President Saleh of Yemen is Feeling the Pro-Democracy Wave in the Middle East
February 3, 2011
By: Carlos Aramayo | Printer Friendly
On February 3, thousands of Yemeni protestors flooded the streets of Sana’a –Yemen’s capital – in what has been dubbed a “Day of Rage.” The protests come a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced he would not seek re-election in 2013 and would not attempt to pass on the presidency to his son. The announcement abruptly ended his bid to change the constitution and erase all term limits on the post.
It should be noted that, according to the Voice of America, a pro-Saleh rally of equal size also gathered momentum in the capital.
Yemen like Jordan, Egypt, and Sudan have been swept up by pro-democracy demonstrations following protests in Tunisia that ended the dictatorship of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Nonetheless, the situation in Yemen presents a different set of determinants. According to the Wall Street Journal in Yemen, “the opposition is robust and united, but it has struggled to gain critical following on the street.” The government and the opposition broke off negotiations last October over proposed political reform, and until recently, President Saleh showed little willingness to make concessions. However, as protests began to swell across the region, Saleh in a bid to appease protestors suggested he was not grooming his son for succession.
On February 2, Saleh went further, telling an emergency session of parliament he will cancel plans for a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to stay in power for life. He also definitively ruled out running for reelection after his current term. "I make this compromise today for the sake of the country," President Saleh told parliamentarians. "Yemen's interests come before personal interests."
Opposition leaders called the president's concessions insufficient and urged their supporters to join the “day of rage” mass protests. According to the BBC, opposition MP Abdulmalik al-Qasuss, from the al-Islah (Reform) party stated that, "We gather today to demand the departure of President Saleh and his corrupt government."
In response President Saleh, “proposed raising salaries for civil workers and the military.” He has also ordered income taxes cut in half and has instructed his government to install price controls.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, most major commercial banks in the capital Sana'a reported large withdrawals from thousands of citizens, as fears grow that the protest would turn violent. The BBC reports that, “unemployment in Yemen runs at 40%, and there are rising food prices and acute levels of malnutrition.”
Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate has claimed responsibility for a series of increasingly bold attacks far from home. The group reportedly trained the young Nigerian man who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger flight on Christmas Day 2009, and orchestrated a thwarted attempt to ship explosives to the U.S. aboard cargo planes in late 2010.
Mr. Saleh has been a strong, public ally of Washington in its battle against al Qaeda ever since the group attacked the USS Cole in 2000 in the Yemeni port of Aden. Amid the recent attempted attacks against U.S. soil, Washington has since increased military and intelligence assistance to the Yemeni government.
According to the Wall Street Journal, President Saleh rules over a shaky central government that has tried—with mixed success—to assert power over rugged, far-flung provinces, where local and tribal loyalties are often stronger than any fealty to the government based in Sana'a. Nevertheless in recent years, Western and Arab governments have ratcheted up financial aid to the impoverished country as one of several front lines against Islamist extremism.
Voice of America - Competing Protests Begin in Yemeni Capital
BBC - Yemen: Tens of thousands call on president to leave
The Washington Post - Anti-government rallies in Yemen stay calm
BBC - Yemen protests: 20,000 call for President Saleh to go
Estadao Brazil- Em 'Dia de Fúria,' Iêmen tem manifestações pró e contra governo
El Pais, Spain - Miles de yemeníes se manifiestan en contra del régimen de Alí Abdalá Saleh
The Wall Street Journal - U.S. Pursues Wider Role in Yemen