By Nasser Arrabyee/25/01/2011
The political crisis in Yemen has worsened after the Tunisian uprising which led to the ouster of Zain Al Abdeen bin Ali earlier this month.
Student protests erupted in the Yemeni capital Sana’a over the last two weeks to support what was called the Tunisian Jasmine revolution and to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The coalition of the main opposition parties, locally known as Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs), were leading the protests after they reached a deadlock with the Saleh’s ruling People’s General Congress (PGC) on political and electoral reforms.
When the Tunisian-inspired protests started last week, the ruling PGC said in a new initiative it was ready to meet the demands of the opposition JMPs for political and electoral reforms. The PGC wanted the JMPs to participate in the next April parliamentary elections, which the latter refused without genuine reforms.
For the most controversial article in the constitutional amendments, the presidential terms will be only two of five years each instead of letting them open without limits as the PGC previously proposed.
The proportional system, rather than the current single constituency system, in elections would be used as the opposition always demand.
The opposition commented on this suggestion by saying “it’s only a bribery for us to enter elections which will not be free and not fair” as the chairman of the JMPs high council Mohammed Abdul Malik Al Mutawakil said.
After more than one week of protests’ escalation and almost clashes between two rival demonstrations in the same place, at the gate of Sana’a university, President Saleh warned against violence and chaos saying “Yemen is not Like Tunisia”.
“Yemen is a country of freedom and democracy, but we warn from chaos and demagogy,” Saleh said in an annual conference for the army and security commanders held in Sana’a Sunday January 23,2011.
President Saleh called the opposition JMPs for a televised debate on the most controversial issues like the constitutional amendments and elections.
“Come up for a TV debate on my programs and your programs,” President Saleh.
“Yemen is not like Tunisia, where people were not allowed to enter mosques with IDs.”
He said he would ask for pardon from people if he made mistakes or if he fell short of his duties during his 32 years in power.
“I would ask for pardon from the people if I made mistakes or I fell short of my duties, only God is perfect,” he said.
President Saleh blasted those who say he wants to pass the power to his son saying he is against the hereditary rule.
“Talking about hereditary rule is an impudent symphony, we are a republican and democratic system and we are against the hereditary rule,” He said “We are against the hereditary rule of the village, of the tribe, of the power, of the unity, of the ministry, we are against hereditary rule.”
On the latest constitutional amendment, proposed by his party, which cancels the presidential term limits, President Saleh said he is supporting only two presidential terms, five years each and not leaving it open for ever.
“It’s only some MPs who suggested cancellation of the presidential term limits, but in my electoral program which I’m responsible for, it’s only two terms , five years each,” He said.
President Saleh’s current and last term ends in September 2013.
Saleh also told the military and security commanders of the conference to stop saying “ with soul, and blood we protect Ali”
“ With soul and blood we protect Yemen, with soul and blood we protect Yemen, this is what we should always say,” Saleh told the participants of the annual military and security conference who gave him a big applause.
Mohammed Al Kubati, the spokesman of the opposition JMPs commented on Saleh’s call for televised debate by saying , “If the debate will solve the problem, we are ready to do it, but what’s needed now is not only a debate or excuse, what we want now is to restore the right of the people to freedom , dignity, and liberation from corruption and tyranny.”
The independent political analyst , Ali Saif Hassan, chairman of the Political Development Forum, a local NGO, said he still believes the two sides would find a solution.
“No one of them has enough strength to achieve his own project alone , so both of them I think, still want to reach a solution, reach deal or compromise,” Hassan said.
On Monday, January, 24, 2011, the Yemeni authorities released, after two days in prison, a female activist who led the Tunisian-inspired student protests against President Saleh’s regime.
About 20 other activists and students were also released on the same day after they led demonstrations demanding the release of the woman activist Tawakul Karman.
The authorities said the release of Ms Karman came after her family had pledged that their daughter would never “violate the law and order” any more.
However, Ms Karman attended a big demonstration at the gate of the general prosecutor’s office in Sana’a immediately after she was released and said she would continue her peaceful struggle until the regime is dropped.
“ My release came because of your pressure , the pressure of the people and the protestors, and my family did not pledge to do any thing,” Ms Karman told the masses.
Earlier on Sunday, Ms Karman was arrested for leading student demonstrations demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Karman, chairwoman of the female Journalists without chains organization , a local NGO, was arrested from her house at about 1:00 am Sunday immediately after she arrived from a partisan meeting.
She and her husband were returning from a meeting with the secretary general of the Islamist party, Islah, Abdul Wahab Al Ansi, when three vehicles full of gunmen in military and civil clothes kidnapped her, the family said Sunday.
The ministry of interior said in a statement that Ms Karman was arrested according to an order from the prosecution for charges of making unlicensed demonstrations and inciting violence and chaos.
For almost one week, Ms Karman, who is also a leading member in the largest Islamist opposition party Islah, was leading daily demonstrations with hundreds of university students who were demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave the country like the Tunisian President Zain Al Abdeen Bin Ali.
On Saturday, January 22, 2011, one day before Ms Karman’s arrest, hundreds of students, loyal to President Saleh’s party, from the same university, organized demonstrations supporting Saleh.
Before being dispersed by the security forces, the two rival demonstrations, at the main gate of Sana’a University, were almost to clash as angry demonstrators were chanting slogans against each other.
The students loyal to the opposition parties led by Ms Karman were chanting “ Oh, Ali, Ali, go , go, after your friend Bin Ali” in reference to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the deposed Tunisian President Zain Al Abdeen bin Ali.
While the students loyal to the Saleh’s ruling party were chanting “ Ali or death, Ali or death” , “ Oh, Youth , Oh, youth , the Islah is the terrorist”
The chairman of the Union of the Sana’a University students, Redhwan Al Masodi, criticized Tawakul Karman for using the university students for her political purposes. “The students of Sana’a University refuse being exploited for the interest of one individual or one party,” Al Masodi said.
The Sana’a University issued a statement saying it has nothing to do with the demonstrations being held at its gate . “Political forces with political purposes” were behind the demonstrations, the statement said.
The Minister of Interior , Mutahar Rashad Al Mesri, said in a statement Sunday, that his country Yemen is democratic and it allows all kinds of demonstrations “but in the framework” of the constitution and laws.