December 22, 2011

Yemenis March To Energize Their Revolution

A number of new slogans have emerged from the frosty path between Taizz and Sana’a. Among them: “What cold? To be revolutionary, is the source of greatest warmth.”

Triumphantly declared by Yemeni protester Rahmah Aghbary, her thinking is as metaphorical as it is literal. Frozen out of national and international negotiations, protesters are clinging to the burning desire for a new Yemen - one free of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime.
Protesters left Taizz with one overarching objective to their 150-mile “Life March”: determine their own future.

Yemen’s pro-democracy movement is more organized than generally credited. Unwillingly coupled with the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), a fragmented oppositional umbrella, youth and civil protesters have endured the natural growing pains of revolution. Many protesters concede their own lack of progress as they navigate Yemen’s political maze and its international extension. Yet given their otherwise enthusiastic spirits, protesters are exceeding the expectations of their limited means.

Yemen’s civil revolutionaries have organized into groups and can establish political parties if afforded the time and environment to grow. They’ve also submitted alternative proposals that are no more flawed than the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative.

Negotiated under the oversight of American and Saudi officials, the foreign initiative gave birth to a power-sharing agreement between Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress and the JMP. This political settlement divided Yemen’s cabinet between the parties and left Saleh in power to oversee Yemen’s “transition” for 30 days. His Vice President of 17 years, Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, is now scheduled to assume executive authority on Friday, and will run as a consensus candidate in February’s presidential election. Meanwhile Saleh’s security officials (many of them relatives) remains at their posts despite a purposed committee to restructure Yemen’s military command.

Rejecting the GCC’s initiative as foreign intervention, Yemeni protesters are particularly opposed to the immunity granted to Saleh and his family. They point out the lunacy of allowing the GCC, a monarchic bloc, to control a non-member’s future.

“These GCC states are not at all competent to deal with popular requests for liberty and freedom, not to mention democratic government, because they themselves are mostly despotic regimes,” observed Yemen’s Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC). “They themselves would never welcome such requests from their own people, let alone be ready to accommodate such demands by people in neighboring states.”

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) added its legitimacy by unanimously approving the GCC’s initiative in late October, roughly a month before Saleh would officially sign in Saudi Arabia. In the weeks following Riyadh’s ceremony, Saleh’s mechanized security units laid siege to the oppositional stronghold of Taizz. The mountainous city was long predicted as Yemen’s revolutionary epicenter - its Benghazi or Homs - and Saleh’s regime felt the need to crush Taizz’s daily protests (exploiting the JMP’s armed elements as scapegoats in the process).

Dozens of deaths failed to attract international scrutiny as involved foreign powers pressed forward with the GCC’s initiative.

Their plight ignored, Taizz’s protesters still saw an opportunity to align their march with the GCC’s timeline. Jamal Benomar, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen, recently informed the UNSC that Saleh requires additional medical treatment outside the country, pushing his immunity clause back in the spotlight (Yemen's immunity list is allegedly due on Saturday). According to Benomar, "Efforts are being made for arrangements to be concluded for him to get this treatment.” However Saleh has returned to Yemen on multiple occasions and is likely to return before February’s election.

Medical leave is, in all probability, a ruse to conceal his puppet strings and allow the GCC’s initiative to run its course.

Thus Yemenis decided on a course of preemptive action. Organized in Taizz with the intention of entering Sana’a around Saleh’s transfer day, the Life March symbolizes a collective rejection of immunity and a call for justice. As his immunity fits into the GCC’s wider initiative, organizer Waddah al-Adeeb told Reuters that protesters “reject the unity government, because it just reproduces the regime itself.” They want the world to know that Yemen is experiencing a popular revolution, not a political crisis between its two established parties.

The march's active nature is also boosting protesters' spirits.

For now the international community still refuses to listen; Russia’s Vitaly Churkin announced the UNSC’s full support for the GCC’s initiative after Benomar’s latest briefing. Western officials continue to meet with Hadi and various security commanders instead of youth representatives, reinforcing Yemen’s imperialism. Although Benomar recently claimed that Saleh won’t enjoy immunity under UN law, UNSC diplomats just met with his son Ahmed, whose Republican Guard is responsible for countless abuses before and during Yemen’s revolution.

The UN’s envoy even admits that Yemen’s youth, civil protesters, Houthi sect and Southern Movement were left out of the GCC’s deal.

Saleh’s officials have now resorted to accusing the JMP of scuttling the GCC’s initiative, and are supposedly threatening to withdraw unless foreign powers pressure the JMP into capitulation. His GPC termed the Life March as “acts of anarchy and sedition, incitement and attempt to storm the capital.” Expecting Saleh to destroy the deal himself, many protesters are anticipating assaults from his plainclothes security forces and loyalists (or thugs). They’re also holding Hadi accountable for any actions taken by Saleh’s forces - since he’s “president.”

The day when international powers finally listen to Yemen’s revolutionaries may never come, but they are equally unlikely to halt their quest for democracy.

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