Yemen: ‘It is still a revolution’

Yemen’s activists say Houthis are using same scare tactics as former President Saleh did to silence opposition.

Yemenis rally against Houthi coup in Ibb
Anti-Houthi activists held a large rally in the city of Taiz to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2011 revolution [AFP]

Sanaa – A group of 50 or so young men and women congregated on the pavement across from a police station in northwest Sanaa. They had been waiting for hours with one mission – to secure the release of their friends and fellow activists from the state facility across the street.

“With the Houthis, all we have is the power to remain peaceful,” said Nizar al-Kady, 28, who vowed to stay outside the police station until 14 detained protesters were released.

Some of the 14 had been taken into custody on Sunday, others were apprehended that morning when they attempted to peacefully assemble to denounce the Houthis’ power grab. 

The arrests took place as the country was marking the fourth anniversary of the February 11 uprising that toppled President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Some of the detainees were at the forefront of the uprising against Saleh.

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The arrests did not deter anti-Houthi activists who held a large rally in the city of Taiz on Wednesday to mark the revolution’s anniversary. Smaller protests also took place in Sanaa. Protesters called for Houthi fighters to leave the capital city.

Houthi fighters took control of Sanaa last September. Last week, their supporters held demonstrations to celebrate a constitutional declaration outlining a new governing plan for Yemen. Although the international community as well as many provinces in Yemen have discredited the announcement, Houthis are now effectively in control of the government. 

Various youth-led organisations, which earned international recognition as the inspirational backbone of Yemen’s 2011 anti-government uprising, began their calls for street demonstrations in earnest after Yemen’s president, prime minister and cabinet resigned on January 22, under acute strain from Houthi fighters.

Often criticised for a lack of cohesive vision and organisation at protests, youth activists say this criticism will be addressed, but first they have to be allowed to assemble without fear of illegal detentions or physical assault.

Although Kady did not attend the Sunday protest, he was familiar with the heavy-handed tactics that have characterised the repression of demonstrations over the past few weeks in Sanaa. 

Often criticised for a lack of cohesive vision and organisation at protests, youth activists say this criticism will be addressed, but first they have to be allowed to assemble without fear of illegal detentions or physical assault.

Armed men typically with guns plastered with the red,white and green Houthi slogans, some in plain clothes and others in state military uniforms, have been violently breaking up the demonstrations.

Protesters have walked away with injuries ranging from scrapes and bruises to being knocked unconscious, according to photos and testimonials provided by several witnesses. 

The Houthis have denied that their men are attacking protesters.

“[The Houthis] fear if they allow the protests, more people will join in,” said youth activist Baraa Shiban. Sitting outside the prison with a notebook where he has been documenting the names of those detained over the past month – now standing at 58 – Shiban reflected on the way Saleh offered the same explanations in 2011 during protests that called for his downfall. The former president denied that the bands of thugs who shot, killed and attacked protesters, acted under his authority. 

“They think by arresting us they can limit our numbers,” said Shiban.

The 14 detained protesters were released later that night, but those outside the prison worried the Houthis were creating fear in the streets that would silence dissent. 

“People are scared. The Houthis have weapons and guns,” said Malek al-Radhmi, 28. He vowed to continue participating in marches, but drew on personal examples to illustrate how desperate people had become in times of uncertainty.

“My father is a trader, and he pulled all of his money out of the bank,” he said.

Others argue the more the Houthis attack protesters, the more emboldened the populace will become.

“[The Houthis] will be the reason for another revolution,” said Ahmed al-Muqulaki. Four young men crowded around 21-year-old Muqulaki, nodded in agreement, as they spent the night lobbying for the release of their friends.  

The term “revolution”, used by many Yemenis to describe the tumultuous year of protests in 2011 that eventually ousted Saleh, is never far from chatter within these circles.

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One activist sarcastically posed the question: “Where are Tawakkol Karman and Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani tonight,” to underscore the changes that have taken place both politically and socially since 2011.

Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership during the anti-government uprising but has since lost favour among many activists who protested alongside her, dismissing her commitment to revolutionary goals. 

Khaiwani, known as a human rights defender and for his ties to the Houthis, has also drawn the ire of activists for his participation in the Houthis’ constitutional declaration conference.

Indeed alliances have shifted. The anti-government protesters from 2011 now enter a third year of uncertainty. The Houthis, who marched beside the opposition three years ago to overthrow an autocratic leader, are now the ones protesters are asking to step down.

“It’s still a revolution, with the same goals,” said Muqulaki. “It’s just a different enemy now.”

Source: Al Jazeera


Hashem Ahelbarra

Want to make sense of what’s going on in Yemen? Our correspondent Hashem Ahelbarra explains in 60 seconds.

Published On 8 Feb 2015
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