Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yemen: Again, What were we protesting about?

The empty streets leading to Sana University, Yemen

The tents still stretch for more than a mile, weaving a jumbled path from the gates of Sana University along the ring road, an enduring reminder of the determination of this nation’s young protesters who took to the streets months ago demanding a new, more democratic government.

But that may be all that remains of the initial burst of optimism and determination. The young activists who drove this protest, who caught the wave of the Arab Spring and brought it home to Yemen, say they are increasingly dispirited, depressed and divided. 
Ali Abdullah Saleh

“We don’t believe in each other anymore as revolutionaries,” said Soliman Awadam, 23, who said he remembers when it all began, when he and just a few hundred others demonstrated in front of the gates of Sana’s university each morning before being chased out by violent pro-government supporters.

Yemen is trapped in a standoff, a leaderless twilight of uncertainty. The president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, remained defiant in a recorded video broadcast Thursday. He gave no indication when he might try to return from Saudi Arabia, where he has been convalescing since he was injured in a bomb attack. The opposition continues to demand a transition to a new government. The deadlock has left Yemen to face a humanitarian crisis amid rising food prices and shortages of electricity, water and fuel.
Before / after rocket attack

And that deadlock may also have done more to undermine the demonstrators than the lethal force once employed by Mr. Saleh and his allies.

“We are feeling despair,” said Mr. Awadam as he sat in a tent that had been set up for activists to use social media to organize and promote their cause.

At one time, the tent was spilling over with young people, clicking away at their laptops, posting videos to the Internet, filing updates to Facebook. These days, the tent is mostly empty, with no more than five or so at a time trying to keep their movement alive. In the western Yemeni city of Taiz, some protesters abandoned their nonviolent approach, battling security forces. In the southern port city of Aden, most protesters went home.

“I am feeling very frustrated,” said Anas Humaid, 21, who studies English and has remained for months in the street, in a tent.
It has been almost six months since protesters, mostly young people and students took to the streets demanding the immediate ouster of their president. Their numbers swelled from a few hundred in January to tens of thousands by April, uniting under the common theme of bringing down the Saleh government. They have withstood violence, harsh weather and even a two-week war in the capital between Mr. Saleh and his tribal rivals.

Now, some of those young people left behind say that Yemen’s political impasse has led to internal bickering and underscored a lack of vision, and that an overall feeling of weariness has settled in.

“We need to start our revolution again,” said Mr. Humaid, once part of a band of about 30 students who protested in front of Sana University even before the Tunisian revolution sparked mass protests throughout the Arab world.

In the summer heat, there is still talk of a comeback, a degree of wishful thinking, perhaps, given the protesters’ inability to agree on a course of action. Some protesters say they will escalate their demonstrations while others say they are going to form a transitional council without the government’s consent that will take power while Mr. Saleh is out of country.

Yet no one seems to be able to take tangible steps in any direction. They spend more time sitting in tents bickering — and at times outside tents physically fighting — about the differences between them, particularly between independents and those who belong to the Islamist political party.

“What’s clearly happening in Sana is that the revolution turned into a political crisis,” said a protest leader, Khaled al-Anisi. “Now we are in a critical stage. The revolutionaries need to join together.”

There has even been some talk of help from unlikely sources. Ali al-Masqari, a former Army officer, said that he and others who defected to join the uprising are trying to organize disaffected young people into a new group.

“I saw that the youth were dividing and they don’t have a leader, so we decided to help them organize and join together,” said Mr. Masqari as he held up what he said was a stack of papers filled with hundreds of names of those who joined.

But in the street, his overtures were seen by some, at least, with the suspicion that has come to define the mood in the capital.

“I am an independent youth but I don’t want to be part of your list,” Salah al-Shalafi said. Then in English, he added: “Don’t trust this man.”

At that, the two began shouting at each other, and five young activists sitting nearby dropped their heads into their hands, disheartened.

But for all of the bickering, there is one point many here seem to agree on: that they feel betrayed by the United States, which they feel did not give them adequate support.

“The American regime has postponed the events of the revolution,” said Mohamed al-Quhaly, an activist, echoing a common sentiment at the sit-in.

“We are very disappointed,” said Mr. Humaid.

No comments:

Post a Comment