Archive | March, 2011

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Protests in Qatif, Safwa, Tarout and Saihat Call for Saudi Army Withdrawal

Posted on 17 March 2011 by hashimilion

Large demonstrations took place yesterday in the predominantly saudi shia eastern province. Protestors were angry at the Saudi occupation of Bahrain and the systematic violence directed at the Bahraini people.

Demonstrations took place in Safwa, Tarout, Saihat and Qatif, where demonstrators raised the Bahraini flag, and called for the withdrawal of saudi forces from Bahrain. Demonstrator also called for the release of political prisoners who are held without trial.

Saudi forces in Qadam

 

Tarout Demonstration

 

Saihat Demonstration

 

Qatif Protests

 

Safwa Protests

 

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Saudi Response Reveals Fear That Sunni Power Is Fading

Posted on 17 March 2011 by hashimilion

There is growing anger in the Shia community, estimated to number at least 250 million world-wide, at the intervention of troops from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in Bahrain to help repress the Shia majority which has been demanding political and civil rights.

“There is a general campaign against the Shia,” said Yusuf al-Khoei of the al-Khoei Foundation, a leading Shia charitable organisation. “The best way for these [Sunni Muslim] states to gain the allegiance of the Shia is to treat them nice and stop accusing them of being Iranian spies.”

Mr Khoei said it was significant that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only two Arab states to recognise the Taliban government of Afghanistan which was notorious for persecuting Shia as heretics. He added that suicide bomb attacks on Shia in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq are justified according to Wahhabism, the fundamentalist version of Islam predominant in Saudi Arabia.

“The Bahraini army is wholly Sunni and the police almost entirely so, apart from some community policing officers,” said Mr Khoei. The Shia make up some 60 per cent of Bahrain’s 600,000 population.

Bahrain is one of only four countries in the world where there is a Shia majority, the others being Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan. The Shia make up only 10 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population.

The protests in Bahrain started in February as non-sectarian demands for political, civil and legal reform. But the killing of demonstrators by the police has led to radicalisation, demands for an end to the monarchy, and growing sectarian clashes between Sunni and Shia.

The al-Khalifa royal family has previously claimed that reformers and protesters are agents of Iran. But, according to cables from the US embassy, it has never been able to produce evidence of this. The Shia demonstrators, supported by some liberal Sunni, have continually emphasised that they are peaceful.

The Gulf monarchies along with Jordan, Egypt and other Sunni Arab states have always been paranoid about a Shia threat. This paranoia has grown deeper since the Shia majority in Iraq has taken power after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In practice the Shia have only gained influence where they make up a substantial portion of the population. By opting for military intervention to quash the movement of mainly Shia protesters in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia is likely to deepen sectarian division.

By Patrick Cockburn

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U.S. May Lose Either Way In Bahrain Crisis

Posted on 16 March 2011 by hashimilion

Reporting from Washington As a standoff between troops and protesters in Bahrain teeters near violence, the Obama administration is facing a difficult choice between maintaining support for an increasingly unpopular monarchy or pushing for change that could weaken the U.S. strategic position in the vital Persian Gulf.

Administration officials have been struggling for a month to persuade Bahrain’s royal family and its Saudi backers of the need to enact political reforms in the island nation that would offer greater standing to the impoverished Shiite majority but also keep the Sunni royal family in power. Jeffrey Feltman, the chief U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, arrived in Bahrain on Monday for a new round of talks.

But Bahrain’s decision to invite in hundreds of Saudi troops on Monday signaled that the two governments have grown impatient with the U.S. approach and are focused on reasserting control over the streets. Much of the Bahraini opposition, meanwhile, has spurned the monarchy’s American-backed offer of a dialogue and remains suspicious of the government’s intentions.

The hardening of the two sides’ positions suggests that the Obama administration may face a setback no matter how the crisis is resolved. If the Bahrainis suppress the protesters, the United States may be seen as siding with an autocrat against his people. If the government falls and the Shiite majority takes control — which appears to be the less likely outcome — Washington will lose a key ally and Shiite-led Iran may gain one.

U.S. officials acknowledge that they are worried about the increasingly sectarian cast of the conflict, which deepened when the troops of Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and police forces from the Sunni-led United Arab Emirates entered the island kingdom.

On Tuesday, Iran sharpened the tensions, condemning Bahrain for inviting the Saudi troops. Bahrain recalled its ambassador to Iran and complained that Tehran was meddling.

