Nir Rosen on Yemen and the US
The small al Qaeda franchise in Yemen is known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The American industry of terrorism experts has dubbed AQAP the greatest terrorist threat facing the United States and has wrung its hands over AQAP’s threat to the Yemeni regime. This is despite the fact that AQAP’s international success amount to a failed underwear bomb and a package bomb that failed to detonate. In fact the regime does little to pursue AQAP because it does not perceive it as a threat. Rather than being too weak to fight AQAP, the regime has focused its various security forces attention on fighting domestic political opposition, killing or wounding hundreds of demonstrators. Likewise the demonstrators have not been concerned about al Qaeda except as a pretext for the regime’s security forces to target innocent people or receive international support. Al Qaeda is a marginal phenomenon in Yemen (as in the rest of the Middle East). While it is the primary concern of the United States government and hence the United States media, it is far from the real problems facing Yemen which the demonstrators express in a near blackout of international media attention.
The Yemeni Qat chewing habit was evinced as a factor militating against revolution there. In Yemen the daily cycle for most people seems to revolve around Qat, which they start chewing in the early afternoon, halting other activities and often gathering at “Qat chews”. In fact these sessions are where people discuss issues very passionately, and they can be seen as a grass roots democracy, a place where debates are continuous, especially when the press is not free. Thanks to Qat chewing there are no secrets, everybody talks, even ministers participate, and the information travels and spreads. Qat is a stimulant. Its not like being in an opium den. It makes you want to do things, it leads to agitated discussions, it does not prevent activism. Unlike some of their Gulf neighbors, Yemenis are not spoiled and are willing to put up with the hardships of a revolution. When holding sit-ins Qat can actually help, keeping you awake. Unfortunately Qat is also a way for the government to attract balataga.
The demonstrations continued to grow forcing the establishment opposition parties to take a more aggressive stance against the regime and leading to defections of major tribal leaders. Taghir, change, became the semi-official name for the demonstrator’s camp, and even al Jazeera referred to it as such.
Taking advantage of the lack of any strong U.S. response to his regime’s abuses and the earthquake in Japan distracting the world’s attention Saleh’s forces increased their violent crackdown over the weekend of the 12th and 13th of March, killing at least seven protestors while injuring hundreds of others. In a pre dawn raid the youth demonstrators camped by Sanaa University were ambushed with live automatic rifle fire, rubber bullets, electrical stun guns, and some form of gas that caused terrible convulsions. The regime also began to expel the few remaining foreign correspondents covering the protests. Obama’s silence on Saleh's escalating attacks on demonstrators and its tacit support for his tactics makes it likely that when Saleh falls the government that succeeds him will be less friendly to the United States. President Salih has offered reforms but as in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, once the dictator declares war on his own people his days are numbered. The recent Arab revolts have also shown that once a dictator concedes to the demands of the people he is transferring legitimacy to them, and their victory is inevitable. The chants in Yemen are now “After Qadhafi, oh Ali!”
After yesterday's massacre, in which at least 45 died and resulted in the imposition of a state of emergency, the US has stepped up its tone. But like in Bahrain, it finds itself in a situation where the old Middle East of alliances with tyrants and the new Middle East of peoples calling for their independence from domestic and foreign oppression are irreconciliable. It's not even a question (aside for Americans themselves and their desire for a more moral foreign policy) of having to choose: the choice will be imposed, not taken freely.