Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Yemen’s winter of discontent

In Yemen there was no revolution produced by the so-called Arab Spring, bemoans Nasser Arrabyee

Yemen
Yemen's winter of discontent
Al-Ahram Weekly

The political crisis ended up with a powersharing agreement between the regime and the opposition, who took to the streets emboldened by the waves of the Arab uprisings. No radical change resulted. When the two sides failed to defeat the other, the conflicting parties agreed on what can be called a roadmap sponsored mainly by Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Because the roadmap was drawn up by the two conflicting groups within the regime, the big concern now with the majority of Yemenis is that a much worse regime is being produced with the same old faces, trends and styles. The former president, Ali Abdallah Saleh, handed over power after early elections in February 2012, in which his longstanding deputy was the consensus and only candidate.

The government now is split between Saleh’s party and his opponents’ three main parties especially the Islamists and Socialists. Saleh, still considered by his supporters as a symbolic leader of the nation, is presiding over his party, which has the majority of the seats in the current parliament.

So, what went wrong with the so-called Arab Spring in Yemen. Why did it not achieve any real change?

Simply because one group of Saleh’s regime hijacked this revolution by taking to the streets with the young people who were really inspired and emboldened by the uprisings that swept many Arab countries at the beginning of 2011. This group was led by the most powerful military general in Saleh’s regime, Ali Mohsen, who is Saleh’s cousin, and who was Saleh’s closest confidante during the 33 years of Saleh’s ruling. The regime was not institutionalised but was based on networks of patronage between the two men.

The essential difference between the two was that Saleh was secular-oriented and Mohsen was Islamist-oriented. When Mohsen defected from Saleh’s regime in March 2011, he had his own army, his own tribal leaders, and his own religious leaders. Saleh also had his own army, headed by sons and nephews, and had his own tribal and religious leaders.

Political parties including Saleh’s party were not important in the real conflict. They actually were subordinates, influenced by these two men and their rival military, tribal and religious leaders.

The only new, strange, and fearful factor to both Mohsen and Saleh was the young people who took to the streets on their own in an unprecedented way, independent young people who were not receiving instructions from any party at the very beginning of the uprising.

The defection of Mohsen from his lifelong ally has been explained as either a conspiracy between them to dupe the genuine revolutionaries, or because Mohsen is Islamist-oriented. Some people, close to families of both, say until now that the two men have conspired against everybody to protect each other from the protesters. They were and are only acting as if they are enemies of each other, while in realty they are still friends, kinsmen and allies.

Those people have many stories about the two men’s agreement and secret conspiracy. For example, they talk about secret meetings of the two men, who have two huge palaces next to each other in their village of Sanhan, 30km east of the capital Sanaa.

The sons of both visit these palaces with their bodyguards and they never ever clash. No single assassination case happened to any one of the families’ members although hundreds if not thousands of security and military officials were assassinated over the last two years.

The second explanation is based on the political and religious ambitions of the rebel General Mohsen, in his 70s, who said recently that he was the first man not the second man in Saleh’s regime. Therefore, he found a golden chance in the youth revolution to get rid of Saleh and take power with his allies from tribal and religious leaders who form the largest Islamist party, Islah (Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood).

Although there are many other reasons for the failure of the youth revolution, a lot of Yemenis blame only General Mohsen and his tribal and religious allies for hijacking the revolution. “If Ali Mohsen did not join the young protesters, the revolution would have succeeded and achieved all its goals,” said the activist Ali Ezzi Amin.

However, some observers see other reasons for the failure of this revolution, such as the dominance of the tribal leaders in state institutions, and the incessant chewing of Qat leaves by the majority of Yemenis for long hours every day. “The dominance of the tribal leaders, Qat and the weakness of the opposition parties, who were only copies of the regime, all those things were among the reasons that caused the failure of our revolution,” said political activist Ali Abu Lohom.

The activist Yunis Shujaaeddin agreed that the alliance of tribal, military and religious leaders was the reason behind the failure of the revolution but he added a regional factor. He said Saudi Arabia did not like the Yemeni revolution to succeed because something similar might happen in the kingdom. So, they supported loyal leaders from the military, tribes and religious scholars.

“Now we have a regime much worse than the previous one, because of the alliance of this troika,” said Shujaaeddin, in an obvious reference to the symbolic leaders of tribes, religion, and the military. In Yemen, these symbolic leaders are Ali Mohsen (military), Hamid Al-Ahmar (tribe) and Abdel-Meguid Al-Zandani (religion).

The political analyst Naguib Ghallab, author of three books on the Yemeni political crisis, said the rebel General Ali Mohsen leads the conservative and traditional forces within Saleh’s regime. And when Saleh started to support liberal and secular forces from the new generation, Mohsen and his allies were very angry and they tried to get rid of him.

“The youth revolution was a gift from the sky to Ali Mohsen and his tribal and religious allies to knock Saleh out, and this is what happened. These tribal, military and religious allies knew very well how to reproduce the same regime but without Saleh,” concluded Ghallab.

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