Socialist Worker

Yemen: Saleh returns from Saudi Arabia to find revolt still on the streets

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2271

Protests continued to grow against returned president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen’s capital Sana’a last weekend.

Saleh returned unexpectedly on Friday of last week. He went to Saudi Arabia in June to recover from injuries received during an assassination attempt and many activists believed he would never return.

He appeared on television on Sunday, saying he would soon step down and arrange elections.

Anti-government protesters see this as another stalling tactic.

Activists calling for an end to Saleh’s regime have been camped in Change Square at the heart of Sana’a, since the Arab Spring broke out in January.

Abubakr Al-Shamahi, a Yemeni activist based in Britain, spoke to Socialist Worker.

“It’s no coincidence that Saleh is moving now,” he said. “This Monday is the anniversary of the revolution in 1962.”

The revolution radicalised North Yemen and allied it with Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Arab Nationalist movement.

Abubakr said, “Many people think that Saleh engineered an escalation of violence so he could return and be seen as a peacemaker.

“It’s a trick he has used before to keep control in a divided country. But he’s out of touch now. He really doesn’t understand how hated he is.

“After eight months of protest no one is backing down. In fact the demands have got tougher.

“The youth coalitions are important to the rebellion and all of them say no to any dialogue with the dictator.

“It may seem odd considering the violence, but people I’ve spoken to say there is something of a party atmosphere on the current protests.”

Tens of thousands marched on Sunday demanding that Saleh be arrested. Demonstrators chanted, “Freedom! Freedom! The people want the butcher tried!”

Saleh’s forces opened fire on the march, wounding at least 18 people.

On Monday women led a demonstration of thousands in the square.

Defecting

At the heart of resistance to Saleh are those inspired by the Arab Spring and who have led strikes and protests through the year.

But other groups are fighting for different interests, including defecting army units, dissident tribes people and separatists.

The regime has killed almost 200 people in the past week. The US has tried to appear as an honest broker.

But the Washington Post reports that US is currently using drones based in Djibouti to attack both Somalia and Yemen.

US drones killed several people in three attacks the Somali port of Kismaayo last Sunday.

The bombing of more desperately poor countries is justified as part of the continuing “war on terror”.

When Saleh’s forces gunned down demonstrators and then shelled Change Square, troops loyal to General Ali Mohsin, who broke from Saleh in March, joined the fight on the rebels’ side.

Abubakr explained, “When Saleh’s plain clothed supporters opened fire on the demonstrators, Mohsin’s people weren’t sure how to react.

“At first they fired into the air. At one level Mohsin is distrusted as he was a close ally of Saleh.

“If he tried to join the leadership he would lose all support. But he is popular because his forces have defended the protesters.”

Earlier the struggle involved big strikes, particularly in Yemen’s second city of Aden.

But the length of the rebellion is taking a toll. Across much of the country workplaces are shut down, often without power.

The one strike that has consistently kept going is at Sana’a university.

Eight months is a long time for students to keep away from their courses, and there has been an argument about whether to keep it up.

Both the students’ and lecturers’ unions have recently voted to continue, despite the hardships.


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Article information

International
Tue 27 Sep 2011, 19:00 BST
Issue No. 2271
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