Yemen, the next stop for the train of change

February 14, 2011 - 0:0

Yemen is a country that is experiencing many political and economic crises.

The country depends very much on imports to meet the domestic need for staple foods. For example, it is importing between 80 and 90 percent of the cereals consumed in the country.
The dependence on imports and the relatively weak agricultural sector has resulted in a great amount of poverty in Yemen. And the people’s lack of purchasing power is a major cause of the crisis, but gender prejudice, drought, and the shortage of water sources are aggravating factors.
However, economic dependence is not the only thing that has weakened the Yemeni government. Yemen’s political subservience to more powerful states has undermined the country’s independence. For example, the Yemeni government relies on a great amount of assistance from the United States, which regards Yemen as one of its strategic allies in the region.
As one of her first acts of 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Yemen. During her visit, she explained the nature of the United States’ commitment to Yemen, saying the U.S. is definitely concerned about counterterrorism but is also concerned about the health of Yemen’s political system.
Two weeks later, on January 27, thousands of Yemenis flooded the streets of Sanaa, demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, political reform, and an end to the deep dysfunction of Yemen’s government. The demonstration came so soon after the upheaval in Tunisia that many people wondered if Yemen would become the next Tunisia. But now it appears that Yemen may become the next Egypt.
Some political analysts say there are similarities between the recent events in North Africa and the situation that is unfolding in Yemen. Both have been largely spontaneous and driven by mass frustration with the regime and mild encouragement by activists. And both could be described as textbook definitions of people power movements.
In Yemen, many citizens view President Saleh’s system of rule as a complete failure. Saleh is an autocrat, just like Mubarak was. Mubarak began to give concessions to the people, but these measures could not save him. Saleh’s initial round of concessions -- raising government and military salaries, cutting tuition at state universities, and similar small gestures -- also haven’t done much to blunt the frustration of the protesters. He has also promised not to seek reelection. And to keep a lid on things as best he can, Saleh will likely continue to dole out more concessions.
The Yemeni government has also cracked down on the activist Zaidi Shias living in the north of the country, who are often called Houthis, over their calls for political freedom. And the Yemeni government is being backed by virulently anti-Shia foreign entities such as the government of Saudi Arabia and perhaps even Al-Qaeda. This is another example of the Yemeni government’s undemocratic and oppressive conduct toward the poor people of Yemen.
The protesters in Yemen are seeking revolutionary change through their orderly demonstrations in which they are demanding their constitutional rights.
Like the people of Tunisia and Egypt, the Yemenis are thirsty for tangible improvement in their lives and are waiting for the Arab world’s train of change to arrive.