U.S. officials are trying to avert a struggle between Shiites and Sunnis that could spread, potentially threatening the stability of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The Obama administration is taking pains not to alienate the Bahrainis, who provide a home for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, or the Saudis, a strategic partner on oil, counter-terrorism and regional diplomacy, such as the containment of Iran.

Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, said the administration already is perceived as supporting the Bahraini and Saudi governments’ approach, a perception that would be strengthened if the protests were snuffed out.

As the Saudi troops moved in this week, “the perception on the street has been, ‘This would not be happening without U.S. support,’ ” he said.

The White House stepped up its criticism of the military intervention Tuesday but stopped short of condemning Saudi Arabia.

“There is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain,” Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “A political solution is necessary, and all sides must now work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all of Bahrain’s citizens.”

Despite the cautious U.S. language, the crisis comes at a time when the historically close American relationships with the Saudi and Bahraini governments are under stress.

Saudi King Abdullah was angry with the Obama administration for pushing former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign in February. Saudi officials also have been displeased that the White House has prodded them to accelerate their own reforms, a process they insist cannot be rushed because of the kingdom’s change-resistant clergy.

The Saudis appear to have again signaled their displeasure this month, cancelling planned visits to the kingdom by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Saudi officials said the king was too ill, but U.S. officials acknowledged that the recent tensions may have prompted the move.

The Saudis, like the Bahrainis and other governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council, also are “angry that Washington has let staunch allies such as President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt be forced from power, while doing little to push Col. Moammar Kadafi of Libya from his position,” wrote Simon Henderson, a specialist on the Arabian Peninsula at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Last month, U.S. officials said the Saudis were supportive of their plans for political change in Bahrain, and appeared willing to provide massive financial aid to help relieve the poverty of its Shiite population. But the Saudi government changed course as the protests continued and the opposition’s demands increased.

On Saturday, Gates had made a public appearance in Bahrain and called for an acceleration of the reform effort, saying “baby steps” weren’t enough.

Two days later, Bahraini authorities asked the Saudis to send military help.

Pentagon officials said Gates had no advance notice of the move. In a clear sign of the Saudi willingness to ignore U.S. advice, State Department officials said they were “advised but not consulted” on the intervention.

With the political complexion of Egypt’s new government uncertain, it may become even more important to the United States to be able to rely on its partnership with Saudi Arabia.

But “there are clear signs that a Washington-Riyadh rift is emerging,” said Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group risk analysis firm.

LA Times

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Iran Calls Saudi Troops in Bahrain ‘Unacceptable’

Posted on 15 March 2011 by hashimilion

A day after Saudi Arabia’s military rolled into Bahrain, the Iranian government branded the move “unacceptable” on Tuesday, threatening to escalate a local political conflict into a regional showdown with Iran.

“The presence of foreign forces and interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs is unacceptable and will further complicate the issue,” Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman told a news conference in Tehran, according to state-run media.

Even as predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran pursues a determined crackdown against dissent at home, Tehran has supported the protests led by the Shiite majority in Bahrain.

“People have some legitimate demands and they are expressing them peacefully,” Mr. Memanparast said. “It should not be responded to violently.”

“We expect their demands be fulfilled through correct means,” Mr. Mehmanparast added. Iran’s response — while anticipated — showed the depth of rivalry across the Persian Gulf in a contest that has far-reaching consequences in many parts of the Middle East.

On Monday, Iranian state-run media went so far as to call the troop movement an invasion. Saudi Arabia has been watching uneasily as Bahrain’s Shiite majority has staged weeks of protests against a Sunni monarchy, fearing that if the protesters prevailed, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s bitter regional rival, could expand its influence and inspire unrest elsewhere.

The Saudi decision to send in troops on Monday could further inflame the conflict and transform this teardrop of a nation in the Persian Gulf into the Middle East’s next proxy battlefield between regional and global powers. On Tuesday, there was no immediate indication that the Saudi forces were confronting protesters in the central Pearl Square — the emblem of the Bahrain protest much as Cairo’s Tahrir Square assumed symbolic significance in the Egyptian uprising.

Several hundred protesters camped out there on what seemed initially to be a quiet day with little traffic on the streets as the details of the deployment by Bahrain’s neighbors — and their mission — remained ill-defined.

On Monday, about 2,000 troops — 1,200 from Saudi Arabia and 800 from the United Arab Emirates — entered Bahrain as part of a force operating under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation regional coalition of Sunni rulers that has grown increasingly anxious over the sustained challenge to Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. “This is the initial phase,” a Saudi official said. “Bahrain will get whatever assistance it needs. It’s open-ended.”

