In the latest sweep of demonstrations in the Arab world, tens of thousands of Yemeni protestors took to the streets yesterday. Inspired by events in Tunisia, they are demanding no less than the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The most impoverished of the Arab nations, Yemen has become a stronghold for al Qaeda. With revolt in the North and a secession movement in the South, the country’s stability has been uncertain for some time, and now the country’s Houthis, southern separatists, and Al Qaeda militants have come to the fore along with many students and workers who are simply fed up with the government’s corruption and failures. Despite recent instability, Thursday’s bout of protest is breaking the norms and expectations long established by state repression.
A group of the government’s supporters also protested in Sanaa as well, but their rally was small compared to the opposition.
Among the anti-government protestors’ grievances is a regime riddled with corruption that has little control outside of Sanaa, the capital. The country’s scant oil resources are estimated to run out within a decade at the current rate of extraction, and nearly half of the country lives below the poverty line of less than $2 a day.
''No to extending [presidential tenure]. No to bequeathing [the presidency],'' the protestors chanted on Thursday.
Saleh has been in power for 32 years. Even as protests erupt, a constitutional amendment is being discussed that would make Saleh’s presidency a life term. Public anger is intensified by talk of Saleh instating his son into power after his extended stay in office has terminated.
Saleh has responded to the protestors by promising that he will not put his son into office. He has slashed income taxes in half and commanded his officials to control prices.
Saleh has deployed thousands of riot police into South Yemen to maintain security. The White House, whose involvement in Yemen has increased with Al Qaeda’s presence, announced that Yemen’s government is respecting peaceful protest and that police violence has been minimal.