Is there ever a time when it becomes not only right, but patriotic, to admit that reforms have failed? That a once in a lifetime oppurtunity has been lost? That we have let down not just people who gave their lives or had it taken from them, but also condemned the lives of the next generation of Yemenis in order to maintain a status quo that can be judged by any amateur by its record of delivery over the last three decades? Dory Eryani took the brave step of saying what I am sure is in everybody’s mind and I want to add my voice to hers.
Removing all the ‘distractions’ and ‘complexities’, what is happening in the Middle East? We have seen revolutions rising to remove regimes that have mismanaged them. The template is almost identical: First move against the symbol, then after that the establishment that supported it and that is how it should be. It’s only logical. After all, its perfectly clear that these establishments are incapable or have no intention to self reform and if they are not going to self-reform, then they have lost the mandate to rule. None of the three countries that have toppled their regimes can claim success, but all three are on the right track there. They have toppled the symbol, and now are engaging with the bigger, harder step of dismantling the establishments. Whether they will succeed or not is anyone’s guess but all three countries revolutionaries have a clear understanding that an establishment that was part of the problem can not be part of the solution.
Watching the people of Libya in their moment of glory makes it even more painful to question what has happened to the Yemeni Revolution. Of all the Arab countries, and I say this not only because I am a Yemeni, it is the one that deserved it the most. If Yemen was a person it would be the most disadvantaged, side-lined, over-looked, marginalised, poverty stricken person ever. You can say what you like about Hosni, or Ben Ali, or even Gaddafi, but the fact of the matter is that all these countries standards surpass Yemen’s astronomically. I hate the family of Al Saoud with a passion for their betrayal of Yemen recently and for decades of foreign policy that have led Yemen to where it is today:The road sweeper of the Gulf, but haven’t they done well for their people? Look at Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and yes, even Bahrain.. yes they are dictators but haven’t they done well for their people? You will say they have the money to be able to buy their people’s silence. The equation in the Gulf States is very simple trade-off: you put up with us, and we will give you a standard of living other nations of the earth can only dream of. Free housing, free health care, free education.. a good life. I’m sure the average Gulf Arab, with the exception of certain Bahrainis, understands and approves this. In their perspective, They have what they need, the house, the food on the table, disposable income, education for their kids etc. Do I blame them? or think they are making a mistake? Of course not, because they are satisfied enough and ultimately that is what it’s about. What is most important to the voter in the most advanced democracy on Earth? Isn’t it economics? jobs? more disposable income? less tax?
Cynical about democracy? I will be honest. At this point after 8 months of watching, I am almost at the point of just wanting food on the table for Yemen, never mind democracy. Find even a benevolent tinpot dictator for Yemen who will help himself to even a little bit less and put some effing food on the table for Yemen, but even that is not an option. There is nothing benevolent in sight. The only chance we had was this revolution which started with the Youth.. These youth who took the chance, feeling their way blindly, with no experience, guided by their understanding that this was a golden opportunity that doesn’t come very often. They were not copying the neither the Egyptians, nor the Tunisians, or the Lybians. They saw a chance and took it.
Speaking for myself, I was entirely swept up with the euphoria that something big was happening in Yemen. I was one of the fools who saw Ali Muhsin’s defection as the sign of someone who is cutting his losses and switching to the winning side. I was also one of the fools who thought the failed assassination attempt ,which has all the marks of an inter-establishment coup, was a further sign that Saleh was on his own. Even when rumours will swirling that Tawakol Karaman is nothing but the public face of Islah I still didn’t click, after all, what does it matter what party she belongs to, in the end she captured the national mood and articulated the case of the Yemeni Revolution very well. The first shadow I glimpsed was when Ali Muhsin made his first move against protestors intent on escalation. He arrested them and beat them. He was sending out a clear message. No escalation will be allowed. Of course the explanation given was that the protest had to stay within the the limits of Change Square in order to be able to protect the protesters from the snipers and regime. In effect, and im sure in intent, he succeeded in containing the Sana’a protest movement. Before Ali Muhsin’s move, It was easy to say who the revolutionaries were, and who the establishment were. After that move it was sensed by many that the lines were all of a sudden blurred. And regardless of what anyone said or tweeted, or wrote, that action went UNCHALLENGED. yes hindsight is a fine thing. I wonder now if that singular action succeeded in planting seeds of self-doubt..
