May 11, 2011

International Silence Fueling Yemen’s Fire

Yemen’s popular coalitions have yet to reach a consensus on how to escalate their revolution for two main reasons. Despite their unification against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime, it remains a challenge to move everyone in the same direction, whether politically or physically. The second factor spilled into Yemen’s street after protesters advanced to the Cabinet building in Sana’a,

According to Yemeni journalist Abdulsattar Mohammed, "Forces opened fire heavily when protesters got around 200 meters away from the cabinet, but the protesters didn't back away at first. A number of injured fell and they were carried away to hospital on motorcycles when police stopped ambulances from entering."

Wednesday’s carnage offers a taste of what could unfold were hundreds of thousands to march on the presidential palace. At least six and as many as 18 protesters are reported dead among a mass of tens of thousands. Activists claim that pro-democracy protesters initially met water cannons and tear gas from security forces, followed by attacks from plainclothes security forces and snipers on the rooftops. A stampede ensued, potentially claiming more lives. Once they returned to “Change Square,” protesters allege that Central Security forces assaulted their camps with live ammunition and tear gas, leaving an unspecified number of dead and wounded.

However a field doctor in Sana’a tallied the following figures: at least 14 protesters killed, 236 wounded by gunshots, another 241 injured by batons and stones, and 735 cases of suffocation due to tear gas. Casualties are expected to rise.

"This is a massacre, they are opening fire randomly," Mohammed al-Qibly, a leader of a youth protest movement in Sanaa, told Al Jazeera television. "The scene is terrifying in every sense of the word.”

Now multiply this scene in order to view the results of a march on the fortified presidential palace. The intensity of Wednesday’s bloodshed even cracked in the opposition’s umbrella, with some members calling the march an unnecessary escalation. Whether they do so because they sincerely regret the loss of life, to protect the impact of Tuesday’s march on the palace, or to further their own agendas remains unclear. A combination of factors is likely though.

“We did not call or plan any marching or escalation today, and we do not take any responsibility for it,” added a statement attributed to an independent youth leadership committee.

However it’s also clear that force will be applied beyond the defense of government installations. Facing city-wide strikes in Taiz, Aden and Ibb, security forces opened fire on protesters across the country. Deaths were reported in Taiz, Hudaida and Dhamar, in addition to Sana’a. In Taiz two protesters were killed by sniper fire, a common tactic of Saleh’s forces, leading demonstrators to storm the police station where they believed the gunfire originated from. Plainclothes security forces led a ground assault with bats.

As usual Saleh blamed the JMP for these developments. In Taiz, government sources told Saba state media that, "the JMP militants blocked streets of the city using stones and barrels as well as other stuffs affecting the normal life of the citizens." Rejecting reports of a strike, these sources condemned the JMP for forcefully closing down businesses and “creating fear.”

Government sources also wiped the capital’s bloodshed on the JMP’s hands, specifically Hamid al-Ahmar and Tawakol Karman, Yemen’s top female activist and a member of the oppositional Islah party. A leading figure in Saleh’s own Hashid tribe, al-Ahmar jumped on the revolution early when he threatened to protect protesters with his own militia. Karman helped initiate Yemen’s revolution from the very beginning, first organizing small protests in January to celebrate Tunisia’s uprising. Karman was soon arrested and later released, but her brief imprisonment powered the initial wave of protests through the fall of Hosni Mubarak, at which point Yemen’s revolution took off.

Thus the government has ample motivation to target these individuals in particular. Even if the allegations prove legitimate in the end, they do not justify the government’s disproportionate response to what it calls an "illegal" march. Saleh seeks to pin all of Yemen’s violence on the JMP, thereby scapegoating his own rejection of GCC negotiations. Surely he must be tired of Karman’s resistance as well.

Some fear is permanent; never will there be a good time to surround Saleh’s palace. Other protesters witness the chaos around them and don’t see much of a difference, although the Cabinet building’s magnitude proves otherwise. The area surrounding the presidential palace could descend into a war zone. Ultimately the street coalitions hope to avoid a final confrontation on this scale and are imploring the international community to intervene.

Sadly it remains deaf to Yemen’s revolution.

While the Saudi King and Saleh continue to play nice and the UN looks on helplessly, Washington has yet to break its two-week wall of silence since Saleh nixed the GCC’s power transfer. Eight briefings into bin Laden’s death and Yemen’s violence still hasn’t interjected itself into the State Department’s focus. Syria, of course, is singled out nearly every time, and its siege-like conditions warrant a daily response. But Syria isn’t so much worse off than Yemen that the latter deserves no attention, and Washington owns Saleh unlike Bashar al-Assad.

In a statement released on today’s violence, “The Coordination Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) calls upon the entire international community, United Nations, European Commission, Arab League, GCC countries, and world human rights and public freedom organizations to stop the irresponsible and barbaric massacres conducted by security and army troops of President of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh.”

Although an embassy statement may be forthcoming, these have often warned the protesters against demonstrating near sensitive sites. This defeats the purpose of civil disobedience. A weak statement from the White House press secretary or State Department may also be in order - anything to buffer President Barack Obama from sticking his own hands into Yemen’s grime. The administration remains disinclined to build on bin Laden’s death with political achievements, a position that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“The world remains silent,” concludes the CCYRC’s statement. “How much blood the world wants to see in Yemen, before it steps in and takes responsible actions? Aggression seen today in Sana’a and everyday in Yemen nationwide is a clear evidence that Saleh has an agenda to shed blood; create chaos; and drive our country into what he many times refers to as civil war. Your silence allows him to pursue his plans.”

This silence will soon drive protesters towards Saleh’s palace.

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