Yemen: President Saleh shoots down his own people

But that’s OK – he’s a good friend!

In Yemen, rage against the dictatorial government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been going on for years because of the dire poverty to which the masses of the people have been subjected in what was a country with sufficient oil and gas production to have produced a reasonable standard of living, although supplies are now running out..

Yemen in turmoil

Whereas the resistance in Tunisia and Egypt flared up very suddenly, in Yemen it has been simmering away for nearly 20 years. With a third of the population suffering from malnutrition and 40 percent unemployment, it is hardly surprising that the country has been in a state of ferment for so long, and that President Saleh has only been able to overcome people’s resistance by use of brute force and with the financial, intelligence and military backing of the US and Saudi Arabia.

Only 18 months ago the US was involved in bombing raids in northern Yemen. The pretext was that it was pursuing Al Qaeda ‘terrorists’ operating in the area, but in fact it was helping the Yemeni government suppress the agitation of the anti-imperialist Islamist separatist movement of the shia Zaydi Houthis in Sa’ada province (which has nothing to do with Al Qaeda, a sunni movement that has currently declared jihad against the Houthi rebels).

There is also a progressive secessionist movement in the south, including Aden, on the part of those belonging to the part of the country that was until 22 May 1990 a separate state and at the time embraced socialist policies.

It is not surprising that with the uprising throughout the Arab world against tyrannical US puppet regimes, Yemen too should find itself facing even fiercer resistance than was already the case, and, true to form, President Saleh resorted to violence in the hope of overcoming it.

Although generally tucked away discreetly in the inside pages of broadsheets, there are plenty of reports detailing the vicious nature of Saleh’s reponse to even peaceful demonstrations in different parts of the country – the capital, Sana’a, Aden in the south, Al Baida in central Yemen and the western port city of Al Hudaida, to name but a few.

Not only have demonstrators been shot at with live bullets (causing many deaths and countless injuries) but they have also been subjected to a type of tear gas that attacks the nervous system and which, without the administration of the antidote (which has not been made available), causes permanent injury.

This gas is said to have been supplied to the Yemeni regime by the US, and reports of a five-ton shipment of the gas bombs used on the demonstrators state that they arrived in Yemen in the second half of 2010. Yemeni TV footage has shown demonstrators affected by the gas paralysed and shaking uncontrollably. Medical sources have claimed to see markings on the gas canisters showing it is made in the US.

No substitute for Saleh

It is notable, however, that despite the high level of violence against unarmed demonstrators, the US puppet master has shown no sign at the time of writing of calling for Saleh to resign in the way that it did for Ben Ali and Mubarak Much less have resolutions been presented to the UN Security Council, or no-fly zones imposed.

The reason for this seems clear: President Saleh is a toady of imperialism, who, as it happens, will be harder to replace than his Egyptian and Tunisian counterparts. In Yemen it appears that there is no obvious candidate to take Saleh’s place. If he is unable through wheeling and dealing to control the population in the interests of imperalism, then it is probable that nobody else stands even a fighting chance.

Thomas Krajeski, US ambassador to Yemen from 2004 to 2007, had this to say: “For better or worse, he’s it. Ali Abdullah Saleh is our main conduit to everything we are trying to do in Yemen.”

A recent AFP report stated that Krajeski “said that when he was ambassador to Yemen, the embassy did a report every year on who would replace Saleh if he were to suddenly disappear. When they got to the conclusion, he said, ‘we came up empty’. He said there were people who the embassy thought would make good presidents, but ‘they just didn’t have the support to get there’. ” (‘Yemen protests have US worried about ally’s future’, AFP, 2 March 2011)

Concessions and resignations

In the hope of reducing the ferocity of the protests, Saleh promised to raise the salaries of government employees and to provide 60,000 job opportunities for graduates. However, Yemeni government finances are in such a parlous state that everybody knows these promises would be impossible to implement, even if Saleh actually wanted to do so.

Similar promises were made in 2005 after fuel riots, but they were never implemented. As it is, the crowds of demonstrators in Yemen’s various cities are determined to keep up their protests until Saleh goes, along with all his henchmen.

Saleh’s chances of hanging on to power seem to be receding fast, as his supporters are beginning to abandon him in droves. In mid-March, high-profile military leaders began to come out in support of the demonstrators, including Major General Abdul Malek Al-Seyani, a former Minister of Defence, Major General Al-Gaifi and 26 other officers, while on 12 March, while inspecting his forces in Sana’a, Brigadier General Yahya Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, was greeted by over 300 of his soldiers chanting “the people want the president to go”.

A week later, following a bloodbath in Sana’a on 18 March when 53 unarmed demonstrators were killed by sniper fire, Yemen’s ambassador to Lebanon resigned, as did the ambassador to the UN. Other prominent ministers and diplomats soon followed suit, including the respective ministers of tourism and endowment, a former minister of culture and Yemen’s ambassador to Switzerland.

After mass resignations, Saleh’s ruling political party, the General People’s Congress, has been forced to dissolve. More military thugs, including NW zone commander Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, eastern zone commander Mohammed Ali Mohsen, and the commander of the 301st armoured division, Hameed Al-Qushaibi, resigned on 21 March. The ambassadors to Jordan and Syria defected.

By this time, half the government had resigned and Saleh, having declared a state of emergency on 18 March, dissolved the government on the 20th.

If these henchmen of reaction have suddenly decided to jump ship, it is an indication that the protest movement has obviously become irresistible. Dr Abdullah al Faqih has commented that “This is just more manoeuvring to keep the powerful in power, they are going out of the front door and in at the back.” (, 21 March 2011)

These people are belatedly preparing themselves for being recruited into an alternative government for Yemen, which US imperialism will be hoping will somehow manage to keep the country under its control.

If the Arab protest movements are to be extinguished, however, whether in Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt or Tunisia, etc, significant concessions will need to be made by imperialism to the popular masses. At the very least there would have to be democratisation, but, more importantly, economic issues will have to be addressed. Measures will have to be taken to protect people from hunger and to provide employment – and in the political sphere, at very least, a Palestinian state will have to be conceded.

If these demands are not met, it will be only a matter of time before the masses return to the fray.

> Bahrain: Saudi mercenaries cannot stop the revolution – April 2011

> Hands off Libya – April 2011

> Intifada in Tunisia – February 2011