Socialist Worker

Yemen: protests stay on the streets

by Tim Nelson
Issue No. 2249

President Ali Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, announced last Saturday that he intended to stand down in 30 days.

The promised resignation is the outcome of negotiations between Saleh and the leaders of Yemen’s opposition parties.

They were mediated by the Gulf Co‑operation Council, made up of representatives of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.

The deal means Saleh’s vice president will take power in his place, and Saleh will not face prosecution.

It looks like opposition leaders will now serve in this transitional government, after initially refusing.

Despite this, thousands of demonstrators, led by youth organisations, stayed on the streets, demanding Saleh goes now and stands trial.

They do not believe Saleh will keep his word, and argue the so-called “opposition leaders” do not represent them.

Rocked

For several months Yemen has been rocked by protests—part of the revolutionary wave across the Middle East.

The regime has responded with violent repression, shooting protesters and imprisoning activists.

At least 109 Yemenis have been killed by the government since February.

Key tribal leaders, who had previously supported the dictatorship, have joined the opposition as Saleh has become increasingly isolated.

Recently, strikes against the regime have begun to spread.

Saleh’s government has for a long time relied on aid from the US and Saudi Arabia, particularly as internal opposition has grown.

In the north the Huthis, a Shia tribe, has been in open rebellion since 2004.

In the south there were mass protests and strikes last year, demanding independence.

The government responded violently to both challenges—with Saudi support.

Like much of the region, Yemen’s problems can be traced to outside intervention.

The south of the country was a British colony from 1839 to 1967.

Its main city, Aden, was an important port for access to India and the Suez Canal.

A national liberation movement drove the British out and established a state modelled on the USSR.

The north of Yemen became a military dictatorship after a war between the Sultan, supported by Britain, and republican rebels based in the military. It leaned increasingly towards Washington.

The states merged in 1990, following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The US aimed to gain control of areas previously dominated by Moscow, and Saleh’s government imposed neoliberal “reforms”.

This benefited Western capitalism and supporters of the regime—mostly northern tribal leaders.

But the measures had a disastrous effect on the majority of the population.

Evicted

Unemployment is endemic. It worsened when Yemen opposed the US bombing of Iraq during the first Gulf War and 800,000 Yemeni oil workers were evicted from Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.

An uprising in the south was crushed in 1994, establishing the north’s hegemony.

Like most of the current regimes in the region, Saleh has relied upon the support of the US government and brutal repression to maintain his position for years.

As he announces plans to step down, he will be trying to divide the movement.

However, the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have shown the Yemeni people that regimes can be toppled.

And the importance of mass strikes in the struggle has again been shown by the role of workers’.

In Egypt, Tunisia, and possibly now Yemen, huge strikes have been central to forcing dictators from power and deepening the revolutionary process.


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