The decision is the first time the council has used collective military action to help suppress a popular revolt — in this case a Shiite popular revolt. It was rejected by the opposition, and by Iran, as an “occupation.” Iran has long claimed that Bahrain is historically part of Iran.

The troops entered Bahrain at an especially combustible moment in the standoff between protesters and the monarchy. In recent days protesters have begun to move from the encampment in Pearl Square, the symbolic center of the nation, to the actual seat of power and influence, the Royal Court and the financial district. As the troops moved in, protesters controlled the main highway and said they were determined not to leave.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Jassim Hussein Ali, a member of the opposition Wefaq party and a former member of Parliament, said in a phone interview. “Bahrain is heading toward major problems, anarchy. This is an occupation, and this is not welcome.”

Rasool Nafisi, an academic and Iran expert based in Virginia, said: “Now that the Saudis have gone in, they may spur a similar reaction from Iran, and Bahrain becomes a battleground between Saudi and Iran. This may prolong the conflict rather than put an end to it, and make it an international event rather than a local uprising.”

An adviser to the United States government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, agreed. “Iran’s preference was not to get engaged because the flow of events was in their direction,” he said. “If the Saudi intervention changes the calculus, they will be more aggressive.”

Though Bahrain said it had invited the force, the Saudi presence highlights the degree to which the kingdom has become concerned over Iran’s growing regional influence, and demonstrates that the Saudi monarchy has drawn the line at its back door. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Washington, has traditionally preferred to operate in the shadows through checkbook diplomacy. It has long provided an economic lifeline to Bahrain.

But it now finds itself largely standing alone to face Iran since its most important ally in that fight, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, has been ousted in a popular uprising. Iran’s ally, Hezbollah, recently toppled the Saudi-backed government of Lebanon — a symbol of its regional might and Saudi Arabia’s diminishing clout.

But Bahrain is right at Saudi Arabia’s eastern border, where the kingdoms are connected by a causeway.

The Gulf Cooperation Council was clearly alarmed at the prospect of a Shiite political victory in Bahrain, fearing that it would inspire restive Shiite populations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to protest as well. The majority of the population in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, where the oil is found, is Shiite, and there have already been small protests there.

“If the opposition in Bahrain wins, then Saudi loses,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “In this regional context, the decision to move troops into Bahrain is not to help the monarchy of Bahrain, but to help Saudi Arabia itself .”

The Bahrain government said that it had invited the force in to help restore and preserve public order. The United States — which has continued to back the monarchy — said Monday that the move was not an occupation. The United States has long been allied with Bahrain’s royal family and has based the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain for many years.

Though the United States eventually sided with the demonstrators in Egypt, in Bahrain it has instead supported the leadership while calling for restraint and democratic change. The Saudi official said the United States was informed Sunday that the Saudi troops would enter Bahrain on Monday.

Saudi and council officials said the military forces would not engage with the demonstrators, but would protect infrastructure, government offices and industries, even though the protests had largely been peaceful. The mobilization would allow Bahrain to free up its own police and military forces to deal with the demonstrators, the officials said.

The Gulf Cooperation Council “forces are not there to kill people,” said a Saudi official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. “This is a G.C.C. decision; we do not violate international law.”

But the officials also acknowledged that it was a message to Iran. “There is no doubt Iran is involved,” said the official, though no proof has been offered that Iran has had anything to do with the political unrest.

Political analysts said that it was likely that the United States did not object to the deployment in part because it, too, saw a weakened monarchy as a net benefit to Iran at a time when the United States wants to move troops out of Iraq, where Iran has already established an influence.

The military force is one part of a Gulf Cooperation Council effort to try to contain the crisis in Bahrain that broke out Feb. 14, when young people called for a Day of Rage, fashioned after events in Egypt and Tunisia. The police and then the army killed seven demonstrators, leading Washington to press Bahrain to remove its forces from the street.

The royal family allowed thousands of demonstrators to camp at Pearl Square. It freed some political prisoners, allowed an exiled opposition leader to return and reshuffled the cabinet. And it called for a national dialogue.

But the concessions — after the killings — seemed to embolden a movement that went from calling for a true constitutional monarchy to demanding the downfall of the monarchy. The monarchy has said it will consider instituting a fairly elected Parliament, but it insisted that the first step would be opening a national dialogue — a position the opposition has rejected, though it was unclear whether the protesters were speaking with one voice.

The council moved troops in after deciding earlier to help prop up the king with a contribution of $10 billion over 10 years, and said that it might increase that figure. But if the goal was to intimidate Iran, or the protesters, that clearly was not the first response.

