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YEMEN: Youth Want New Faces and a New Modern Country

Yazeed Kamaldien

SANA'A, May 11 2011 (IPS) - Yemen’s young anti-government protesters have learnt a vital lesson about the world of politics during their seemingly endless revolution – betrayal is inevitable.

Yemen's young protesters in Sana'a are unhappy with opposition parties too. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemen's young protesters in Sana'a are unhappy with opposition parties too. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

At Change Square, the main protest site in the capital city Sana’a, resentment has grown towards the opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) since it announced that it was willing to sign a deal with the country’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

This controversial initiative was proposed in April by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises six Gulf nations led in the Yemeni talks by Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. – a strong supporter of Saleh – backs the deal and has urged all parties to sign it.

But many young protesters who launched a civil society movement for regime change in mid-January claim allegiance to no political party and strongly reject the GCC exit strategy. Their main contention is that it guarantees immunity to Saleh, some of his allies and relatives who have served during the time that he has been the country’s leader.

In return for immunity, Saleh – the country’s leader since 1978 – would step down a month after signing the deal. This counters the grassroots trend that forced leaders in Tunisia and Egypt to step down with political dishonour.

Hesham Lutf is an unemployed high school graduate who has stayed at Change Square since it was set- up as a tent village in mid-February outside Sana’a University. He said that most youth protesters were disappointed with the JMP.

“We welcomed anyone to the square in the beginning but we saw that the JMP takes everything and does things that we don’t know about,” Lutf told IPS. “They never tell us what they are doing. They just use us to get what they want. Young people have been killed since they joined us.”

He was referring to scores of deaths at Change Square as dissidents have clashed with those who support Saleh. Snipers allegedly supporting Saleh also killed 53 protesters on Mar. 18 – the worst bloodshed at Change Square.

Luft said that protesters wanted to choose new leaders and would not allow the JMP to simply take over from the current leadership.

“We will tell the JMP to go out before the president leaves. We don’t need the president and we don’t need the JMP. The JMP is a copy of the government. We are bored of all these faces. We want new faces and a new modern country,” said Lutf.

Anas Homaid, an English language student at the temporarily closed Sana’a University, said that he was angered by the clause in the GCC deal granting immunity to Saleh.

“Many people said that Saleh will be free but nobody should go free from the law. This should not be,” Homaid told IPS. “Saleh must go to jail. Everyone who is proven guilty of crimes against the people must also go to jail. Such crimes against humanity should be heard at a court.”

Amr al-Khateeb, an electrician, said that the president has done too many bad things to be granted immunity.

“He killed young people,” al-Khateeb told IPS. “There was a lot of blood in the streets. He will never be free after he killed so many people. The families of those who were killed will not allow this.”

Nadia Abdullah, an IT engineer and MBA student, expressed a mistrust of all political parties because they “are part of the same regime”.

“They have taken so much time to negotiate,” she told IPS. “This shows that they are all part of the same regime. From the first days the protesters loved each other. But when the JMP started negotiating with the regime it became an awful situation… It became difficult to talk with them. They started talking about the ignorance of youth. I don’t trust them at all.”

Other clauses of the GCC initiative state that Saleh would hand over power to his deputy who would announce presidential elections, a government of national unity would be formed, and the opposition would take leadership of the country.

This has angered anti-Saleh protesters and pro-Saleh supporters who have taken to the streets across the country to show their dissatisfaction with the plan put forward by the GCC’s foreign ministers. At least a dozen meetings have been held in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital city, to fine-tune the plan but proceedings have stalled.

Delays are apparently due to clarifying certain points of the deal while the opposition’s political ping- pong to save face with anti-Saleh protesters has also side-tracked a swifter closure to the country’s political deadlock. The JMP said at one point that it would not sign the deal, but now is behind it again.

Salah Sharafi, who studies English linguistics at Sana’a University, said that they had lost all hope in the JMP which was “using the youth for their benefit… youth feel very sad about this”. Sharafi told IPS that protesters would ensure chaos if the deal was signed, but for now tolerated the JMP.

“I was disappointed in the JMP from the beginning. They tried to hijack this square but we allowed them to participate because we need them. If they sign then we will see a real crisis in Yemen. We will begin a new revolution against both of them [government and opposition]. They are all part of the same regime,” he said.

Abdullah Sharabi is an engineer who volunteers at Change Square’s media and information centre. He echoed Sharabi’s sentiment and told IPS that the GCC deal was a “dirty game in order to kill this revolution”.

“It does not fulfil the demands of the revolution or its goals. This is a solution only for the president but not for the youth,” Sharabi said. “The opposition has betrayed the youth. We don’t trust the opposition because it’s full of tricks. We want to keep a relationship in harmony with the opposition until we overthrow the regime.”

Yemen is treading on a path of desperate uncertainty. It is still run by a caretaker government – mostly officials who did not defect to the anti-government movement since mid-March.

Saleh heads up the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party that has warned that the JMP – which comprises at least six different parties – wants to seize leadership via a gradual coup.

Saleh supports the Gulf deal as a necessary step to end the political crisis which the country’s finance ministry has said has already cost its economy 5 billion dollars in 2011. Investment projects have been postponed, local currency has dropped against foreign exchange and the conflict has led to limited water, power, gas, fuel and diesel supplies countrywide.

Young protesters are saying that they are ready to escalate anti-government action. In the capital, they have mobilised some shop owners to close down on certain days to ensure that their struggle is felt more widely in the streets.

Civil disobedience campaigns have already escalated in other provinces such as Taiz and Aden, where protesters have stormed government buildings. Clashes with security officials as a result have led to more bloodshed which in turn has fuelled further protester reaction.

Basem Moghram, a computer programmer who contributes photos and reports to an anti-government website, told IPS that protests will continue until they have a “civil state that believes in justice, freedom and separation of authorities”. The GCC deal stipulated that all public protests and sit-in demonstrations should cease if the opposing parties accept it. Youth protesters are not included in these talks and have not been asked to sign the deal either as the JMP and Yemeni government are the only players seen as potential peacemakers.

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