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


-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

-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

Wave of Campaigns

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.

Time period

16 January, 2011 to 27 February, 2012



Location City/State/Province

Sanaa, Aden, Taizz, nationwide

Location Description

Change Square
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Wearing pink ties which was a representation of the jasmine revolution
  • Protesters reach out to police
  • in response to arrest of Tawakkol Karmen
  • 16,000 march on January 24, 2011
  • Initial student group meeting with Tawwakol Karmen to start campaign
  • Day of Rage - February 3, 2011
  • Diplomats, military personnel leave posts and defect to the protesters
  • Al Ahmar, head of 1st Armored Division defects (with brigades) to protesters after Saleh forces fire on protesters
  • General Ali Mohsen, Saleh's former chief military advisor, defected - pledging to protect the demonstrators in Change Square
  • Protesters blocked a street
  • 15,000 Students and activists form a "human wall" in front of Sanaa University to prevent clashes between armed forces and protesters
  • Camped out at change square

Methods in 2nd segment

  • Demands are made for Saleh's resignation
  • Friday Sermons mark the beginning of Friday marches in change square
  • Demonstrations in Taizz and Aden
  • of the deaths of 30 Sadiq al-Ahmar forces
  • Departure Friday - 100,000 in Change Square
  • 90 percent of shops closed in Aden
  • 10,000 Republican Guard, Central Security and Air Force personnel defect to youth protesters, April 13
  • Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the head of the Hashid tribal federation, one of the most powerful tribes in the country, declared support for the opposition
  • Camped out at change square
  • activists purge camp of weapons in Sana'a

Methods in 3rd segment

  • at sit-in
  • Towakil Karman announce plans for transitional government of 17 council members
  • Pointer finger straight up like pointing to the sky - means willing to die to oust Saleh
  • Friday Sermons mark the beginning of Friday marches in change square
  • in response to Saleh leaving the country (for treatment in Saudi Arabia)
  • in celebration of Saleh leaving the country (for treatment in Saudi Arabia)
  • thousands gather in Sana'a
  • Day of Rage - July 17
  • over high price of gasoline and the collapse of social services
  • tens of thousands across the country (July 29)
  • Day of Steadfastness (August 4)
  • 300 pro-Saleh soldiers defect to opposition
  • Camped out at change square

Methods in 4th segment

  • Activists call for a mock funeral to mourn the failure of the GCC plan
  • Oct 14, calling for march from Change Square to al-Zubeiri Street (the demarkation line between the rival camps)
  • Friday Sermons mark the beginning of Friday marches in change square
  • October marked the beginning of mass protests bringing out 80000 protesters
  • "Friday of Achieving Victory", hundreds of thousands march in Sanaa, Taizz, Ibb, Hudaydah, Saada, Aden, Marib
  • "Friday of Promising Victory" - "thousands" march against Saleh
  • Eid al-Fitr celebrations (end of Ramadan) - thousands march against Saleh
  • 200,000 march in Taizz
  • Million Man March - 1 million march in Sanaa, September 23
  • Oct 14 - hundreds of thousands march calling on UN to make resolution against Saleh and put him on trial for deaths of revolutionaries
  • "Friday of Victory from God" - 1 million people protest all over Yemen, including 500,000 in Taizz
  • Sep 16-20 mass protests in Sanaa and other cities, "thousands" involved
  • October 5 tens of thousands march and protest
  • Friday of al-Hamdi - October 7 - 3 million march, 800,000 in Sanaa
  • Camped out at change square
  • Sanaa University closed down for the first day of classes

Methods in 5th segment

  • Letter sent to the UN with the request of Saleh and all those involved to be tried in International tribunal Court
  • Oct 26 - Yemeni women burn makrama, full body veils
  • Friday Sermons mark the beginning of Friday marches in change square
  • Nov 11 - tens of thousands gather for prayer in the main road of Sanaa
  • Millions march for international solidarity
  • Oct 16, thousands march from Change Square to central Sanaa
  • Dec 11 - hundreds of thousands demonstrate in Sanaa and other cities
  • Nov 19 - Friday of Female Martyrs of the Revolution. Hundreds of thousands join.
  • Dec 16 - Protests held in more than eighteen cities, involving hundreds of thousands
  • 400 troops defect, mostly from Republican Gurard and central security forces
  • Camped out at change square

Methods in 6th segment

  • Friday Sermons mark the beginning of Friday marches in change square
  • The Life March - 5 Day march from Taizz to Sanaa, built from 700 to 100,000 people
  • Dec 31 - hundreds of thousands march demanding Saleh's trial for deaths and crackdowns on protesters
  • Yemeni soldiers and officers march demanding reforms
  • hundreds of military officers
  • Feb 11, 2012 - tens of thousands, supporting Vice-president Hadi to "save the country"
  • tens of thousands in Sanaa and Taiz
  • Jan 21 - thousands in Sanaa
  • renegade military units lock their commanders out of military installations
  • Camped out at change square

Segment Length

68 days

Notes on Methods

People camped out change square for 11 months, as well as in other cities eg, Aden. Fridays were especially important: after Friday prayers people gathered for marches, gatherings and parades throughout the nation.

