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Yemen’s Revolution: Opposition is mounting


        Yemen’s Revolution: Opposition is mounting

As the Middle East is being swept off by a revolutionary wind, many analysts are drawing parallels between the Egyptian Revolution and the uprising in neighboring countries. However, recent events in Libya prove that if indeed a need for Freedom and self political determination unify the protesters across borders, each and every uprising has its own specifics.

Yemen has often been the scene of social unrests, but so far this anti-government sentiment was concentrated in the southern region of Yemen, which since the 1990 unification has been clinging to a need of Independence; and in the northern mountains of Sa’ada, which aspire to a return of the archaic rule of the “Imams”.

Up to this point, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been able to maintain a certain status quo thanks to the support of the Tribes and US funding.

However, the balance of power is beginning to tip on favor of the people. Emboldened by the recent successes of Egypt, Tunisia and now it seems Libya to topple their leaders; Yemen’s opposition is beginning to resemble a united political entity.

Political map of Yemen

For the most part, Yemen is a one party dominant state, in which the General People’s Congress holds power. Although the government allows the opposition to politically exists, its ability to influence the policy making process has been nonexistent.

It needs to be noted that in true autocratic style, the President made sure that any real opponent was sent away or thrown in prison, in order to crush any political aspiration. It was the case of Sheikh Mohamed Abu Lahoum who had to flee to the United States in the 1990’s and remained exiled for 11 years.

The only real contender to Ali Abdullah Saleh is and has been for many years the Al-Ahmar’s clan. The powerful and influential Hashid family has made no effort to disguise its opposition to the current regime.

Importance of the Tribes

As many countries in the Gulf, Yemen has a tribal heritage that remains relevant to this day. With a strong rate of illiteracy and a low urbanization, Yemen remains very fragmented, vowing allegiance to its many Sheikhs.

 Ali Abdullah Saleh ensured their supports by ways of financial incentives and preferential treatments. In recent years however, as Yemen’s resources dried up, so did the government’s aids to the Sheikhs.

Yemen’s tribes can be divided for the most part into two groups: the Bakhils which represent about 70% of the population and the Hashid, which has been holding the reign of power for many decades.

Social inequalities

Widely spread corruption and an endemic mismanagement of the country’s oil resources have pushed this once rich country to the brink of collapse. With a rich upper class linked to the government and a mounting impoverished population which suffers from unemployment, social inequalities and injustice; anger has been brewing for some time.

Most businesses have had in order to survive to partner themselves with one member or the other of the Saleh’s family or to act as “front” for the tentacular ambitions of this powerful elite. This mafia type state of affair is now enraging Yemenis who feel that their country is being looted by one family’s greed.  It has been reported that even what was once government’s land is now being divided in between the nephews and sons of the President for they hold mineral resources.

So far, the very structure of the Regime, made it impossible for people to voice their demands in a unify front, but all this is now changing.

The Opposition is gaining ground

Protests in the southern region of Yemen have taken such magnitude that Sana’a had to send most of its military forces to affirm its authority. But despite many deaths and the arrest of the ring leader, nothing has so far deterred the separatists and their numbers are growing. As of now, most of the Sheikhs have vowed their allegiance and their support to the Movement.

In Sana’a which has seen many demonstrations in recent days, the momentum is also picking up. In the sight of increasing popular opposition to the Regime, many political figures have decided to present their resignations from the President’s party, offering their support to the people.

Important Sheikhs, such as Al-Ahmar, Abu Lahoum and some within the rich oil region of Mareb have also joined the ranks of the protesters. For weeks now, the Opposition has stood united despite the differences in political agendas and aspirations.

Even al-Houthi, which fight for independence has nothing to do with that of the protesters has offered his manpower and his resources. Opponents of the Regime are aware that together they stand a greater chance of success and that by presenting a unified front the past politic of “divide to conquer” of the President is rendered ineffective.

And indeed, this tactic is slowly eroding the government. So much so, that Saleh has for the first time agreed to meet with the Opposition and has offered ministerial position within his government to end the crisis.

As time passes it is becoming more evident that Yemen’s decades’ long autocracy is coming to an end. Whether it actually materializes by the resignation of President Saleh is another thing. So far, Yemen has not reach yet the tipping point which would mark the inevitable departure of its President; some room is still left for maneuvers. 

One could imagine the formation of a confederation type of government similar to the UAE, which would allow Saleh to finish his term and leave peacefully.

Recent events should have taught an important lesson to those Arab leaders: real power lies with the people.



Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.