Yemen: A growing and unifying mass opposition movement

“The president wants to get rid of the people!”

Monday 21 February saw the 11th day of the mass opposition struggle in Yemen. The movement is growing and unifying. Friday 18th February was called a “start-up-Friday” all over the country, meaning the movement will not end until President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his regime are overthrown.

On 17 February, all the ex-leaders of the south of Yemen advised the “southern movement” to join the rest of the protesters in calling for the down fall of the regime.

In Aden, since this announcement the movement has been growing. This in contrast to the first days of the protests, when there were two separate mass demonstrations in Aden, with one if the protests calling for self-determination for the south. Underlining this developing unity, a soldier in the capital, Sanaa, who joined the movement, spoke at a mass meeting on Monday morning, 21 February: “I will not serve under a regime that send us to fight a pointless war – six civil wars in six years – my brothers in the forces are eager to join you”.

In Taiz, the third biggest city in Yemen, about ten thousand people have been staying in Freedom Square, sleeping at night and protesting at day – for eleven days now.

On Saturday 19 February, the protesters in Taiz were attacked by grenades thrown at them from a land cruiser which is owned by the local governor. The governor is a wealthy businessman, a member of parliament and a leader of the party of president Saleh. After the assault, thousands of people joined the protesters and formed committees of defence.

In Aden, two protesters were killed, 18 wounded and hundreds arrested on Wednesday 16 February, in an attempt to crush the movement. Armed vehicles and tanks moved around the city, setting up checkpoints. People nonetheless protested after Friday prayer and continued into the night, as part of ‘Start-up-Friday’. On Saturday, the armed forces completely seized the city, blocking anyone from entering or leaving.

In Shiehk Othman, a township in Aden, the population revolted. Two city councillors resigned and joined the movement. A police station and the local office of the president’s party were burned down. The army responded ferociously, forcing families to leave their houses, to use them as human shields, and as high ground for snipers. Four people were killed in Shiehk Othman. No journalists are allowed into Aden’s hospitals, so the number of injured is not known.

“Loyalty festival’

The same night, the president’s party organised a “loyalty festival” in Sanaa. After being hailed by a number of propagandists, the president gave a speech but with no real intent to win over the people. He apologised for the deaths in Aden and Taiz and for the student who was killed in Sanaa and then the president promised “fundamental change”. He said, “We have to solve this through constitutional dialogue”, meaning he wants to contain and derail the mass movement. People on the streets responded, saying: “The president wants to get rid of the people!”

The enormous strength of the ever-growing movement is shown by the positions taken by the Muslim leaders. During the first days of the demonstrations, they said that protesters would “go to hell”. Now they say the thugs attacking peaceful protesters will go to hell. Pro-bourgeois leaders are also adapting, for example providing some food and tents to protesters via NGOs. But they still want to have a foot in each camp, as they are confident about the final outcome of the struggle. Hussein al-Ahmar, a well-known tribe leader, gave a message saying he would ‘protect’ protesters from thugs, if the government cannot guarantee the safety of the protesters.

The movement in Yemen is encouraged by the news of protests in neighbouring Bahrain, Oman and Djibouti. But there are discussions and fears about role of Saudi Arabia and the US. The movement still has the upper hand – all 22 provinces have seen protests. The regime is near the edge and can collapse. But what is needed is organisation for the masses and clear ideas of how to fight feudalism, capitalism and imperialism. There are already lessons to be drawn from Tunisia and Egypt, about the decisive role of the working class in achieving the removal of despots, as well as the threat from the counter-revolution and the role of the “opposition leaders” that want to derail the revolutionary movements. Needed most urgently is a mass party of the working masses and poor that will strive to take power to secure all their democratic and social demands.

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February 2011