Protests in Yemen

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sana'a, Yemen Sana'a, Yemen (eesti/flickr)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Walid Al-Saqaf, founder and administrator of Yemen Portal, a news and multi-content aggregator focused on Yemeni news, talked about the protest in Yemen and his own free speech advocacy.

Anti-regime protests in Tunisia have ignited public demonstrations in other pockets of the Arab world. In the last week, Egyptians have taken to the streets of Cairo en masse to demand the resignation of their leader, Hosni Mubarak. Most recently, on Thursday, Yemeni protesters flooded the nation's capital city of Sana'a to call for their president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to cede control of the government.

Yemen is one of the poorest nations in the Middle East, and Saleh has presided over the country's deterioration for the past 32 years. While protesters are railing against the same kind of corruption and improper governance that Tunisians and Egyptians face, Walid Al-Saqaf said that Yemen's movement appears to be less revolutionary and more conservative than the others taking shape.

So far they have not had same high feeling that people would long for, which is to remove the regime. They are starting with the idea that this regime can remain so long as there are certain conditions met...They also claim this is merely a matter of time before they actually call for the other extreme demand of removing [Saleh] from power if he doesn't listen. They're essentially giving him an ultimatum.

However, Al-Saqaf asserted that weaker demands from protesters didn't mean Saleh's regime was any better than Mubarak's in Egypt or Ben Ali's in Tunisia.

These demonstrations were led by the opposition party, unlike the spontaneous ones in Egypt. They had to be politically they are dealing with it diplomatically, and that does not reflect on whether they think the regime is better or worse. 

Al-Saqaf said that the country was on the brink of civil war, one that's been a long time coming. For years, instead of using oil revenues for public works and infrastructure needs, Saleh used government money to keep Yemen's fractious, disparate centers of influence—including Al-Qaeda—loyal to the regime. As that money runs out and Yemen's natural resources become depleted, the country is heading for a big crash.

The idea is that [Saleh] has been playing a role in which he would simply provide these different powerful elements with what they needed over time, and they would be loyal to him despite the fact that he may be violating the law by alowing them to purchase or use weapons, or to have their own laws. As time passed, the resources got depleted and the oil is getting depleted and he is not able to pay enough for those to be satisfied, so he is trying to find compromises. It was really a failure from the beginning, because the money that has been sent to appease those power centers could have gone to education or infrastructure. It's a matter of time before the whole country collapses, and I feel like there's a better chance of things being corrected if a transition takes place now, before it's too late.

While protests in Yemen are of a different character than those in Egypt and Tunisia, Al-Saqaf said that the overarching problem facing each nation's populace is the same.

All of them have one common denominator, which is injustice, social injustice. All of those regimes had privileged certain groups in society and amassed wealth through illegal means like corruption...There's one interesting case in Tunisia where at the beginning people would say, "This is only a protest for meeting ends, to get bread and so forth." But in reality, they said it's not only for that, it's for dignity...The people needed to be the rulers, not the other way around. If Tunisia did it, why shouldn't we do it?

Meanwhile, the US is preparing to navigate a very different political landscape in the Middle East. While the future is uncertain for all parties on both sides of the globe, Al-Saqaf said that there's one thing above all others that the US should keep in mind following the conflicts in Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia.

Don't enforce dictators, don't rely on them, don't think they will help you out. If there's only one lesson the US should learn, it's that having dictators as your allies is never a good idea.


Walid Al-Saqaf


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Comments [8]

Estelle from Austin

I am really interested in this topic, but even after listening twice to the segment, did not find this source to be very comprehensible.

I hope you have more segments about Yemen, the Al Qaeda connection, and the larger implications in the Middle East.

Jan. 28 2011 05:35 PM
Sanford Cook from Ocean, NJ

As American as Apple Pie

Democracy is a cherished and noble idea to most of us in the US. There should be no doubt that the idea of social equality has allowed us as a country and individuals to flourish. However, I’m not sure that all fully understand that it has taken several hundred years for this ideology to evolve to the level that we treasure. I often analogize democracy with another American iconic notion. Apple Pie.
When we use apple pie and motherhood in an idea, I think of sweetness, nourishing, protective, nourishing etc. Based on my personal experience apple pie’s ingredients have been made with healthy and sugary fruit that have been used to create a beautiful experience by skillful crafting. The image of the warm crust is so seductive. But until we open the pie, do we know what’s inside?

Suppose for a second, the fruit that was used was grown and processed with poisons that could seriously harm us. Suppose the crafters used this iconic product to impair our use of this pleasure for their own purposes.

