Yemenis oust Saleh regime (Yemen Revolution), 2011-2012

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
February 27 is selected as the end date for the Yemen Revolution, as it is the date that Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi officially took power following the Election of February 21. Many revolutionary youth consider this as only the first step in the revolution.
16 January
2011
to
27 February
2012
Location and Goals
Country: 
Yemen
Location City/State/Province: 
Sanaa, Aden, Taizz, nationwide
Location Description: 
Change Square
Goals: 
Primary

-Resignation of Ali Adduallah Saleh

-Saleh, his sons, and his key regime members (a) removed from power and (b) tried under the International Criminal Court for corruption and the deaths of protesters

Others

-International Community freeze bank accounts and assets of Saleh and family, and his supporters

-Immediate halt on arms sales to the Saleh regime

-Freedom of speech (including the right to protest)

-Dissolution of Parliament

-Rewrite the Constitution

-Economic development

-Restructure the Army into one unified body

 

In January 2011, in the wake of the Tunisian revolution and in the midst of the Egyptian revolution, Yemeni students and youth began a yearlong revolution to oust the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for the past thirty years. This revolution did not come without great cost. More than 2,000 people were killed (including protesters, military defectors and children) and more than 22,000 people were wounded.

Yemen was divided into two countries until unified in 1990, under Saleh's leadership, who ruled through a patrimonial leadership structure and who held much of the fragmented tribal groups under his control through bribery. During Saleh’s presidency corruption, economic strife, and poverty were significant realities for the Yemeni people.

Tawakul Karman, founder and leader of Women Journalists without Chains, emerged as a prominent leader for the revolutionary student youth.

On January 16, 2011, two days after protesters in Tunisia forced dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to step down, Karman called for a demonstration in support of Tunisia. Student and youth leaders from Sanaa University, as well as Ahmad Saif Hashid and Abdul Bari Tahir participated. Demonstrators marched to the Tunisian Embassy, while some called on Saleh to resign.

On January 22, hundreds of activists took to the streets for a pro-democracy demonstration. Over 100 security forces in civilian clothes arrived, along with balataga (civilian pro-government thugs) to provoke the demonstrators to riot. The balataga brandished knives and threw rocks. The protesters remained peaceful.

That day Karman was arrested and protests erupted all over the country (and internationally) in response. Two hundred youth marched to the university. Al Ansi was arrested, but the Prosecutor General ordered his release because of his status as a lawyer. He refused to go until all youth were released, along with Karman, who was released later that day.

Following Karman’s arrest young people called for more demonstrations. The core demand was the immediate resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, and grievances also included high youth unemployment, increasing economic inequality, and government corruption.

Approximately 15,000 students at Sanaa University created a human wall while wearing pink ties that symbolized the Jasmine revolution and their commitment to a non-violent rally.

During February, Friday protest gatherings became a pattern for the revolution, with demonstrators coming together after prayers. Saleh promised to not run for re-election in 2013 and the activists continued to protest despite the government’s application of regular and violent repressive force including the use of automatic rifles, rubber bullets, stun guns, tear gas, clubs, axes, the traditional Yemeni daggers called jambia, and electroshock tasers.

February 3, Karmen and the youth movement organized a Day of Rage. Over 20,000 people joined in nation-wide. University students held a candlelight vigil in front of the university chanting, “Yesterday Tunisia, today Egypt, tomorrow Yemen will open the prison!” The crowd marched to Sanaa’s Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square.

The square was blocked off by security forces in anticipation of an attempted occupation. Hundreds of balataga attacked the demonstrators.

On February 13, protesters met at Sanaa University and marched through the city, growing to over 1,000 people. Students also occupied the square in front of the university and named it Taghir (“Change”) Square.

Protesters organized marches in other cities such as Taiz, Aden, and Ibb.

On February 18, the Civil Coalition of Youth Revolution (CCYR) was created, an alliance of more than 10,000 revolutionary youth activists headed by Ahmed Saif Hashed. Protesters made use of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and other websites.

As the youth were intentionally non-aligned with any political party many fragmented groups came together behind the protesters, such as tribal groups and opposition parties.

By the end of February, crowds in the Square had grown to over 10,000 people and organizers set up a security perimeter to make sure they were unarmed.

Saleh increased repressive violence throughout March. March 18 was called Friday of Dignity and became known as Bloody Friday after armed men fired on protesters. Over 57 people were killed. Among the deaths were 23 children. More than 200 people were injured.

