December 25, 2012

Chaos In Sana'a, On Yemen's Information Battlefield

Rapidly unfolding events in Yemen seem to have acquired lasting significance amid the country's ongoing revolution.

Concluding exactly what happened isn't easy due to the fact that no Western media is paying full attention to Yemen's revolutionary streets. Add in Yemen's notorious uncertainty and proliferation of semi-reputable news sources, and dispersing the fog of war becomes nearly impossible. The only information agreed upon by all involved parties describes a confrontation between Yemeni demonstrators and security forces in the capital of Sana'a.

Beyond this rudimentary consensus lies a thick haze of asymmetric war. Accounts from Yemeni civilians claim that police and military units opened fired with tear gas in an effort to disperse a second coming of their Life March, a mobile demonstration that just arrived from Tai'zz to advance their cause. The marchers had entered Sana'a from the south and proceeded to Al-Sabeen Square, located between the Presidential Palace and Al Saleh Mosque, where they encountered a security presence in their way.

Opposing accounts diverge at this point. Those involved with Yemen's democratic movement claim that government forces opened fire without provocation. The situation turned ugly fast, from picture-posing in the day to confrontation at night, and reportedly left multiple protesters wounded or missing. The corresponding information also jumped quickly between participants, eye-witnesses and supporters through transmedia, presumably undergoing a warping process. Reports of casualties have turned negative, but the information regarding several kidnappings has yet to reverse course. Protesters have since moved in front of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s home on nearby 60th Street to continue their demands:
1 - Dismissal of all military leaders and Supreme Security who worked with Saleh, headed by Ahmad Ali Saleh, Ali Mohsen Saleh, Ghalib Aalghemh and fully dismissing them and not reshuffling their positions in the new appointments, whatever the circumstances; and accelerate the implementation of the decisions of the army restructure and achieving safety, security and stability in the country and the extend the state power on the entire regions and provinces, particularly Saada and Marib.

2 - The release of prisoners of the revolution, and forcibly disappeared, and support the families of the martyrs and the wounded, and prosecute the killers of the rebels and looters of public wealth and the private sectors, and recover the looted and stolen wealth.
Yemen's government has released a different viewpoint of Al-Sabeen's showdown, claiming that security forces were provoked by rock-throwing youths. One protester was injured after falling from a vehicle and is receiving medical attention at the State's expense. All other injuries were denied by Interior Ministry, "those detained have been released" and an investigation is supposedly forthcoming.

A relatively minor clash lies behind the tear gas, but one that carries a bigger punch than may be expected. The upshot appears to be a tangible shift against Hadi's moderate popularity, which has kept him floating above his connections to Saleh. Al-Sabeen's confrontation is negating a piece of the goodwill earned by Hadi's recent military announcements, and represents another step back into his former boss's shoes. He must act wisely and cautiously to prevent further escalation ahead of Yemen's anticipated National Dialogue.

Protesters do not bear the burden of disproportionate force and cannot be faulted for distrusting the corrupt parts within Yemen's interim government (including Saleh as the head of his General People's Congress), or the foreign powers shielding them from accountability.

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