[Dehai-WN] Time.com: Yemen's Uprising: The Families on the Front Lines

[Dehai-WN] Time.com: Yemen's Uprising: The Families on the Front Lines

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 11 Oct 2011 20:34:12 +0200

Yemen's Uprising: The Families on the Front Lines

By <http://www.time.com/time/letters/email_letter.html> Aryn Baker / Sana'a
Monday, Oct. 10, 2011

Like many doctors, Tariq Noman dreads the day he sees one of his own sons
brought in on a stretcher. These days, that possibility looms large. Eight
months ago, Noman left his comfortable post as chief cardiac surgeon at
Sana'a's government-run hospital to establish a field hospital at Change
Square, the locus of antigovernment protests in Yemen's capital. And while
one of his older sons works alongside him, tending to the victims of violent
government crackdowns, his youngest, 16-year-old Ahmed, is out on the front
lines, leading a peaceful protest that is frequently met with bullets, baton
brigades, mortars and even rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). "Every time I
hear news of a clash, I hold my breath," Noman says while making the rounds
of his ad hoc hospital, a converted mosque where gurneys and IV drips share
space with illuminated Korans and rolled-up prayer rugs. He holds an X-ray
up to the light filtering through a stained-glass window, pointing out the
ghostly white image of a bullet buried in the flesh of a protester hit by
sniper fire. "In the end, I know that my son is no different than this man,"
he says. "It's difficult, but we should be ready to sacrifice with the rest
of the nation if we really want to see change."

Yemen, an impoverished nation on the southwestern edge of the Arabian
peninsula, has been embroiled for eight months in a violent standoff that
pits the 33-year regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family
against thousands of peaceful protesters like the Nomans and the new Nobel
Peace Prize laureate Tawakul Karman, who are calling for real democracy, an
end to corruption and better opportunities. The young revolutionaries are
backed by a coalition of opposition political parties, tribal clans and a
military wing led by a onetime Saleh ally who defected with his troops in
March. Noman, who has nothing to do with the clans or politics, says the
fight is about the future of the country. "I want for my family a Yemen
where merit and education lead the way. Saleh wants a kingdom."
<http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2076292,00.html> (See TIME's
photo-essay "Yemen on the Brink.")

At stake is a nation teetering on the edge of collapse, wracked by
separatist rebellions and home to al-Qaeda's most active franchise, one that
has demonstrated both the intention and the ability to attack the U.S. As
revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have successfully toppled those
countries' dictators, Saleh has stubbornly held on to power and used
increasingly brutal tactics, even as he promises to make concessions to his
opponents. Before the protests started, Saleh appeared to be grooming his
son Ahmed to take over. He has since renounced that plan, but Ahmed remains
the head of Yemen's special forces, the elite Revolutionary Guards. Saleh's
nephews and a half brother dominate Yemen's security apparatus, holding top
posts in counterterrorism, intelligence, the police and the air force. It's
not antidemocratic, says Yahya Saleh, head of general security and President
Saleh's nephew, but cultural. "In the Middle East, family relations and
tribal relations are playing a part [in politics]," he says. "The President
is putting his trust in the right place. This is why the system is

With friends and relatives dominating state-run enterprises, including the
government-owned media, such a concentration of power and wealth in the
hands of a small elite virtually guarantees that elections are a farce, say
opposition members. It also means that even if Saleh were to step down in
exchange for immunity, as suggested in a compromise agreement backed by the
U.N., his family could still control the levers of power. Saleh, who
recently returned to Yemen after four months in Saudi Arabia, where he
received medical treatment for wounds sustained in an attempted
assassination, has so far refused to implement the agreement, even though he
has thrice promised he would. In a recent interview with TIME and the
Washington Post, he suggested that he was still waiting for the opposition
to concede to his conditions. Many in Yemen speculate that one of the
holdups might be the opposition's insistence that members of Saleh's family
be removed from their positions as well. The delay in reaching a deal takes
Yemenis closer to the precipice of full-blown conflict every day. "We don't
wish for civil war," says Yahya Saleh. "They are expanding in the streets.
Should we withdraw till they take the capital? Or do we stop them?"
<http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2096454,00.html> (See
"Tawakul Karman Awarded Nobel Peace Prize.")

The level of violence is rising in Sana'a and beyond. Tribal militants and
the defected army division backing the protestors have attacked
pro-government forces around the capital. And Noman, a high-profile doctor
who has been vocal with his distaste for the regime, has received numerous
threats on his life. Ironically, he and his sons are safe in Change Square,
where government forces don't dare enter. But his wife and daughters, who
contribute to the movement by cooking some 800 meals a day for hungry
protesters, stay at home. "I am worried that if Saleh's guys can't get me,
they may go after my wife," says Noman.

Saleh has long sought to characterize his political opposition, which is
linked to an Islamist party called Islah, as aligned with the al-Qaeda
forces seeking to destabilize Yemen. Islah models itself on the Egyptian
Muslim Brotherhood, and opponents of the Yemeni group often call it the
Brotherhood. In his interview, Saleh said international pressure to accede
to the compromise was tantamount to handing power "to al-Qaeda, which is
directly and completely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood." It's a familiar
scare tactic for Middle Eastern dictators seeking support for their regimes,
but most Yemenis, even liberals like Noman, vociferously deny that Islah is
a front for al-Qaeda. "Al-Qaeda is good business for Saleh," Noman says.
"The U.S. trains his military to fight al-Qaeda and they send him money and
weapons. And then he supports al-Qaeda so that the U.S. keeps sending more
money and weapons. It's blackmail."