The massacre set off a wave of resignations and defections including Sunni clerics, tribal leaders, members of the cabinet (including the Minister of Human Rights), Yemeni ambassadors and diplomats, high-ranking government workers, and military and security personnel. The most high-profile defection came from General Ali Mohsen, Saleh's former chief military advisor, and brigades loyal to him.

On March 22, Saleh invited some of the youth protesters to participate in “transparent and open dialogue” with him, saying he would step down by the end of 2011. However, opposition parties blocked the youth's participation.

On March 25, over 100,000 people gathered at the university, and over 1 million in other cities throughout the country. Protesters called it “Departure Friday.”

The Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC), a political and economic union of Arab states, attempted to mediate a power transfer agreement between Saleh and the opposition. The CCYR was left out of the process. By the end of the month Saleh indicated at one point he would sign the agreement but retracted at the last moment.

Sheikh Sadiq Al-Ahmar of the Hashid tribal federation then publicly declared his support for the opposition. Saleh ordered the arrest for Al-Ahmar which ignited rage amongst Al-Ahmar’s armed followers and lead to three days of violence between Al-Ahmar’s men and Saleh’s loyalists.

On Friday April 1, tens of thousands of people gathered in Change Square calling for Saleh to step down.

In mid-April, Saleh gave a speech implying women in Taghir Square were loose women in an attempt to discredit the movement. In response, thousands of women marched to raise awareness of women’s rights and to show their honor.

On April 22, supporters and the opposition flooded the streets of Taiz. Protesters called it “Last Chance Friday,” while Saleh supporters called it “Reconciliation Friday.” Protesters rejected any plan not requiring Saleh to step down immediately.

April 23, Saleh agreed to the GCC deal, supported by the U.S. and official Yemeni opposition parties. Saleh would have 30 days to leave Yemen in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The opposition would then have 7 days to put together an interim government split with Saleh’s party, with Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi, Saleh’s vice president, leading it. They would then hold presidential and parliamentary elections in 60 days.

Protesters in the square were against the deal and planned to stay in the square until Saleh stepped down to be tried for the deaths of over 140 activists.

May 6, Saleh refused to sign the GCC deal, while protesters also dismissed the plan, shouting the slogan, "Do not leave the places of protest until the fall of the tyrant." Protests paralyzed many cities while repression of protesters intensified.

May 29, in Taizz, military officers used water cannons, tear gas, and live ammunition to disperse crowds of demonstrators. They also used tanks to bulldoze people and burned down the tents of protesters in the main square in Taizz. As many as twenty protesters were killed and many wounded.

Tribes loyal to Sheik Sadiq al-Ahmar took control over parts of Sanaa, and fought with government troops. The Hashid tribe took control of buildings in the Hassaba district and the airport was closed. U.S. President Barack Obama called for Saleh to transfer power and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for a peaceful solution. Many protesters, and troops of both sides, were killed.

June 1, Kuwait evacuated diplomats from Yemen and US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, urged Saleh to “move out of the way.”

On June 3 the presidential palace was attacked by bomb injuring Saleh who left for Saudi Arabia for treatment. Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi took over in his absence. Protesters responded by celebrating and singing in the streets around Yemen. The German embassy closed and Saleh's forces withdrew from Taizz.

June 6, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia brokered a cease-fire and international mediators attempted to convince Saleh to sign a transfer of power as fears of civil war intensified. The youth saw this as an attempt by opposition and international actors to rush the situation, and vowed to continue their nonviolent occupations until “the entire system is changed.”

On June 29 three hundred soldiers defected to the opposition, including 150 from the Republican Guard led by Saleh's son, Ahmed. Also, sixty police defected.

In July the leaders of the revolution sent a revised list of demands, which included a possible plan for the transition of the government; it was rejected by Saleh. The youth opposition and protesters gathered in large numbers in Sanaa, Taizz, Hodeida, al-Mukalla and other places. During the “Day of Rage” of July 17, Tawakul Karman announced a 17-member transitional council that excluded the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP, the opposition block). On July 31, hundreds of tribes gathered to form the “Alliance of Yemeni Tribes” who vowed to oppose Saleh.

During August, anti-Saleh protesters gestured with their pointer finger at the sky, symbolizing their commitment to struggle until death to remove Saleh. More tribes joined the Alliance, while Saleh remained in Saudi Arabia and ruled through his son, Ahmed. An opposition coalition named 143 council members to represent the people, in a rare show of unity. The council included Tawakul Karman, Hamid al-Ahmar, Sadiq al-Ahmar, and Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. Saleh agreed to elections within 3 months, stating he would hand over power “via elections, not via coups.”