Bahrain’s opposition groups issued a statement: “We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation.”

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Yemen: Timeline of 2011 Protests

Posted on 14 March 2011 by hashimilion

Nationwide protests demanding an end to the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have entered their sixth week, but the Yemeni leader is refusing to step down until 2013. About 30 protesters have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes with government troops or Saleh supporters. Below is a timeline highlighting key events since the protests began:

2 February 2011: Thousands of Yemeni opposition supporters take to the streets of Sana’a, Aden and Taiz on the “First Day of Rage”, protesting against the government’s constitutional amendment allowing Saleh to run for another term. In a speech, Saleh promises not to run for president again or hand power to his son Ahmad, the Republican Guards’ commander. Saleh urges dialogue and engagement in “a national unity government”.

3 February: Tens of thousands of protesters in Sana’a on “Second Day of Rage” decry government corruption, and Saleh’s control of power and resources. Saleh again calls for dialogue with the opposition.

10 February: Thousands of Southern Movement (SM) supporters march in several parts of the south in protest at a military siege imposed by the government. They demand the release of all political prisoners detained for their involvement in SM, which is accused by the government of promoting secession.

11 February: Thousands of SM supporters staged protests in the southern cities of Aden, Abyan, Dhalea and Shabwa demanding Saleh leave power. Local NGO Yemen Human Rights Observatory (YHRO) says the government arrested at least 10 protesters. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigns.

12 February: Thousands in Sana’a celebrate Mubarak’s downfall, call for Saleh’s ouster, but are confronted by pro-Saleh demonstrators in al-Tahrir Square. Thousands of university students head towards Egyptian embassy calling for an end to Saleh’s rule; two are injured after being attacked by Saleh supporters with daggers and sticks.

13 February: Tens of thousands rally in front of Sana’a University as well as in Liberty Square in Taiz. They are confronted by pro-government demonstrators in both cities. Government security forces arrest 120 protesters in Taiz, according to Yasser al-Maqtari, a human rights activist from Taiz.

15 February: Around 2,000 Saleh supporters, backed by undercover police, attack over 3,000 student protesters in front of Sana’a University, using sticks and electric batons, Khalid al-Ansi, executive director of the National Organization for Defending Human Rights and Freedoms (a local NGO know as HOOD), tells IRIN.

16 February: Around 500 protesters in Aden demand Saleh’s ouster. Two protesters killed in Sana’a.

17 February: At least 25 injured in clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters in front of Sana’a University.

18 February: Four killed, 11 injured when the authorities attempt to disperse thousands of protesters in Aden in a demonstration called “Friday of Start”. A local council building, police station and several police vehicles are set ablaze, Mohammed Salim, a riot police officer, tells IRIN from Aden. At least three killed and another 87 injured when a grenade is thrown at tens of thousands of protesters in Taiz’s Liberty Square. Ten injured in another protest staged in the southern city of Mukalla.

19 February: One protester killed and another 15 injured in clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators in front of Sana’a University. Another protester killed in Aden.

21 February: The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an opposition coalition, and Houthi followers in the north declare their support for the young protesters demanding Saleh’s ouster. Tens of thousands take to streets of Sa’dah, demanding same.

22 February: At least five students injured in clashes with Saleh supporters in front of Sana’a University.

23 February: Ten MPs resign from ruling General People’s Congress in protest at the government’s crackdown on protesters. Two protesters killed and 23 injured in Sana’a.

25 February: Hundreds of thousands of protesters stream onto the streets of Sana’a, Taiz, Ibb, Amran, Sa’dah, Aden, Dhalea, Mukalla, Lahj, Shabwa, Abyan, Dhamar, Marib, al-Jauf and Hodeida on the “Friday of Immovability”. At least 7 killed and dozens of others injured in Aden, according to HOOD.

26 February: Senior sheikhs from Yemen’s main tribes (Hashid and Bakil) declare their support for the protesters. “Saleh and his regime must leave now,” said Sheikh Fasail al-Dheli from the Hashid tribe. “How is it possible for a regime to reform things in two years after it failed to do so in more than three decades?” he asked.

27 February: Eight killed, 36 injured in Aden protests, raising death toll since 2 February to 26, according to YHRO.

1 March: Hundreds of thousands rally in most main cities to express solidarity with the families of protesters killed in Aden in a day named “Tuesday of Rage”. “Ending Saleh’s rule is the only option for us. We will not leave this place until Saleh steps down,” former MP Fuad Dihaba tells IRIN.

