Blog

Wave of unrest hits Yemen

In Yemen today, tens of thousands of people peacefully took to the streets of the capital Sanaa and cities in several provinces in the southern part of the country, to call for political and economic reform, as well as the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled the poorest country in the Arab world for more than 30 years.

While the protests may at first seem spontaneous, there is evidence of planning going back at least several weeks. One sign of the preparation that went into today’s demonstrations was the use of the color pink, which was worn by many of those in the streets.

As the New York Times explains:

Weeks ago, as the Tunisian protests were still escalating, a committee from an umbrella group of six opposition parties settled on an escalating scale of color to accompany their own plan of action, starting with purple for lawmakers to show their opposition and moving to pink for the street protests. Red, said Shawki al-Qadi, a lawmaker and opposition figure, would be the final color, though he said the opposition had not yet decided what actions would correspond with the move.

Rudhwan Masude, head of the student union at Sana’a University, gave the Guardian another explanation for the use of the color:

“We choose pink to represent the Jasmine revolution [in Tunisia] and to show that we do not want violence… We didn’t give [the security] a chance to find fault in our demonstration or attack us like they did last time.”

Other slogans and signs held by demonstrators indicate that many have taken inspiration from recent events in Tunisia.

In a wise strategic move, organizers also decided to have protests simultaneously at four different locations in Sanaa to make it more difficult for the security forces to crack down.

One weakness of the current effort in Yemen, however, appears to be the opposition’s lack of unity. As Mohammed Naji Allaw, coordinator of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedom, which was one of the groups that organized the protests, told the Times:

Some are calling for secession, he said, while others are looking to oust the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, through popular protests. Yet others, he said, simply wanted Mr. Saleh to undertake a series of reforms before elections in April.

Also, despite this serious challenge to his rule, President Saleh has not yet overreacted as many authoritarian rulers have in similar situations. While the police were out, most reports have said that there were no major clashes or arrests.

In addition, President Saleh has quickly moved to address some of the grievances of those upset with his regime and to solidify the support of his security forces by promising to raise army salaries, ordering price controls and cutting income taxes in half. Whether these efforts will be enough to forestall his ouster is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the opposition has called for more protests tomorrow.