For nearly a week thousands of Yemenis have been gathering in Sana’a, their capital, and in several other cities around the country. In Aden, the old capital of the south, two protesters were killed on February 16th. A demonstration the next day in Sana’a was bigger and bloodier than ever, posing still more of a threat to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The unrest is getting more violent and more widespread.
When rallies were first held several weeks ago, they were organised by Yemen’s official opposition, known as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), a hotch-potch of Islamists, socialists and others. But a new wave of protesters, including unemployed young people and frustrated students, are angrier. Whereas the JMP called for political and electoral reform, the latest protesters are chanting, “After Mubarak, Ali’s turn!”
The established opposition groups wrung quite big concessions out of Mr Saleh, including a promise to step down in 2013—without passing his baton to a son. The latest lot want an immediate change. The JMP leaders, by contrast, are nervy about an abrupt shift, wary that Yemenis are perhaps the most heavily armed people in the world.
In any event, the security forces have begun to crack down. On February 11th they stood by, as pro-government people beat up opposition demonstrators. Two days later riot police and plainclothes security men broke up a march of a thousand-odd people in Sana’a with clubs and electric batons. Journalists have been attacked; dozens of campaigners have been arrested or injured.
Parts of the country are in open revolt against the corrupt and oppressive regime in Sana’a. A tribal war persists in the north. A secessionist movement is bubbling in the south. Across the country, al-Qaeda cells are trying to topple the government and bring about a Muslim caliphate in the region. Rumours are swirling in the streets of Sana’a that cash is being moved to foreign bank accounts and assets liquidated in case members of the ruling circle need to leave in a hurry.
Mr Saleh has not reached that stage yet. The protests are still far smaller than those in Tunis or Cairo. Moreover, only a third of Yemenis live in towns; few have access to the internet or own mobile telephones. The president is a wily manipulator of the tribal politics that still dominates Yemen. But as the protests spread, he is far from safe.