4 March: Two killed, six injured when army attacks anti-government protest in war-torn Harf Sufyan District, Amran Governorate.

6 March: Some 25 protesters injured in Ibb after being attacked by ruling party supporters.

8 March: Some 70-80 students injured and one killed after government troops fire at protesters in front of Sana’a University. “The troops used a toxic gas against the protesters,” said Hussein al-Shawjali, a volunteer neurologist at a mobile clinic providing medical services to protesters at the university. “Dozens are comatose or suffering spasms… Their lives are at high risk as we don’t have information about this toxic gas to prescribe the right serum for the victims,” al-Shawjali tells IRIN the following day. Sixty injured (20 of them police) in clashes between prison inmates and police in Sana’a central prison.

10 March: Saleh goes on TV to announce plans to change the constitution to move to a parliamentary system.

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Saudi Authorities Free 25 Shiites Detained During Demonstrations

Posted on 10 March 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabian authorities released 25 Shiites arrested during protests in the Eastern Province earlier this month, according an activist.

The detainees were released yesterday, Ibrahim Al- Mugaiteeb, president of the Human Rights First Society, based in al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, said today in a phone interview.

Shiites in al-Qatif held a demonstration on March 3, attended by about 100 people and heavily policed, to demand the release of prisoners. Another rally of a similar size took place in the eastern village of Awwamiya the same day, while on March 4, protesters in al-Hofuf demanded the release of Shiite cleric Tawfiq al-Amir. Activists said he was freed two days later.

Activists have called for a nationwide “Day of Rage” on March 11, and a Facebook Inc. page advocating the plan has more than 30,000 followers. The kingdom’s Council of Senior Islamic Scholars this week condemned protests as forbidden, and the Interior Ministry warned that demonstrations, marches and sit- ins are “strictly” prohibited.

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Analysis: Popular Revolt Stacks Odds Against Yemen’s Saleh

Posted on 10 March 2011 by hashimilion

President Ali Abdullah Saleh is still resisting the popular clamor for his removal that has convulsed Yemen since protesters toppled Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak four weeks ago, but the odds are stacking up against him. About 30 people have been killed, mostly in the rebellious south, in clashes between Saleh’s security forces and the tens of thousands of protesters turning out daily across the country.

So far Saleh and his foes have avoided the bloody all-out battles for control such as those unfurling in Libya, where an equally determined Muammar Gaddafi is fighting for survival.

The Yemeni leader, who has ruled for 32 years by cannily navigating tribal politics, installing clan relatives in top security posts and rewarding loyalty with cash and favors, may be reluctant to go down the Gaddafi route, yet the prolonged standoff in the streets carries mounting risks of violence.

Police and security men fired into demonstrators near Sanaa University late on Tuesday, killing one and wounding 80.

“The events of last night illustrate that Saleh is willing to use increasing violence in an effort to maintain his rule,” said Sarah Phillips, a Yemen expert at Sydney University.

“The problem he has is that opposition to his regime is incredibly diverse, both geographically and in terms of what people want, after the immediate desire of seeing him step down, and that he now has very little that he can offer people.”

There is no sign of any let-up in the swelling protests against Saleh by Yemenis who blame him for what they see as decades of high-level graft, poverty and neglect.

“The momentum now is with the opposition, both protesters and the political parties, and that’s become increasingly clear,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center.

“We saw the largest pro-democracy protests in Yemen’s history last week. We’re seeing more opposition unity.”

Saleh, already combating revolts in the north and south, as well as an ambitious al Qaeda wing, has been losing the support of once-allied tribal sheikhs, lawmakers from his ruling party and Muslim clerics, but the army and police still seem loyal and the president’s Saudi and U.S. allies have not deserted him.

The veteran leader may accept that he cannot extend his rule indefinitely. “At this time, the most he would hope for is to preside over a transition period until the end of his term in 2013,” said Yemeni political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani.

WAR CHEST

The 68-year-old leader, using what opposition MP Abdulmoez Dabwan calls a “war chest” of cash, can also bring out loyalist crowds in his defense — this week his party organized free lunches for hundreds who then joined a pro-Saleh demonstration.

Saleh has pledged to quit in 2013 and not hand power to his son, but rejected an opposition plan proposed last week for political reforms and a timetable for his departure this year.

Ali Omrani, a former member of Saleh’s party, said Yemenis were no longer satisfied with vague promises from the president.

“He needs to offer something very clear about the peaceful transfer of power. He has to start with the security services and make a gesture — at least begin removing his relatives.”

