What's the deal in Yemen?
Yemen has a favourable climate for protests: widespread corruption and unemployment, a declining economy, rising living costs, and a nepotistic regime with an ageing president who rules over a young, frustrated and politically excluded majority. Elaborate networks of patronage and corruption that are tied in with Mr Saleh's regime are coming into open view.
Why has this leader not followed in the path of Ben Ali of Tunis and Mubarak of Egypt?
There are important differences in Yemen that challenge the emergence of a popular cohesive democratic movement. Firstly, Yemen’s socio-economic make-up differs significantly. Both Egypt and Tunisia have a mobilised and well-connected middle-class that does not exist in Yemen. While approximately five million Egyptian youth are on Facebook, only 180,000 Yemeni youth are – less than one percent of the population.
How are they coping and sustaining such long-standing protests?
Possibly through habitually used national drug, Qat: used in governmental sittings and taken by youth and elders alike. This small shrub, chewed and kept stored in the cheek, is the palliative of Yemen, and in this case the stimulant and source of endurance.
Leader of 30 plus years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, hasn’t always been unpopular as the mounting protests and public anger reveal. He was hailed for uniting Yemen and rode the wave of that triumph for a while in his first decade of power. He was one of those Arab national project leaders, a cause very much lost and diluted in the ever fragmented and dispersed nation of conflicting agendas and needs.
The opposition movement
Fragmented, poorly organised, and no longer represents the interests of ordinary Yemenis. There is sparse national unity to mobilise Yemenis under a common national agenda. National identity is not a primary affiliation for many Yemenis. Tribal identity remains significantly a primary affiliation for 35 percent of the population. President Saleh oversees a highly complex patronage network of tribal, religious and political linkages, which remain an important part of the political landscape in Yemen
North South Divide
In the south, mostly Sunni stronghold, up to tens of thousands of protestors have been demonstrating nearly weekly since 2007, calling for independence from the north and an end to the ‘occupation’. Nearly seventy percent of southerners support dissolving the 1990 unity agreement with the north, and feel no identification with the protests happening in northern cities. Not to mention the most serious threat of all Al-Qaeda’s franchises, from the Houthi rebellion in the north. The only common platform for all of Yemen is possibly much needed reform.
Yemen is the Arab world's most impoverished nation and, even before the current protests, it was becoming increasingly chaotic, with both al-Qaeda and separatist challenges to the government's authority.
But now, concessions from a leader to a people braying for his blood
In face of growing public anger, the increasingly embattled leader did announced a package of economic concessions in January of this year, including pay raises, tax cuts, and an increase in price controls and subsidies.
Economic measures, and limited political concessions, failed to quell the growing discontent.
February 2, the eve of Yemen’s own ‘Day of Rage’
He refuses to live the life more in accordance with a ruler of a country devoid of resources and a staggering degree of poverty such that Yemen ranks in the top 10 for world poverty. His family lives a life far removed from this picture. In order to keep up with his neighbours who should be out of his wealth league, he hosted the Gulf Football Cup, despite the theoretical absence of state money to fund it.
In spite of all defections and demonstrations, he refuses to be unseated and ignores appeals for him to iglah! (get out)