The distinction between 38. Marches, 39. Parades and 47. Assemblies of Protest and Support in news reports were rarely clear, and given the numbers involved it's possible all three occurred simultaneously.

There were also 5 attempts at self-immolation in the first segment, with two deaths as a result.


Civil Coalition of Youth Revolution (CCYR), Tawakul Karman (women's rights and human rights activist), Khalid al Ansi, Ahmad Seif Hashid, Mizar Baggash Ghanem (student leader), Amen al-Basha and the Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights, Peaceful Youth Revolt


Workers, general community,some resigned government officials, and some ranking army officials, Hussein Al-Ahmar, Tribes in Marib, Zeidi rebels, Al-Hirak, Women Journalists Without Chains, members of the lawyer syndicate, day laborers, judges, General Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, diplomats, military leaders, Minister of Human Rights, Opposition – JMP and Common Forum coalition

External allies

International community, Amnesty international, Radhwan Masud and the Yemeni student union, Yemen Youth Organization, Yemen Change and Reformation Youth and Future Youth, Islah (Islamist reformist party and largest opposition party)

Involvement of social elites

Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC), Hussein Al-Ahmar, U.S. government, UN

Many members of Saleh's government and military defected


Ali Abdullah Saleh and family, Police and security forces, paid thugs, ruling party, pro-government supporters

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Counter-protest by pro-Saleh supporters during Day of Rage and other occasional demonstrations.

Campaigner violence

February 15th, students were seen throwing rocks back at the balataga (pro-government thugs).
Armed forces who defected to “protect the youth” fought with pro-Saleh forces throughout the revolution.
In March a militant group joined the resistance and engaged in a street battle where people were killed.
April 30, local officials claimeed protesters shot at soldiers while setting up a roadblock demonstration.
June 3, Saleh and between 4 and 11 others were wounded in a rocket/bomb blast in the presidential mosque. It is not known who made the attack, and it is unlikely that it came from the protesters as there are many armed tribes vying for power in Yemen at this time and the protest leaders have been resolutely nonviolent.

Repressive Violence

Government crack down on protesters included the use of live ammunition, water cannons, tear gas, bulldozer tanks.

Protesters were attacked by security forces with automatic rifles, rubber bullets, stun guns, and a gas that caused severe convulsions, and by balataga (pro-government thugs) with clubs, axes, the traditional Yemeni daggers called jambia, and electroshock tasers.

By February 27, 2012, 2000 people were killed including 200 protesters, military defectors, and more than 120 children. 22,000 others were wounded.

Prisoners were also tortured.


Economic Justice
Human Rights



Group characterization

all sections of society
Women groups
Imam's (religious clergy)

Groups in 1st Segment

Civil Coalition of Youth Revolution (CCYR)
Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar
Southern Movement in south
(Shia) Huthi rebels in north
Parliamentary opposition
General Ali Mohsen
Mizar Baggash Ghane
Tawakul Karman

Groups in 2nd Segment

Joint Meeting Parties (JMP)
general member of society young and old
Republican Guard (some)
Central Security (some)
Air forces (some)
US government

Groups in 3rd Segment

Republican Guard (some)
police (some)
GCC (exit)
Italy (exit)

Groups in 4th Segment

Alliance of Yemeni Tribes

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

Many other individuals and groups joined, most in the first segment up to March 25.

March 18, known as "Bloody Friday" when government forces killed 52 protesters, sparked a massive wave of troops and government officials publicly leaving their positions and joining the protest movement. Significant numbers of troops defected, promising to protect protesters. However, the defecting troops clearly did not commit to nonviolence.

The mass defection shows a clear loss of legitimacy for the Saleh regime, which continued for many months. What becomes evident is that political factions read the loss of legitimacy for the Saleh regime and saw an opportunity for their own gains by temporarily joining the revolutionary movement.

Given how the revolutionaries were consistently locked out of negotiations for Saleh's transition out of power, the intention behind the original siding with the protesters helped defectors make a clear break with the Saleh regime, creating a new political identity for a post-Saleh Yemen.

Other significant events included Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar (head of Hashid tribe) defecting on April 23 to the opposition. This led to immediate armed confrontations with loyalist troops.

While the GCC and JMP are coded as joining the movement above, they clearly had separate agendas to the youth-led revolutionary movement.

In early June (segment 3) the GCC and Italy evacuated diplomatic personnel from Yemen.

It is unknown when Amen al-Basha and the Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights or Peaceful Youth Revolt joined the campaign

Segment Length

68 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

10 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The campaign scores a full 10 as the main goal of ousting Ali Abdullah Saleh was reached.
However, neither Saleh, his family or regime were prosecuted for corruption or the deaths and attacks on protesters. Other demands, such as a complete overhaul of the political and economic system were too vague for specific campaign goals.

Database Narrative

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.


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


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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".

Youtube video of Million Men March linked from Yemen Post (2011, September 23). Sana’a, Million Men March. Accessed September 13, 2012

Not viewed:
Al (2011, March 16). “Yemen: A Tale of Two Protests.” 16 March 2011. Reem Haddad - Producer.

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