Yemen: Revolutionary movement under threat

Regime unleashes counter-revolutionary violence

The revolutionary movement in Yemen has continued for nine months unabated. But President Saleh is still in power and more than 200 protesters have been killed over the past two weeks alone. Saleh supporters who defected to the mass movement clearly want to derail the revolution.

The mass struggle has gained new impetus in recent weeks. On 17 September, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, from his hospital bed in Saudi Arabia, promised new reforms and new elections. But the 150,000 young people and workers occupying ‘Change Square’ in the capital, Sanaa, since last January, knew Saleh was not serious. His new promises were met with demonstrations that, for the first time, left the Square to march on the presidential palace. The streets in central Sanaa were flooded with demonstrators. Several hundred thousand demonstrated around the country on Tuesday 20 September, demanding Saleh’s immediate resignation.

"Young people will not go along with it [compromise]", said Walid Al Amari, a senior member of the youth protest committee, in a speech to the demonstrators in the square close to the university.

"They will not give up until they achieve all the revolution’s goals”, he added, referring to the demand that Saleh must resign immediately.

Government troops opened fire on demonstrators, who also were attacked by plainclothes security forces with machine guns and swords. Anti-aircraft guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars were also directed against the protests.

But mass protests continued for three days and last Monday thousands of demonstrators and armed groups in opposition to Saleh invaded the Republican Guard headquarters. The Republican Guard is controlled by the president’s son, Ahmed, who ruled the country in his father’s name over the summer.

Ali Abdullah Saleh

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was seriously injured in an attack in June, returned last weekend hurriedly from his hospital bed in Saudi Arabia. Again he promised negotiations and future elections. But he was attempting to simultaneously justify state violence against growing social unrest in the country, claiming the protests will strengthen al-Qaeda.

Thousands have been injured while at least 225 people have been killed in the last fourteen days. Mass protests against the regime’s bloody violence have been held in all major cities, including Aden and Ibb.

Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country

The revolution in Yemen, which is the Arabian Peninsula’s most populous but poorest country, has characteristics of the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The massive demonstrations by millions at the beginning of the year showed that Saleh, US imperialism’s faithful friend, was about to be overthrown in a similar way to Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia.

Several of Saleh’s allies left the sinking ship and joined the opposition movement. The most important were General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, whose forces since March are supposedly there to "protect" the protesters on ‘Change Square’, and billionaire Hamid al-Ahmar, who represents the important Hashid clan, which also has an armed force. Last May, the first fighting between government troops and General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar’s troops, allied with armed tribal groups, too place. The past week’s fighting has been more intense.

Armed groups in both the north and south of the country became more active recently. Unified Yemen, under the rule of Saleh, was established in 1990, but since then, several civil wars have been fought in the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on 13 September that the state apparatus in Yemen "seemed to have lost control of parts of the country and in the larger cities." The report warned of a new civil war.

The US urged Saleh not to return. Washington still keeps a low profile over his bloody repression, although it has been forced to realise that Saleh has lost control. Last spring, the US and the EU gave support to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative which would see Saleh retire with an amnesty and be replaced by Vice President Mansur al-Hadi. Some opposition politicians would be part of a new ’transitional’ government. But the Gulf Cooperation Council is made up of authoritarian and despotic regimes – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates – where protests have also been crushed. They do not act in favour of democracy, but to stop the revolutionary mass movement.

In the spring, Saleh said three times that he would sign the agreement with the Gulf States, the US and EU, but backed out on each occasion, at the last minute.

This "peace initiative" has been backed by both the General Muhsin al-Ahmar and the Hashidklanen. They have also teamed up with the tame opposition parties and formed a "transitional council" on the Libyan model, the ‘National Coalition of Peaceful Revolutionary Forces’. The main aim is to appeal for support from Western powers.

But the official opposition parties, General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar and corporate billionaire, Hamid al-Ahmar (who owns both telecom and media companies) are not representatives of the revolutionary masses and tried to hold back the mass protests last week.

A new regime involving these forces would quickly become a new authoritarian regime and possibly lead to new armed conflicts when their interests collide.

US and EU imperialism hope for some form of compromise. Yemen is strategically important for oil exports from the Persian Gulf, while the fragmentation and continued social distress makes it possible for right-wing extremist Islamist groups to establish themselves. Yemen’s army has been trained by the US and regarded as a tool in the so-called "war on terror".

Masses must rely on own strength

Yemen’s revolutionary protests lack the sort of trade union organisation seen in Tunisia and the tradition of strikes present in Egypt. This has hampered the mass movement despite the youthful masses’ enormous energy and fighting spirit.

Both the regime and other armed forces let the masses bear all burdens. There are major shortages of food, water and electricity in the already very poor country. Over 100,000 people are displaced as a result of armed conflict.

The masses can only rely on their own strength and self-organisation to overthrow the regime. Those figures that defected from the regime for their own interests cannot be trusted. Neither imperialism nor neighbouring regimes are allies of the Yemeni masses. They are party to the military oppression and economic exploitation of workers and the poor in Yemen.

The revolutionary movement needs to win over rank and file soldiers and put arms under democratic control. Democratic revolutionary organisations, especially among the workers, must be built in the communities, workplaces and in the rural areas. Appeals must be directed to the masses in neighbouring countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to support the revolution and to also resist their own despots.

The revolution in Yemen is an impressive demonstration of the strength of the masses against military dictatorship. It is a mass movement that is organically connected with the revolution throughout the region – a heroic struggle against dictatorship, capitalism and imperialism.

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September 2011