Saleh accuses his foes of threatening Yemen with chaos and portrays himself to the West as a bulwark against al Qaeda. His government this week asked foreign donors to stump up $6 billion to fund its budget deficits over the next five years.

“Yemen wants more money to come in and Saleh wants to really try and fragment and fracture the protesters,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University.

“He believes if he can do that, he can continue to survive. But a lot of the protesters are wise to the game… and are trying to stand in solidarity with one another,” he said, citing the so-called Houthi northern rebels and southern secessionists.

Saleh’s challenges have multiplied in recent years as oil and water resources dwindle in Yemen, an unruly land of mountain and desert where guns abound and central authority is lax.

“The inability of the central government to deliver basic public services, the absence of law and order and the fragmentation of society have created the ideal environment for autonomists, secessionists, insurgents and irredentists to emerge and flourish in many parts of the country,” said Khaled Fattah, at Scotland’s St Andrews University.

The protests feed off youth unemployment, hunger and corruption, but many of Yemen’s 23 million people are also fed up with an autocratic leader who denies them a voice — and are impatient with opposition parties trying to cut deals with him.

Hamid, the Brookings analyst, said Saleh’s strategy was to stall and promise dialogue without altering the fundamental structure of the system in hopes the protests lose steam.

“But I don’t think we should be under the illusion that Saleh is going to become a democrat overnight,” he added.

Iryani said Saleh’s entourage was probably pressing him to fight it out and if the power balance shifted in his favor he might even opt for Gaddafi-style force — although in Egypt and Tunisia the military refused to suppress popular protests.

“The army has not been tested against the people yet. When it does, I expect it to disintegrate quickly,” he said.

Source Reuters

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Yemen’s Peaceful Protests Appeal to Shi’ite rebels

Posted on 10 March 2011 by hashimilion

Yemen’s northern Shi’ite rebels, inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, have stopped fighting the government and are joining to non-violent protests instead, a theologian with close ties to the rebels said on Tuesday.

The rebels, known as Houthis after their leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi, have fought the government on and off since 2004 in a conflict that even drew in neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia when Houthis briefly seized Saudi territory last year.

Abdulkareem Ahmed Jadban, who has mediated between the government and the rebels, told Reuters the Houthis have put down their weapons and joined nationwide peaceful protests that have swept Yemen demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32 year rule.

“The examples of Tunisia and Egypt have been powerful. The Houthis have not fired a single bullet in the last several weeks. The have taken to the streets in Saada in their thousands like the rest of Yemen,” Jadban said. But he cautioned that the non-violence could also be short-lived.

Yemen agreed a truce in 2009 to halt its intermittent war with the Houthis. But sporadic violence has continued, Jadban said, because Saleh is supporting a tribal figure in the Houthi stronghold of Saada.

“They still reserve the right of self-defence. The attack on them last week was unjustified. Saleh is trying to divert attention from the street rage he is facing throughout Yemen,” he added, referring to an attack by the military on protestors that killed two in Saada, the Houthis’ northern stronghold.

At least 27 people have been killed in Yemen since protests erupted last month. Saleh, a key U.S. ally against al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, is refusing street demands to leave and has hinted that Yemen would fall apart without him.

The Houthis, Jadban said, want effective representation in a national dialogue to take place if the popular movement manages to remove Saleh from office.

Jadban was until recently a member of Saleh’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress Party until he resigned last week along with 11 other parliamentarians to protest Saleh’s refusal to meet street demands to step down.

“Being in parliament was the only way to help the people of Saada because the ruling party controlled everything. No longer,” said Jadban, who has written books on the sect of Shi’ite Islam known as Zaidism, to which Houthis belong.

Jadban believes the Houthis might gain more traction if Houthis relinquished their belief in an Imamate, where the ruler must be a descendent of Islam’s prophet Mohammed. A Zaidi imamate ruled much of modern Yemen for more than 1,000 years until it was overthrown in 1962.

The Houthis are also deeply resentful of Saudi Arabia’s promotion of its austere Salafi school and fear that this fundamental version of Sunni Islam threatens their identity.

Saleh, who is backed by the United States, is of the same minority Zaidi sect as the Houthis, but also receives backing from Saudi Arabia in the conflict.

A Qatari-brokered peace agreement last summer stipulated that the government should help with the reconstruction of Saada but Jadban said little effort was made to improve the lot of the province, which is more impoverished than the rest of Yemen.

“There is no electricity. The whole region is sinking in darkness,” he said.

 

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