as outrageous since he'd already run again for the last election though he'd previously promised not to, and hand-selecting his son to run went against the ideals of a republic. The big problem with President Saleh's proposed changes to government is that he would be allowed to be President for life, no election needed.

The rising opposition to Saleh within his own government has been growing for years. The unrest amongst his people has been growing too, surging in recent history as food prices rose. The initial protests were in the capital city of Sana'a as well as southern Yemen cities. The protests is the south were considerably more aggressive. The protests were in the thousands and called for a stop to the constitutional reforms, and improvement of the Yemeni economy, and the ouster of President Saleh.

The Yemeni government responded to those first protests with suggested changes, but they were rejected by the opposition as not enough. They wanted to ensure that Saleh and his son would not be able to rule indefinitely.  The protests continued around Yemen, and there were reports of the protests not being "popular protests" like in Egypt and Tunisia, but being wholly organized by the opposition parties.

A particularly violent day in Yemen occurred when the protesters celebrated Hosni Mubarak's ouster from Egypt. They were attacked with sticks, knives, and assault rifles. This was February 11th. Pretty much after this point, there were commonplace reports of protesters being beaten by government anti-protest forces. The numbers of protesters grew too. A significant portion of the daily protesters were identified as college and university students.

As February wore on, the calls from the protesters were for the ouster of the regime. Saleh was trying to negotiate with opposition parties to prevent his ouster. There were also pro-government rallies being held around the country. As the number of protesters being killed and wounded and arrested rose, the protesters called for the violence to stop. Yemeni clerics declared the violence against the protesters a crime.

At the end of February, some members of the government resigned in protest of the violence being used against the protesters. As February turned into March, an opposition leader rejected Saleh's proposal of a unity government and called for his ouster. Also, the number of protesters swelled in various cities from tens of thousands to almost 200,000 people.

March has seen the opposition offer Saleh a proposal for him to remain in office but leave by the end of 2011. He rejected this proposal. It has also seen the Yemeni Air Force dropping bombs in locations where thousands of protesters have gathered. More members of the ruling party resigned from Parliament. Over a million people showed up for a protest in southern Yemen. Some members of The Army switched sides to protest against the government.

Saleh offered reforms to switch to a parliamentary system of government. It was rejected as "too little too late". He has blamed the United States and Israel, just like almost every other leader in countries with protests happening. What's going on in Yemen right now is still developing daily.

The most recent news I have of the protests is that March 11th was being called the "Friday of No Return". The protesters were hunkering down to let Saleh know the only resolution was for him to step down as President. March 12th marks the second day of harsh crackdowns on anti-government protesters. Security forces have opened fire on the protesters and have killed people. There's no telling to what height these clashes will escalate, or when the end will come in.
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