"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Friday, February 11, 2011

Joy in Yemen Stopped Short

Human Rights Watch today talks of a pro-Egpyt/anti-regime March in San'a being broken up by armed men in army trucks, followed by riot police with water cannons.  Will at Yemen Peace Project  declines to pull his punches.

 The point is, Saleh’s forces have used excessive violence against civilians in the capital. I was confident, a week ago, that something like this was possible, but given everything that’s happened since then, I really thought Saleh had chosen another path. This was not only brutal and appalling, but politically stupid.

This is spot-on. Salih had already offered a handful of concessions, and seemed to be is a decent spot to bide his time. He may have thought that letting these protests, small as they are (around 1000 people), would be a sign of weakness. That was crazy. Letting people protest, now, is a sign of strength, that you recognize things are different. A major miscalculation.

Two, three weeks ago? Probably not. Intimidate and take the piss out of the people. But this seems like it could do little more than inflame even those who are neutral. I'm still not taking money on a Egypt-style revolution toppling Salih (there are a lot of other things that might first), but if he continues to screw up in such a thumbscrewing manner, it isn't impossible.

Though, to be fair- even if there really isn't a call for it- this must be terrifying. He isn't the only leader shaking right now, which, really, is great. Honestly, I have a feeling he is less-nervous than other leaders right now, because he has been dealing with similar things for a long time. But it might be that lack of nerves that is his downfall.

I don't think things are going to happen as quickly in Yemen. We rebel against the idea of a monolithic Arab world when licensed bloviators try to imagine one. The same goes as for something positive. As Greg said the other day, we have to remember that this isn't going to be on our time-table. But something very important happened. The rules changed, a barrier was broken, and "Egypt" became not just a place but an event, a historical moment. I was thinking earlier today that Salih, as canny as he is, would recognize that the game was different, and even reluctantly, would be forced to change. That he would be giving out half-measures in an attempt to avoid a plane ticket or a bullet, and that it would make change happen. But if he is as stubborn and as insulated as Mubarak, he is doomed.

Until lately, I wouldn't have thought he was. The President of Yemen has to be much, much more in tune with what is going on outside the palace than does the President of Egypt. He has to be more flexible. But Salih has gotten more paranoid and cloistered the last few years. His concessions last week seemed to be a retro move by him. But he has taken a giant leap back.

1 comment:

  1. Salih reminds us just how rare it is for him to do something "politically stupid": Iona Craig of the Yemen Times tweeted up this gem (see right-hand English column) from Saba.net, the official government press agency: The president and the mayor of San'a are happy to announce the opening of a month-long art exhibition in Tahrir Square. That's right: yesterday's protesters weren't driven out of the square in a show of wanton repression, it was just 'cuz the Ministry of Arts already had the spot booked. With lots of tents. For a month. I don't care what anyone says, Salih is smarter than Mubarak. Unfortunately for Yemen.