Protesters attacked as tensions escalate in Yemen


Blood was shed and lives were lost in Yemen protests on Sept. 18.

The anti-government protestors typically refrain from leaving their encampment in the city’s capital, Sanaa, but last week, their bold step out of bounds proved dire.

“The whole place shook with the explosion and clouds of dust shot up in the air when the second mortar hit,” protestor Badr Ali told Reuters.

Revolution sparked by the “Arab Spring” movement sweeping the Middle East has fostered a culture of civilian empowerment. But that empowerment can only stand so tall when matched against Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The elite members of the Yemeni government are fighting to maintain power with the use of military tactics and lethal force.

“It’s as if he was unleashed from a cage and came out to retaliate,” Mohammed al Sabri, a protester, told NPR. “This man deals with Yemen as if he’s a gang leader, not a leader of a nation.”

Saleh gave his nephews and sons positions of military control and it appears that the majority of their discretion is rooted in undying loyalty to their uncle, father, and President.

But the recent violence in Yemen is not necessarily due to the audacity of Yemeni protesters, according to the BBC. It is important to acknowledge the long standing rivalry between two powerful families: the Salehs and the al Ahmars. The clash between the two has divided the State.

The al Ahmar family was formally headed by Abdullah bin Hussein al Ahmar, Yemeni speaker of parliament, a strong supporter of uniting North and South Yemen with the ultimate intention to form a new party that is tribal but holds Islamic interests, the BBC reports.

The potent combination of revolution and family contention only further drains the Arab world’s poorest country. Yemen currently suffers the third highest rate of malnutrition and is projected to be one of the first world capitals to run out of water. Additionally, because oil sales finance 90 percent of Yemen’s food imports, oil’s depletion suggests a rapid increase in hunger, according to the BBC.

International concern was expressed toward Yemen’s decline and government corruption at the London conference in January 2010. Despite their sympathy, the promised billions in aid have yet to reach those Yemenis in need.

“I’d like to see even more support from the West,” said Ken Gilmore, professor and chair of the political science department. “These countries need more than symbolic gestures like diplomatic visits and photo opportunities. They need money, trade, and so on.”

On June 3, Saleh and several Yemeni officials were seriously wounded in a mortar attack at a mosque, caused by a botched bomb while the two elite families were disputing. Saleh retreated to Saudi Arabia to seek treatment and, while many were hoping or suspecting he may not return to fulfill his duties as President, he reappeared Friday of last week with a message for his people.

“I return to the nation carrying the dove of peace and the olive branch,” Saleh said on Yemen television.

But the integrity of that statement has come into question as the aftermath of Saleh’s arrival proved to be deadly.

According to a report in Al Jazeera, armed Saleh supporters attacked unarmed anti-Saleh demonstrators in Sanaa at what is appropriately titled, “Change Square.” Yemeni government forces, under orders of Saleh’s nephews and sons, released fire on the main anti-Saleh protest camp. Mortar fire and sniper attack killed at least 16 and injured approximately 54.

According to the BBC, tents and buildings were set on fire.

“It was an intense fight. My house was shaking like crazy. There are no protesters there now — it’s just armed people,” a witness told the BBC.

While Change Square was under attack, Saleh supporters shelled machine guns at the Arab Spring headquarters. The headquarters, known as the “First Armored Division”, is the home to defected soldiers who support the revolution. 11 of those soldiers are now dead, and 120 were left injured.

“I have no doubt that loyalists still exist in Yemen, made worse by the return of the president,” said Gilmore. “The next 24 hours will be key. Why did this asshole return to Yemen? What does he want in exchange for formally relinquishing power?”

The cause of Sunday’s attacks could be attributed to the underlying conflicts between the Saleh and al Ahmar families and their stances on who should be in power. But it was the revolutionists of all ages who crossed boundary lines in opposition to power that exacerbated the violence.