February 19, 2012
Sanaa, Yemen. The youth who poured into the streets of Yemen a year ago to demand longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh leave office are about to achieve that goal, but fear their hopes of a new political beginning are still in jeopardy.
So Walid Ammari, a 35-year-old leader of the movement, and the activists who have camped out in front of Sanaa University since January 2011, and were frequently the target of deadly attacks by regime forces, are going to stay put.
Under a Gulf-brokered deal signed by Saleh in November, after months of procrastination, the president agreed to turn over power to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
Hadi will be the sole candidate in an election on Tuesday that will give him a two-year interim period, while Saleh and his family have been guaranteed immunity from prosecution.
But for Ammari and his colleagues, too many figures close to the outgoing president, including his son, brother and nephews, remain in control of key military and security posts.
“What we have achieved falls short of our aspirations. We will continue our sit-in until all the symbols of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime have been swept away, particularly within the army,” Ammari said.
Medical student Hamza Kamali, 27, said the “accord has allowed us to avoid civil war because, unlike Tunisia and Egypt where the military’s stance allowed the people to overthrow their presidents, the army in Yemen is one with the regime.”
Ammar, a university graduate, said he feared “that the objectives of our uprising will be short-circuited,” by being marginalized by traditional political forces.
In Sanaa’s “Change Square,” tribesmen in traditional garb and 40-somethings from the old opposition parties, dominated by the Islah party, mingle among the young.
Islah is the largest opposition group in the impoverished nation and is a melting pot of Islamists, including the local version of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi-influenced Salafists.
And the Islamists have emerged as the biggest winners in the struggle to oust Saleh.
It was the traditional opposition forces who signed the Nov. 23, 2011, deal with Saleh under which he will step down after 33 years and who are participating with Saleh stalwarts in a new national unity government.
Under that deal, Yemen’s youth are to be brought into a national dialogue after Tuesday’s election, but they have yet to have any contact with the future president.
And while they know that they will probably have to decide at some point to take down their tents and go home, these partisans of a modern Yemen have no intention of giving up.
“We want to build a state of law based on modern institutions, an independent judicial system, a functioning educational system, a relaunch of the economy,” Ammari said.
But he also must know that these goals will be tough to achieve in the face of archaic structures, with the economy on the verge of collapse and undermined by tribal rivalries and endemic corruption.