Cause, Meet Effect
Last week, I wrote for PBS about how we can understand the protests sweeping Yemen:
Reality, however, is more than what happened in the last month. While some protesters in Sanaa have said they were inspired by the protests in Egypt and Tunisia, those two revolts did not inspire the protests anymore than my breakfast burrito did. There were protests in Aden during the Gulf Cup soccer tournament last November, protests over the parcel bombs in Sanaa in October, thousands of people protesting over the most recent round of fighting between the government and the Houthi rebels in the north in March. Yemenis protest routinely, and the last several months have seen a series of increasingly violent rallies across the entire country.
And in Yemen, there is a very regular pattern to protests, opposition and Saleh playing the crowds to stay in charge.
This is not to suggest, as Greg Johnsen helpfully points out, that Saleh will never be removed from office. Rather, it is meant to highlight that what is going on in Yemen is going on for purely Yemeni reasons. And, unlike Greg, I just don’t see the same foreboding sense of doom about the “Day of Rage.” I explained why today for The Atlantic:
Yemen’s own “Day of Rage,” held this past Thursday, one week after Egypt’s, turned out to be a generally polite mix of comparably sized pro- and anti-government protest groups. The Thursday protests in Sanaa–the Yemeni opposition has promised to hold a protest every Thursday until President Saleh relents to their demands–was repeated throughout the country. Some rallied for the “southern movement,” part of which seeks south Yemeni secession, some protested the intrusive U.S. and Yemeni government security services, and some were simply upset over the stagnant economy. But, unlike in Egypt, neither the president’s head nor the government’s collapse were on protesters’ agendas. Saleh, in other words, is not in any immediate danger of being strung up on a lamp post, which gives him leeway to do what he always does: try to accommodate public demands, if only in some minimal way.
Yemen remains deeply troubled, and its protests could very well build into something regime-threatening and violent. But so far, it’s not only not happened, the only ones who seem to want that to happen are analysts and journalists on the outside, quietly cheering them onward to Revolution. I’m sure some Yemenis desire violence as a reaction to Saleh’s abusive rule, but so far there’s just no indication—no evidence, to be specific about it—that such a thing is likely to happen.