The establishment that I grew up in the Yemen and left can be summarised in a famous Saleh pearl of wisdom, and it really is a pearl of wisdom: Let them do what they want to do, and we will do what we want to do.. This isn’t arrogance, It is confidence. The confidence that comes not from any super-human abilities, but from the smug knowledge that comes from creating a rigged democracy from scratch and taking 30 years to perfect it. Everything about the first democracy in the Arabian Gulf (as Saleh is fond of reminding you and me) has a mysterious way of working comfortably on his behalf for his interests. Saleh’s democracy works something like this: he was liberal enough within his establishment including the alleged opposition to let them help themselves to the cake. In fact, it was encouraged. It was never a hard life to be an opposition member of parliament, it was harder to be an independent. Help yourself and allow French TOTAL to grab yemeni gas at stupid prices, help yourself and allow other Arab/Non ARab countries to fish in Yemeni waters with dynamite and ships so huge while the average tihami yemeni takes his life in his hands on a rickety boat for left overs. Help yourself to dig any numbers of well.. Help yourself to other people’s lands and real estate. If you were a potential threat he allowed you to thrive. Wasn’t that the arrangement with certain business and tribal families? In the end everybody becomes so corrupted that no one has the moral high ground to say anything or do anything meaningful because he would have something against you. This culture is now everywhere in Yemen. You cant do anything without paying someone for a job they are supposed to do anyway. Bribery and corruption. Even to mention it is a cliche in its own right.
By the time the opposition took advantage of the power vacuum and Saleh went for his cosmetic procedure in Saudi, it was clear that ppl were starting to worry. What wasn’t clear was everything that came after that, but whatever it is, it ceased to be the Youth’s Revolution after that. Besides Ali Muhsin’s defect, there was the Ahmar’s, the tribes that came to defend him, The ‘surprise’ appearance of AQAP, and the smooth and ease with which the opposition took over as caretakers of the revolution. What people call the opposition, is really the third layer of yemen’s ruling establishment who are not so much moving against Saleh, but seizing the opportunity to move up a notch in the food chain.It is not an opposition it is an extension of the regime itself. Above the opposition is Saleh, and above Saleh is Saudi Arabia.
Most Saleh supporters are supporters of the lesser of two evils. Now I don’t know much about Islah or Zindani. In fact, I only know one thing about Zindani and its all I ever need to know: That he has (allegedly) invented the cure to HIV and is keeping it a secret from the world because of patent rights. This is not what I heard, this came from his own mouth. Presumably his Islamic sensibilities prevent him from sharing it with the rest of the world until he gets the patent sorted? Or maybe he is just a liar? It can’t be a publicity stunt surely. In any other country this would have discredited anybody, but not in Yemen. There are no other options out there. No one who isn’t in one way or another tainted by association.
It is also painfully clear now that there is no national narrative in Yemen. There is no all embracing Yemen like the Egypt the mother, that rallied all Egyptians. Everyone sees Yemen from their own bubble. Yes it maybe true that some would say that Libya is the same but the transitional council in Libya made a point of reaching out to all and including all groups like the Amazigh and uniting them against Gaddafi.. The national council barely made the effort to even look like it was being representative. Why? simple, they know that they will get away with it.. whos they? the careerist politicians, the opportunistic parties, thecultural Islamists the list goes on.. what no one is doing is taking a pause and say: Stop, can we afford this? Can we afford to let Yemen go on the path it is going on for even 10 more years? with all the inflation, the water and food shortages, the sky-rocketing population, the shrinking oil and gas reserves, the rising unemployment, the culture of corruption, the illiteracy, the poverty… It doesn’t matter what people say with their lips, the answer is in their actions. If the action of the National Council is anything to go by, then it is hardly a wonder that our revolution is all but over. we have gone full circle only to end up in the arms of the establishment again.. IF you’re not chewing Qat by now, you certainly will be by the time this revolution is through… We almost got rid of a dictator, only to hand the power back into the hands of his creation…