Many analysts and onlookers have come to the conclusion that the Arab Spring has fallen prey to Yemen’s notorious political intrigues; that the Youth Revolution has been “thwarted” by Saleh and his coterie. Now that Libya is on the verge of blossoming, Western and many Middle Eastern eyes have turned to Syria, rather than continuing to hope and pray that Yemenis will also harvest the fruits of their long-suffering and resilience. Despite such pessimism, the truth could hardly be more different. For all the Saleh gimmicks, his family and loyalists with their Western-supplied security wagons, and duplicitous rhetoric; Saleh’s regime is rotten to the core, and will collapse with the autumn winds.
The democratic aspirations of Yemeni civil society will triumph over the self-serving – and ultimately self-defeating – narrow-minded clique. After decades of mismanagement during which all socio-economic indicators have been in steepening decline, the same criminal perpetrators cannot conceivably stay on. Ahmed Ali’s (son of Saleh, à la Alaa Mubarak, Bashar al Asad, and Saif al Qadhafi) command of both the Yemeni Special Operations Forces and the Republican Guard continues to brutalise Yemen and its people as Saleh recovers in Saudi Arabia from injuries sustained in an attack on his compound in Sana’a – but with customary deceit supporting his son’s hereditary dictatorship.
This imperious idiocy is not restricted to Saleh’s family: the Sa’udi royal family, who fear Yemeni democracy and demography, are supporters of the would-be dynasty. That hope to maintain Yemen as a Principality of Sa’udi Arabia, leaving the next generation of their family to find a solution to Sa’udis’ (and Yemenis’) demands for democracy and good governance. The West, too, for all its calls for Saleh to surrender power, has buttressed his rule by knowingly building 2 Praetorian Guards (commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed, and his nephew Yahya), and watched while they were used treacherously to suppress tribal militias. As the West knows well, without a prior purge of Saleh’s family and yes-men from such key security and administrative posts, any handover will be nominal, not substantive. Despite knowing this, and that Yemen’s existential problems will worsen under the same (mis)management, the West has not sanctioned them as they have in Libya, nor referred Saleh’s slaughtermen to the International Criminal Court. Severe strictures have been aimed at al-Qadhafi and al-Asad, but no Get Going Soon cards to Saleh yet?!
Yet in some senses, the length of this bloody revolution has been a blessing in disguise. While Saleh has fashioned ungoverned spaces where he hoped ”Al Qaeda” would spring up, the Youth Revolution have created other spaces free of his misrule. In the small micro-climates called Change Square, the Youth have revived the civil society that flourished briefly after the 1990 Unification, before being crushed under Saleh’s jackboot. Sworn tribal enemies co-operate; undergraduates educate their illiterate fellows; political concepts and systems are debated – sometime fractiously, but without bloodshed. This self-seeded democracy has accomplished what years of Western aid projects failed to do (mostly because they were bled dry by regime “contractors”.) A democratic future is one in which al Qaeda has neither place nor welcome; where Yemenis do not look for expensive counter-terrorism aid from the West (knowing that it will be deployed against political opposition); and where the people work for the common good, rather than to line their coffers in far-off lands. It also requires the Opposition politicians to pull together as democrats, rather than compete to replace Saleh’s clique with their own – squabbling over the spoils.
Despite continuing brutal provocation and increasing poverty, the Yemenis have resisted the urge, and the goading, to violence. They have maintained their steadfastly pacific and democratic aims. They bickered throughout the summer over elections to the promised National Transitional Council, debated the extent of malign Saudi influence and meddling, the merits of Confederation vs. Federation; but all with an unshakable belief that going back to a feudal kleptocracy is no longer an option.
In the absence of any international interest, the Youth of the Yemeni Revolution continue their call for the cleansing of all remnants of Saleh’s Regime. In the dim candle light of every evening they prepare for more massive marches in their “Thawrat Al-hasm” – Decisive Revolution – alluding to a decisive victory, bearing the Libya events and example in mind. “Al-hasm” is a word which could imply both a resolute deduction as well as a victorious finale.
The West has been behind the curve of history too often in the Middle East. Libya has shown that the World has the conviction to back a people against a dynastic despot. Let Yemen’s Arab Spring be next to fruit; as the Prophet said: “Faith is of Yemen, and wisdom is Yemeni.”
Yemen is on an irreversible path to the kind of freedom that has no precedent in the Arabian Peninsula, but is essentially unremarkable in a country with a growing indigenous population, rich in human potential and endeavour, and a proud historic and geostrategic foundation.
The democratic, social, and economic challenges are without a doubt enormous, but as someone once whispered in my ear: “It’ll be tough and unpredictable – or the United Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.