By G. Dunkel
Published Oct 1, 2011 9:35 AM
President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Yemen from Saudi Arabia on Sept. 23, in a move that surprised his critics, supporters and the U.S. government, which has just intensified its drone campaign in Yemen.
Adel Shamsan, one of the leaders of the protest encampment that has seen thousands of protesters occupy the square in front of the capital city’s Sana’a University for months, told the New York Times, “It [Saleh’s speech to the nation] does not concern us. After he killed all these people, we don’t care.” (Sept. 26)
What made Shamsan so bitter were the government attacks on the protesters, which killed more than 76 people and injured more than 100 right after Saleh’s return. Government forces, under the control of Saleh’s family, rained mortars and sniper fire on the unarmed protesters in front of the university.
Government forces also attacked soldiers loyal to Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, who split from the Saleh family in March, as well as armed supporters of the powerful Ahmar family (unrelated to the major general).
Besides these competing forces in Sana’a, there is also a rebellion in the north, conducted by tribes on the Saudi border who practice a distinct form of Islam. In addition, Islamic groups in the south from time to time manage to seize a small town or port on the Gulf of Aden.
Saudi Arabia’s small, hereditary ruling class has been financially supporting reactionary sheiks and local rulers in Yemen for decades (See the book, “Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes,” by Victoria Clark, Yale University Press, 2010)
The southern part of Yemen was a British colony from 1840 until 1967, when a national liberation movement finally succeeded in kicking out the British. The resulting socialist government in southern Yemen lasted until 1990, when it merged with the northern government, which has been led by Saleh since July 1978. Even after a brief but bloody civil war in 1994, there has been a progressive current, mainly centered in the port of Aden, calling itself socialist.
The United States wants to protect the 3.3 million barrels of oil a day — more or less depending on the state of the world’s economy — that flow through the straits of Bal-el-Mandeb, off Yemen’s southern coast.
The U.S. is aggressively expanding its drone war in East Africa and Yemen. It is setting up more and more bases, both in East Africa, in the Seychelles and in the Arabian Peninsula, which will allow more flights over Yemen. U.S. officials claim these efforts are designed to target al-Qaida in the region, but they can actually be used against any opponent of U.S. interests.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world. The Yemeni people want a better standard of living, democratic rights, an end to foreign intervention and a fairer economy. They are demanding to get what they want. Their mass occupations of the capital city of Sana’a and other major Yemeni cities are continuing, despite bloody and murderous attacks.