In September demonstrators in Change Square were shot by both military and armed civilians. Twenty-eight were killed and more than one hundred injured. The city of Tiazz saw similar attacks.

September 12, Saleh signed a document giving vice-president Hadi power to negotiate specifics of the GCC deal with the JMP. Protesters rejected it, “Our demand is clear that Saleh and his family need to go without any negotiations. The JMP is doing political work that we don’t have any relationship with.” Saleh returned to Yemen on the 23rd.

October was a month of massive demonstrations, with an estimated 800,000 protesters alone gathered in Change Square. Demonstrators demanded the UN hold Saleh responsible and that he be tried for crimes against humanity. However, the majority vote of the UN called for the immediate resolution granting immunity for Saleh and his family.

On October 7, Tawakul Karman became the first Arab woman to become a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

In November protests continued throughout Yemen. On November 23, 2011, Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for the GCC meeting where he signed the power transfer agreement and left for the United States where he received medical treatment for his injuries. The GCC-brokered agreement allowed Saleh to retain the title, President, but gave full power to Hadi. Elections were to be held within 3 months.

In response, the CCYR worked collaboratively with civil society to produce the Declaration of the Youth Revolution Demands outlining what the transition of power should look like. The youth activists claim the GCC agreement was a deal between political elites, and did not address their demands. A growing rift emerged between the political opposition, headed by the Islamist Islah party, and the self-named "independent youth" who first took to the streets back in February.

In January 2012 violence erupted between Saleh loyalists and opposition groups once again, but acting president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi was able to mediate the situation. Protesters demonstrated, demanding that the GCC reconsider the immunity of Saleh. Also, many government workers began strikes demanding institutional changes and the sacking of leadership loyal to Saleh. Four hundred officers from the Air Force and Republican Guard occupied the Sanaa airport and roads near the house of their commanding officer, calling for his resignation.

On January 21, the Yemeni government approved a law acknowledging the GCC’s promise for Saleh’s immunity. Top government aides and Saleh's family would not be tried in any way. Saleh left Yemen on the 22nd, unsuccessfully sought residency in Oman, then flew to the US for treatment.

On February 21, 2012, Yemen held it's first elections. Hadi was the only candidate and was sworn in on February 27.

While many revolutionary youth claimed that this was just the first step to completely change Yemen's political realities and were angry that Saleh and his cronies avoided court over corruption and the deaths of so many protesters, the election of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi marked the end of Saleh's thirty-year rule over Yemen, achieving what Tawakul Karman and the first groups of youth began thirteen months earlier.

Of particular note, and despite the real dangers of violent attacks, protesters – regularly gathering in numbers of tens and hundreds of thousands - remained emphatically nonviolent. The two or three instances of localized protester violence over a thirteen-month period occurred in response to violent attacks by balataga or security forces. There were no cases of violence initiated by nonviolent campaigners. The vast majority of violence committed was done at the hands of the various (pro- or anti-Saleh) armed groups, neither of which were integral parts of the campaign. While these groups numbered in the thousands, they did not come close to the massive numbers of the nonviolent protesters.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The campaign in January was influenced by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia (1) and the Egyptian revolution (1).

Sources: 
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Additional Notes: 
Video Resources

Interview on Democracy NOW! with Tawakkol Karman, October 21, 2011. "Exclusive: Nobel Laureate Tawakkul Karman on the Struggle for Women’s Rights, Democracy in Yemen". http://www.democracynow.org/seo/2011/10/21/exclusive_nobel_laureate_tawakkul_karman_on

Youtube video of Million Men March

http://youtu.be/og7ApdaZU1Y linked from Yemen Post (2011, September 23). Sana’a, Million Men March. Accessed September 13, 2012 http://yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=3&SubID=4108&MainCat=3

Not viewed:

Al Jazeera.net (2011, March 16). “Yemen: A Tale of Two Protests.” 16 March 2011. Reem Haddad - Producer. http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/peopleandpower/2011/03/201131683916701492.html.

Chris Baker Evens was the primary case study author weaving contributions from Hannah Jones and Alia Harb into the narrative and coding sections.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Chris Baker Evens, Alia Harb and Hannah Jones, 28/08/2012