After the rapidity of Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya, journalists in both the U.S. and international media have reached a general consensus that “no one can predict” what’s about to happen in any given state in the Muslim world. This may be true to an extent. Yet ongoing events in the Muslim world prove how concrete political science, considered a social science and thus a “soft” science, truly is.
The germination of revolution resembles the scientific origins of life. By applying similar quantifiable data to the scientific method, one can start to base accurate predictions on a replicable model. And in Yemen’s case, watching its opposition fuse together is a simple scientific equation of pressure and energy.
We’ve predicted that Yemen would eventually turn down Egypt’s path rather than avert a slide into revolution. While the jury remains hung between concessions and regime change, Yemen’s diverse political opposition has finally started merging into a unifying strain. Protesters for Friday’s “Day of Rage” were estimated above 180,000, over 100,000 by the lowest counts, leaving organizers “shocked.” Around 30,000 gathered outside Sana'a University, the youth movement’s rallying point.
Although many analysts wrote Yemen off as an eventually uprising, today’s mass protests is indisputably “the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the nation's history.” A snowball effect enabled by the unifying force of Saleh’s opposition and his American muscle.
The primary reason why observers discounted a popular uprising in Yemen happens to be shared by its vanguard protesters. Wielding his tribal influence and economic revenue to maintain stability, Saleh argues that his replacement wouldn’t succeed in keeping the ad hoc system together. But Yemenis are caring less and less about this dilemma. Members of Saleh’s own tribe have begun denouncing government-controlled violence on the protesters, while Yemen’s second largest tribe - the Hashid - has also come down on the protesters’ side.
Organizers admit they couldn’t get the tribes off the fence until now, after Saleh’s response over the past month left them no choice. Now they perceive Saleh’s time as expiring. One student, Adil al-Surabi, says he “desperately” attempted to boost turnout for weeks, only to find himself obstructed by Yemen’s lack of Internet in rural areas. With the tribal patchwork coming online, he no longer needs to rely on the Internet.
"The tribes are finally joining us," he says gleefully.
And they’re trucking to Sana’a for reasons beyond politico-economic marginalization. Many tribesmen who spoke to the media warned that Saleh’s dwindling oil revenue is drying up the favor he bought. One sheik complained, "The government does nothing in my province. We have our own army. We even organize our own legal system. We ask, but the President gives us nothing."
However basic dignity is assuming a significant role. Using Libya’s extremity as a diversion, U.S. officials have remained largely silent over Yemen’s growing unrest. Though several spokesmen have ventured to praise U.S. policy in the country, America sped up Saleh’s insecurity by trying to secure his rule through the threat of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Nasser al-Saber, a tribesman from Marib (considered a haven for AQAP, "The President has told the world that Marib is full of terrorists so he can get more military aid from America.”
"We are here to show the world that he is the terrorist."
A second reason why observers discounted a popular uprising is also starting to crumble. Being fellow Shia, it’s believed that the north Houthi tribe would settle for regional autonomy within the present system, unlike the secessionist Southern Movement. Yet the Houthis’ resentment of Saleh, after six “outbreaks” of warfare, trended towards the protesters' side. As Saleh’s government cultivated a climate of fear, thereby bringing gradual unity to the country’s opposition, it was only a matter of time before the Houthis joined the cause.
The tribe released a press statement earlier this week declaring, "We affirm our solidarity with our brothers from among the Yemeni people and our support of independents who angrily demand the end of the system... and shout for the fall of the regime.”
The progressive inclusion of Yemen’s tribes and the Houthis is completing the unity that Saleh has long feared and tried to prevent. Having suffered at the hands of U.S.-trained counter-terrorism teams, the Southern Movement also opposes U.S. policy for advocating Saleh’s fraudulent appeal to “unity.” Now the synthesizing of Yemen’s political groups actually has the SM reconsidering its platform, opening the door to real unity in the country.
As tens of thousands rallied against Saleh in SM’s stronghold of Aden, Hider Abu Baker Al-Atas denounced the government and its hollow attempts to placate the opposition, saying, ''Saleh's pledge of not being a candidate in the presidential elections in 2013 is because of the popular uprisings that overthrew the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. If not for the pressure, he would not have made any concessions.”
Now in exile, Yemen's former prime minister from 1990 to 1994 told BBC that Saleh’s regime will “probably fall” in another month if current demonstrations continue or escalate. ''We ask people in Yemen not to stop protesting until Saleh's regime leaves,” and when it does, “we will tackle the problems between the south and the north.”
These three factors - Yemen’s main tribes, the northern Houthis, and Southern Movement - are finally joining the youth-driven protests to exponentially amplify their effect. And they’re joining through the common causes of poverty, marginalization, and lost dignity. Saleh is the glue that unites these varying groups, not a keystone that keeps the country together. His presence is ripping apart Yemen as he knows it.
Although Washington wants no part of Yemen’s revolution, it doesn’t have as much choice in the matter. Military aid can only prop up a failing government for so long, as Egypt proved, and Saleh pushes back against U.S. orders that threaten his power (also like Mubarak). The time is past due to join Yemen’s opposition movement, which has vowed to protest until Saleh’s fall. While the threat of AQAP remains supreme in U.S. policy, the “instability” spawned by Saleh’s vacuum is unlikely to equal the self-inflicted instability already underway.
Easily manipulated when divided, Yemenis are seizing control of their fate through unity against Saleh and his American benefactor. They're no different than a volcano preparing to blow or an earthquake primed to strike.