Yes, the idea of democracy everywhere is our ideal as Americans. However, we also have to consider where and how the seeds and the fruit of this idea are actually nurtured and used. If young children from the time they are able to comprehend are taught without the slightest chance of dissenting opinion that their god has defined the west and any other religion as evil and should be wiped out, shouldn’t we consider how these children’s ideas have matured as adults? Using Gaza as an example, once the democratic process was accomplished the results were to create an anti democratic regime. Any democratic notions in Gaza are met with violent reactions by its democratically elected government. Was the idea of democracy wrong? Of course not, but with democracy we need to consider the education and information the voters have been exposed to. We have to be certain that where there has been no freedom or democratic education that magically cultures don’t change for the better once they can vote. Even if there is no violent pressure to vote in a certain way.

I believe we Americans walk a very narrow line to preserve peace and to develop freedom. We need to be more aggressive to be sure any nation that we have some influence in actually promotes and evolves into a culture that is educated enough to fully understand the full ramifications of their vote. We can’t wait until the repression explodes. However, we have to be sure that with democracy there has to be some concept of freedom for all without persecution in their education. Much like apple pie is wonderful, the ingredient seeds must be nourished in a healthy manner.

Jan. 28 2011 02:58 PM

I support the people!

Jan. 28 2011 02:00 PM

i voted yes and by long-term i mean over the next 50 years. it will be a long road head.

also unlike in iran mubarak doesn’t have “god” on his side.

Jan. 28 2011 01:44 PM
ralph from Staten Island

Remember Iran? And now Muktadr al Sadr is back in Iraq. Think of it. If this catches fire, no arab ruler will be safe and the whole muslim world may react just like the Iranians did. By suppressing the religious radical community with contempt, this just may bring about the very things that the west fears. Shia clerics taking over in Iraq. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. If that happens, add a dash of Isreal, sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. The Iranians had cassette tapes. The Tunisians, Egyptions, Yemenis and Iragis have twitter and facebook to communicate with.

Jan. 28 2011 12:20 PM
Esmat from New Jersey

With all due respect your assessment of the situation in Egypt and Yemen is wrong. Just listen to what journalists and protesters are telling you. The uprising has nothing to do with wikileaks. Most protestors have never heard of wikileaks and they can care less. They are simply protesting 30 years of oppressed regime backed by the United States. People are starving (even university graduates) and unable to find their next meal while the ruling families and their few watch dogs are indulging in an extravagant bash of stealing/spending the country resources and smuggling it outside. Is not our ideal to support democracy and people wishes? Why is Secretary Clinton claiming in the middle of the crisis that Egyptian Regime is stable and capable of reform? Are we that blind to what is going on?

Jan. 28 2011 11:05 AM
abed awad from New Jersey

I was listening to your program this morning and hear a reporter from the Times discussing the role of wikileaks in the protests and uprisings around the Arab world. Your guests argument that wiki and the supposed American dislike of the Tunisian dictator have facilitated or sparked the protests is plain wrong and insulting to the Arab masses that had enough oppression and rose up due to the objective economic and political circumstances of their dire state of affairs. Your guest forget to mention that our government has supported all of these dictatorships in the Arab world. In other words, we contributed to the continued longevity of these dictatorships. In addition, the role the Arab media played - especially Al-Jazeera - should not be underestimated. BouAziz - the individual that burned himself as protest was a street vendor. The uprising started in the poorest city in Tunis. This is not an elite movement. It is the masses. Even the Islamists have not taken credit for what is going on because they were not behind the mass movement for change. If we - the US - wanted democratic change in the region, we could have stopped supporting the monarchies and dictatorship during the cold war and continuing to today because we believe they serve our interests in the region.

Jan. 28 2011 10:48 AM
April from Manhttan

Brian, love your show! But do you listen to the BBC right before you, or are you too busy preparing for yours? They had multiple interviews with demonstrators who repeatedly emphasized that they are mostly middle class, educated people of both sexes, who Do Not support the Muslim Brotherhood or a state like Iran. They sound much more like the anti-Ahmadinejad protesters in Iran. As in Iran, the social media in Egypt are being shut down, so protesters are going to mosques to strategize. The BBC also had a segment on journalists from the West in Egypt are being beat up and detained. Why is the American government not being more supportive of Egyptian protesters? We're supposed to be supportive of democracy, whether nations want it or not. Yet again, we're supporting dictators, in a position that in the end will be against our own interest.

Jan. 28 2011 10:40 AM

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