See "Volatile Yemen: Uprisings and al-Qaeda."

Saleh said he is firmly committed to combatting al-Qaeda, but the protests
have distracted his government's attention from the growing threat. Even
though al-Qaeda suffered a significant blow when missiles from a U.S.
Predator drone killed the group's prominent propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, a
Yemeni American living in Yemen's ungoverned tribal areas, the terrorism
organization's Yemeni affiliate is still strong. Just a few days prior to
the attack, another al-Qaeda-linked group that had taken over a major
southern town chopped off the hands of two men charged with stealing. If
Saleh were truly concerned about the al-Qaeda threat, argues Noman, he would
send troops to the south of the country instead of deploying them to battle
peaceful protesters in Change Square and in other demonstrations throughout
the country.

On Sept. 18, Noman's makeshift hospital at the square was a scene of
unprecedented carnage. On that day protesters surged beyond their usual
boundaries, provoking a pro-government military barrage of machine-gun fire,
sniper bullets and RPGs. At least 56 people were killed in the deadliest
crackdown the protest had seen; in the ensuing week, scores more bodies
flooded the hospital, victims of ongoing urban fighting that ended only with
Saleh's return on the 23rd. More recently, the days have been marked by a
wary calm as the opposing sides watch the course of Gulf Cooperation
Council-brokered negotiations between opposition leaders and Saleh. In case
the violence flares again, volunteer doctors and medical students have
prepared trolleys of new IV drips, bandages, sterilized scalpels and
sutures. The floors have been freshly swabbed and reek of harsh
<http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2079398,00.html> (See TIME's
photos "The Hand Art of Yemen's Protesters.")

Noman's 20-year-old son Anas tends to patients wounded in early
conflagrations, changing bandages and checking stitches. With his carefully
sculpted goatee, jeans and Kangol cap, he looks like he would be more at
home with the revolutionaries composing antiregime hip-hop than in the
clinic. But the fourth-year medical student says the revolution needs
doctors just as much as it needs slogans. Having worked at his father's side
during operations for the past three years, he is no stranger to blood and
gore. Still, the extent of the violence has taken its toll. He is haunted by
the memory of a life he didn't save: a TV cameraman who had been shot in the
head. As a doctor, he finds quiet days a relief. But as a revolutionary, he
admits that he is conflicted. "The youth are not happy when the protests are
quiet," he says. "It means that the revolution will go more slowly. When we
see dead people, we feel that the whole world will support us."

The Saleh regime accuses its tribal and military opponents of exploiting the
protesters' willingness to martyr themselves. "They push [the protesters] to
be killed. They push them into a situation where they know that they will be
killed so they can sell the blood to the media," Yahya Saleh says. He
maintains that neither his security forces nor the Republican Guard are
responsible for any of the deaths, a statement directly contravened by
eyewitness reports and human-rights monitors.
<http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2095702,00.html> (See TIME's
interview with Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh.)

That said, the revolution has attracted some pretty odious backers. For
decades, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who defected with his army division in
support of the protest movement, was President Saleh's principal enforcer. A
U.S. embassy cable leaked by WikiLeaks before his defection describes him as
the "second most powerful man in Yemen" and a closet Islamist with ties to
terrorists, extremists, arms dealers and smugglers. Were he to become
President, he "would be unwelcome to the U.S. and others in the
international community." Hamid al-Ahmar and his brother Sadiq, head of one
of Yemen's most powerful tribes, were important Saleh allies as well (both
Saleh and Mohsen belong to the Ahmar tribe) and are infamous for their
rapacious corruption. They too are now on the side of the opposition. The
protesters say the support of these powerful men is too valuable to turn
down. "General Mohsen was the right-hand man of Saleh, so it meant a lot
when he joined us," says Anas Noman. "He sacrificed for us. If we find out
afterward that he is corrupt, we will put him in jail. But for the moment,
we appreciate support from wherever it comes." The opposition may indeed
include opportunists who have historically shown no more interest in
democracy than Saleh, but accusations that the revolution has been hijacked
deflect attention away from the fact that the revolution started as a
national, popular uprising against the regime. Elsewhere in the country, far
removed from the protection of the al-Ahmars and Mohsen's troops,
demonstrators are taking on the regime in their own peaceful protests. And
the government crackdown has been just as hard as it is in Sana'a.

In a daily ritual that has come to define Yemen's popular uprising, young
men line up by the thousands behind an imaginary starting line at the edge
of Change Square. They link arms and chant for the fall of the regime, and
then, at some inaudible signal, they charge, armed with little more than
ceremonial daggers and sun-shielding umbrellas, down the road toward the
armed government soldiers standing at the street that marks the limits of
permissible protest. Most of the time, the group veers away at the last
minute, a taunting demonstration of defiance. But every once in a while a
signal is given, the routine breaks and the young men surge over the
invisible red line and into mortal danger. It is on days like that that
Tariq Noman holds his breath. Ahmed, his youngest son, makes it a point to
be out front. Unlike his father or his brothers, who have other skills to
dedicate to the revolution, he has only his thin, adolescent body. "I want
to be a martyr," he says. "If this is the price of dignity for our nation,
then I am willing to pay it."

 <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2056712,00.html> See why
Yemen may be the most dangerous domino.

2045422,00.html> See the top 10 autocrats in trouble.

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