Yemen: The Forgotten Revolution
Before you read this, ask yourself how much do you know about Yemen? When was the last time you saw it in the news? I ask because it is currently in state of revolution, as another offshoot of the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia. However while Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and, now, Syria, have had the world’s media devote hours of coverage and thousands of column inches to the struggles occurring there, Yemen appears to have been forgotten.
Yemeni’s began to protest against conditions in the nation: high unemployment, a stagnant economy and widespread corruption – with Yemen having the fourth lowest Human Development Index ratings in the Arab world. These issues soon manifested themselves into calls for Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of the country since 1978, to resign and allow Yemen to rewrite its constitution and enjoy a democratic future. Major demonstrations for such a transition have been occurring since the 27th January (see here for an unbelievable video of such protests).
These protests prompted Saleh to state that he would not seek re-election however he had made similar commitments previously, only for them to fade away. For Yemenites, such a promise, likely to be broken, did not represent progress. This cynicism was proven when Saleh refused to sign a transition agreement, that he had previously agreed to, brokered by the Gulf Co-operation Council. After this refusal the GCC suspended its efforts to mediate in Yemen. The government has also rejected all demands made by the opposition, including the formation of a transitional council and democratic elections.
As a consequence, factions of opposition formed a transitional council, providing an umbrella for many opposition groups in the increasingly fragmented country. This opposition, led by, the Nobel Prize Winner, Tawakel Karman, has staged dozens of protests, with many being fired upon by loyalist forces, such as a protest in Sana’a on 18th March where 52 were killed. Such events have resulted in mass defections from both the army and goverment leaving a large proportion of Yemen outside of the government’s control, causing the loyalist movement to primarily consist of pro-Saleh tribesman. Consequentially, Yemen is edging closer to a state of civil war, with street fighting, including artillery and mortar firing, taking place on a regular basis. On 3rd June, a bombing at the presidential palace injured Saleh and seven top government officials. One of the most shocking events occurred in Ta’iz, where pro-government forces cleared a central square of protesters; it is reported that troops fired live ammunition at the protesters, with some protesters being run over by bulldozers. The opposition have described the event as a massacre.
These events have caused widespread international condemnation, even from traditional allies of Saleh such as the United States and Saudi Arabia. Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon has urged the government to institute “bold reforms” and engage in a national dialogue with the opposition, whilst also stating that any solution must be reached internally.
With the United Nations fiddling whilst Sana’a burns, the international community has looked to Saudi Arabia to assist in the finding of a solution. Saudi Arabia is a nation in a permanent state of fear regarding instability, with it becoming a major force in countering the Arab Spring, fearing the birth of representative governance in the region. Nevertheless it has now recognised that, their old ally, Saleh now represents more of a threat to security than his opposition, and has practically strong-armed him into seeking treatment, for injuries suffered in the bombing of his palace, in Riyadh – where he has remained since – whilst his country has descended into civil conflict. In the interests of its own stability, Saudi Arabia is keen for this conflict to quickly reach its conclusion.
However, Yemen is different from the other states that have experienced the Arab Spring. Yemen is the most populous country in the Arabian Peninsula, with 24 million people; a population that is heavily armed, tribal, and impoverished. The political actors actors involved in the uprising are more numerous, autonomous, fractious, and militarized. This nation cannot be stabilised by the traditional tactics employed by Riyadh, e.g. a small show of force, the backing of one faction over another, or simply throwing money at the problem. Bringing order to Yemen will require Saudi Arabia to find an acceptable alternative to Saleh. Without an alternative approved by all, Yemen will continue to sink into civil war.
Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and, now, Syria are hot topics for media outlets across platforms and national boundaries however there appears to be a quasi-blackout in the mainstream media in regards to Yemen. A quick google news search illustrates this; using the search term ‘<insert country> revolution’, the results are as follows:
Egypt: 3,100 results
Libya: 2,640 results
Tunisia: 1,710 results
Syria: 1,620 results
Yemen: 918 results
Perhaps it is that Yemen is not as media-friendly as other nations of the Arab Spring. It lacks any major historical or diplomatic ties to, or conflicts with, western liberal ideals, whilst Syria has long been a rogue state. It’s natural resources are at a low level, whilst Libya’s are abundant. It was not the first country to experience revolution, like Tunisia. It’s upheaval does not threaten Israel, like in Egypt. However, it does threaten Saudi Arabia, a long-time ally to the west and enemy to democratic values. It is also worth noting, the growing presence of Al Qaeda in the country (as described in the first ten minutes of this video) – which makes it surprising that more coverage, especially in the Western Media, has not been given to this nation and its struggle against dictatorship.
Sadly, it appears to be that the Yemeni revolution is not ‘sexy’ enough, with less bloodshed when compared to other conflicts of the Arab Spring, as this table shows. The world has watched on with horror at the humanitarian emergencies in Syria, applauded the pro-democracy movements of Egypt and Tunisia, and the international community has resorted to force in Libya. However Yemen remains largely uncovered, with the Western press remaining silent. As a consequence, Libya has become the forgotten revolution and, if the world does not act, it will soon become the forgotten civil war, which can only further destabilise the region.
It is time for the media to beam the images of this conflict around the world. Only then will governments be forced to intervene. Only then will the people of Yemen truly feel the support of the world behind them in their struggle. Yemenites have a right to demand better and we have a duty to support them.