In Yemen, the revolution is being reversed

In Yemen, the revolution is being reversed
The history of the uprising that ousted President Saleh is being rewritten.
5 min read
02 Aug, 2014
The Yemeni revolution aimed to change the regime [AFP].

Since they erupted, the Arab revolutions of 2011 have faced many challenges. Most importantly, they are no longer what their instigators dreamed they would be. Moreover, there is a certain resistance to accepting that the revolutionaries have stumbled on their path.


To overcome this denial of reality, radical change needs to happen within the countries of the “Arab Spring”. In Syria, the militarisation of the revolution – a result of the savagery of the regime – has hit the opposition hard. Non-Syrian actors have entered the fray and are working to defeat the revolution by assuming the brutal, violent methods of the regime, while painting themselves as part of the opposition. The genuine Syrian revolutionaries did not accept that this had happened until they were sidelined and became the victims of those who intruded. The seriousness of this development has now been acknowledged amid the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but the delay in recognising it makes the fight-back all the harder.


     To overcome this denial of reality, radical change needs to happen.

Yemen has fallen into the same trap. It seemed clear that the military and tribal defections from the regime in 2011 – more precisely after the “Friday of Dignity Massacre” of 18 March, when at least 52 protesters were killed in Sanaa – would not have happened unless the defectors, of whom some were stalwarts of Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime, thought they would land safely in any new order. Indeed, voices were heard at the time warning that those who had jumped on the bandwagon should be treated with caution and should not be offered any leadership positions if the revolution was to move forward. These warnings were ignored, as was the danger of allowing certain political groups to speak on behalf of protesters.


The price was soon paid. Military figures and political parties imposed themselves on the revolution, especially in Sanaa. And once the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative - presented as the only way to assure a peaceful transition of power in Yemen after the assassination attempt on Saleh in June 2011 – was signed in November that year, public squares turned into prisons for the revolutionaries.




The initiative finalised the transformation of a youth-led revolution into a mere “political crisis”: a president undone by his political opposition rather than by popular revolution. Hundreds of thousands had hit the streets to demand Saleh's resignation, yet the GCC initiative simply turned him into a “former president” - and one with immunity from prosecution. The initiative also transformed his political opponents, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) coalition, into partners in power, whose main priority was to compete with the General People's Congress (GPC), the former ruling party, for ministerial positions and power over government institutions.


The GCC initiative did not meet any of the demands of the revolution, the aim of which was to change the regime - not simply rotate its leadership - and to improve life for all Yemenis as a result.


The readiness of opposition politicians to sign the GCC initiative – without any real attempt to secure the goals of the revolution – proved that they wanted only to settle old scores with Saleh. Meanwhile, the revolutionary leaders, who spent their days on the streets chanting for change, proved unable to change much at all. They played a limited role both following the GCC talks and during the National Dialogue Conference (NDC).


The NDC was promoted as the start of the process to change Yemen for the better. However, the conference saw the same faces of the old-new regime line up to ensure that the outcome would not threaten their interests. This was reflected in the NDC conclusions on a new federalist system and a degree of accountability for past crimes and corruption.




Despite this, some revolutionary youth are still in a state of denial over the failure to achieve any real change. And now the situation has been almost completely turned around after the Houthi movement's advances in Amran province and the losses of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islah Party and its allies in the army’s 310th Armoured Brigade.


     The readiness of opposition politicians to sign the GCC initiative... proved that they wanted only to settle old scores with Saleh.

The loss in battle of Brigade Commander Hameed al-Qushaybi weakened the influential presidential adviser, General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, who was Qushaybi's main backer. Only a few days later, rumours of reconciliation between members of the old regime and Ali Muhsin began to emerge. After all, Saleh and Ali Muhsin were together the architects of the 1994 civil war.


Some played it down as speculation, saying talk of reconciliation was exaggerated. But then, during Eid prayers, there was Yemeni President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi flanked on either side by Saleh and Ali Muhsin, for all to see. The enemies of the recent past were grudgingly speaking again.


Saleh refused to shake Ali Muhsin's hand, and some suggested this was significant. But refusing a handshake does not mean that the return of the old alliance is doomed. There are some issues that still need to be overcome before the hatchet may be buried. Still, the first step was for Saleh and Ali Muhsin to appear together in public, sending a clear message that the band was getting back together.


So who wanted to send that message and was also able to bring these bitter enemies together? A Saudi envoy was in Yemen only a few days before Eid and, according to reports, met with several members of the former regime in a bid to reunite parties in a common bond against the Houthis.


As in Bahrain and Egypt, then, those trying to destroy the revolution in Yemen are not just domestic players - but neighbouring Arab countries, acting through their local clients and agents.


This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Al Araby Al Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.