Tuesday, May 11, 2010

      VIEW: Revolutionary stirrings in the Arab east - II -Raza Naeem

      However moth-eaten and isolated from the people the aging leaders of the 
Yemeni Socialist Party have become, one thing is certain: Yemen is a country 
where the memory of revolution and resistance remains fresh

      Although Yemen's unification snuffed out the only real revolutionary 
alternative in the post-1967 Arab world, it was hoped that the former, in the 
form of a new democratic state, would enable a hitherto passive citizenry in 
the petrol stations of the Gulf to put pressure on their own autocrats. Not to 
be. Since the unification, Yemen itself has become a byword for the same 
malaise afflicting the Arab world that the revolution and then the unification 
was intended to solve - a personalistic family-owned dictatorship under 
president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

      An attempted secession of a disgruntled south in 1994 was dealt with with 
an iron hand. The pacification of the south meant extending northern control 
over southern property, British colonial villas in Aden, and southern trade. 
The Salehisation of the whole country has also meant that whereas once women 
used to work and move around the streets of the south unveiled, the beards have 
once again taken over. This is a legacy of the ugly compromises the Saleh 
kleptocracy has made with the religious Islah Party in order to keep the Yemeni 
Socialist Party (YSP) out of the power structure.

      What is really happening in Yemen today is the unfolding of unfinished 
historical baggage from Yemeni unification. The Huthi uprising in the north is 
led by former allies of Saleh who were used as mercenaries in the re-conquest 
of the south in 1994 and have now fallen out with the ruling elite. Far from 
being a religious revolt, the aim of the rebellion in the north is not the 
establishment of a heavenly kingdom on earth as the alarmist media would have 
us believe; in fact, what started as an old-fashioned bar-room brawl over 
resources and political influence has now taken on greater proportions because 
of Saleh's vicious military campaigns against the rebels, midwifed since last 
year by the US and now by its chief proxy in the peninsula, Saudi Arabia, whose 
interventions in the country (as everywhere else) have always been self-serving 
and expansionist. 

      The revolt in the south mainly comprises former socialist military 
officers who have seen whatever little revolutionary gains they fought for in 
the revolution being dismantled by the grotesque combination of military 
officers and clerics imported from the north (and quite possibly Riyadh). So 
what are the alternatives? Saleh, unlike Musharraf, Saddam and the Taliban, is 
a wily dictator, who has managed to keep power only by juggling amongst the US, 
Saudi and his own cynical interests on the one hand and by doling out oil money 
to buy off a pliant opposition on the other. Of course what has also helped is 
the ease with which a passive civil society has accepted the neoliberal 
programmes shoved down their throats by the aging dictator. But that has not 
stopped the people from taking risks. Jarallah Omar, the charismatic and 
courageous former secretary-general of the YSP, was assassinated a few years 
ago for advocating an end to capital punishment. 

      However moth-eaten and isolated from the people the aging leaders of the 
YSP have become, one thing is certain: Yemen is a country where the memory of 
revolution and resistance remains fresh. The mood in the south remains 
especially militant: just two months ago thousands of people came out in the 
streets in Aden to commemorate the anniversary of the British withdrawal, which 
quickly became a protest against the misery of the present. The rebellions in 
both the north and the south are thus a continuation of the old revolutionary 
movements in the 1950s and 1960s that shook the British Empire and the forces 
of reaction; and like the struggles of old, they have no truck with religion. 
Only a jaundiced vision would fail to see them as such and ascribe to them the 
views of a fanatical minority. For the rebellions reflect not only a sharp 
memory of the country's revolutionary history but also a desire for a break 
with whatever the unification entailed - much of which has not been tangible to 
the people at large. 

      That is the history that Yemen's would-be occupiers in Washington and 
their equally spineless satraps in Sana'a and Riyadh want to deny and 
whitewash, acts that are not serving them well in the occupations in 
Afghanistan and Iraq. As one of the songs of the revolutionary wolves of Radfan 
(the south Yemeni Yunnan) from the early 1970s reminds us:

      "We must support the workers,
      We must support the peasants,
      We must support the fishermen,
      And the Bedouin and nomads,
      We must eliminate illiteracy,
      We must liberate women,
      We must arm the women,

      And we must eliminate illiteracy!"

      It would be comforting to believe that such infectious enthusiasm extends 
equally towards combating foreign occupation and its hired quislings; for those 
who did not tolerate a British occupation will certainly not be content with a 
possible American one. 


      The writer is a Pakistani national working on his PhD in History from the 
University of Arkansas in the US. He can be reached at


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