Inspired by the ousting of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, people have massed on the streets of Yemen since February in their “Endless Revolution”. They have defied government forces, including plain-clothes thugs acting for the regime, despite the martyrdom of at least 350 protesters.
When the badly wounded dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh was wafted to Saudi Arabia after the June 3 rocket attack on the presidential complex, crowds of Yemenis celebrated his departure in Change Square in Sanaa, and Freedom Square in the southern city of Taiz.
For a poignant moment, they could revel in the knowledge that their months of sacrifice had not been in vain – and give their country’s Roman name Arabia Felix ‘happy Arabia’ a real meaning.
Speaking in Taiz, activist Wassem al Gorashi hailed the sacrifice of anti-regime protesters, saying: “On behalf of the free revolutionaries and all the noble people of the nation, we send you our sincere congratulations. We start with all of our martyrs, and then we congratulate all the rebels in different squares and all the Yemeni people. We congratulate you for the departure of the head of the arrogant regime. This day will be marked in history as one of the greatest days in Yemen.”
They were heartened by the news that In Taiz, the Khalid Bin Walid barracks, the largest barracks in the city, defected over the weekend. Central security forces have also completely pulled out of the city's streets, though the Republican Guard still maintains a presence.
For most people, Yemen is just a place on the map – the southern-most tip of the Arabian peninsula, sharing a long border with Saudi Arabia. But it has long been known first for its fertility and stupendous architecture and town planning.
Unfortunately for its citizens, in the 20th century Yemen became a strategic hotspot, due to its location dominating the straits between the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea and proximity to the world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia.
The southern port of Aden was occupied by the British forces in 1839 largely to protect their shipping interests. It became Britain’s main base in the area after the loss of the Suez canal in 1956. After four years of anti-colonial insurgency and civil strife, the British departed in 1967, leaving a divided country in their wake. The 1990 unification of south and north Yemen under Ali Abdullah Saleh – and his 32-year rule - have left many southerners feeling they were unfairly treated by the south and civil war broke out in 1994.
Taking advantage of the tensions, Al Qaeda began operations in 1992. Around 300 Al-Qaeda fighters are thought to operate from the South, making it a major target for US drones and bombers.They have strongholds in the mountainous areas and, despite US bombardment, Al Qaeda militants in the south of the country seized the provincial capital of Zinjibar only yesterday.
Although it now wants him not to return home, the United States has been desperately propping up the Saleh regime for years, supplying it with military aid to the tune of $140 million in 2010. In the past they saw Saleh and his cronies as allies in the “war against terror”.
Lara Aryani, reporting from Sana’a for Jadaliyya, has warned of the manoeuvring “of the elites, by the elites and for the elites”, including the opposition party coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), which, she says has thrust itself into the middle of negotiations with the regime (which the protesters have refused) as if it represents or even understands the demands of the protesters and the necessary changes that would cause the protests to dissipate.”
Ousting Saleh – who imposed the World Bank and IMF’s “Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility” – on his people, is only be the beginning of clearing out the elites under whom the people of Yemen have been suffering for so long. The time for Yemenis to decide their own fate, free of the interests of Washington, Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda and their own greedy elites must come soon.