September 4, 2011

Darkness Hangs Over Sana’a

One revealing feature of Yemen’s revolution is a synchronization between the capital’s electricity grid and the Western media. Yemenis have been experiencing prolonged power outages for months, party because the country’s energy supplies are failing and partly because Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime likes to keep protesters in the dark. A constant pattern between the outages, movements of foreign officials and the revolutionaries’ own actions leaves few doubts in protesters’ minds.

On Saturday night, hours after the National Council announced an “escalation campaign” in Sana’a, blackness again spread across the capital and into neighboring governorates. Many fuel stations shut their taps. The government blamed Marib tribesmen for attacking power lines running to the capital, a common accusation to deflect blame, while tribal representatives claim that Saleh’s Republican Guard blew up the power lines. Marib residents have little to gain by obstructing their anti-government counterparts in the capital, but Saleh’s Republican Guard (commanded by his son Ahmed) has every reason to jam the revolution’s movement and communication.

Meanwhile the Western and Arab media is only reporting incomplete pieces of information from Yemen, even as the situation deteriorates at an alarming rate. The White House and State Department’s silence will reverberate that much louder if they choose to ignore Yemen on Tuesday.

Continuing the weekend’s military buildup, government tanks and armored personnel carriers (APC) are currently deployed around Sana’a and in its main streets. Cars have been stopped from entering the capital, and numerous clashes broke out on Sunday between pro-democracy protesters, anti-government tribesmen, regime loyalists and the Republican Guard. Fearing the revolution’s demand for non-violent escalation, Saleh’s regime has seized on conflicting statements from Yemen’s political opposition to justify its own mobilization. Ahmed Bahri, an official within the oppositional Haq party, warned that a divergence in opinions has obstructed the revolution’s progress.

"We believe that force should be used if needed to preserve the revolution," Bahri said. "However, many within the opposition differ with me and want it to be resolved peacefully."

Multiple sources also allege that defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar is close to launching an assault on government forces, either on the presidential palace or Sana’a International Airport to the north. The Republican Guard has bombarded anti-government tribesmen and local residents in the Arhab district for over a month, leading to the creation of Yemen’s Tribal Alliance. Mohsen is allegedly planning to attack the Guard’s camp, al-Sama’a, in order to free the Arhab’s path to the capital. A “senior” official within the Interior Ministry claimed to possess, “reports that opposition forces will use force and cause violence. The government is on full alert and will not allow chaos in the country.”

The government’s own escalation has failed to back down the revolutionaries or the National Council, coordinated by Yemen’s unpopular Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). They are, on the other hand, highly alert to Saleh’s ploys and expect his regime to manipulate their demonstrations. Having warned Yemen’s strongman to give up power before he “faces the people,” JMP spokesman Mohammed Qahtan insisted on a peaceful revolution to the end.

"There are strong efforts for peaceful escalation without entering into a violent phase. Whoever uses violence will only hurt himself.”

Fully aware that the revolution is entering a new phase of escalation, Yemenis have magnified their demonstrations in response to internal and external obstructions. While a mass of attention is devoted to Tripoli and Damascus, the siege in Sana’a has produced the bare minimum of reporting and few international reactions. Protesters are confronting the realistic possibility that the international community may never come to their aid, and thus they must do all of the lifting against Western opposition. They have been forced into escalation by a wholly unresponsive environment - forced to speed towards the light at the end of a pitch-black tunnel.

Now the looming months will put them in even greater danger.

Having already prolonged the revolution by encouraging Saleh to hold out, the Obama administration is still unwilling to assist Yemenis in their hour of need. U.S. political movements run counter to the revolution’s; Washington’s response to the Republican Guard’s mobilization is to continue advocating the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) proposal. The GCC’s terms, among other flaws, would grant Saleh’s family immunity from human rights abuses, enabling Ahmed’s destructive behavior. Although Saleh’s son continues to shut down Sana’a and rejects the GCC’s initiative outright, Western officials have yet to change their present course.

On Sunday Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi met ambassadors from China, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Britain, Germany and the United States. Contrary to the U.S.-Chinese/Russian divide found in Libya and Syria, interests to see a “political resolution” have aligned in Yemen.

Al-Qirbi has also expressed strong support for Saleh as the “constitutional president,” repeatedly calling for a transition through “the ballot box.” Meeting him serves no purpose except to legitimize the regime. Elsewhere Vice President Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-HadiHadi expressed “frustration” with “extremist” elements in Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC), which he claims has a mandate from Saleh to sign the GCC. However the GPC’s real orders are to stall the GCC and comply with his son.

For instance, the latest Western meetings followed a new accusation from the GPC: the Common Forum (an alternative name for the JMP) is plotting to “take power by force” by mobilizing young protesters. Holding the opposition “responsible for the consequences” of escalation, the GPC called on the JMP to hold a “serious and responsible dialogue” - even though Saleh and his officials regularly demonize the JMP. His regime is not serious about dialogue, merely using it as cover to suppress the revolution and stall until his return to Sana’a.

Given these developments, one final rumor doesn’t appear as outrageous as it may sound. According to sources cited by the Yemen Post, White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan has conceded Saleh’s return after being checked out by Riyadh. Brennan recently claimed that Saleh’s return is not “in his interests, Yemen's interests or our interests,” true only in the sense that Washington wishes to see a puppet regime installed in his absence. Yet the chaos of his return could also be exploited to quell Yemen’s revolution.

How similar the Obama administration’s thinking is to Saleh’s.

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