The last two weeks in December witnessed a changing dimension in the revolutionary tactics used by pro-change Yemenis. First, there was the Life March that launched from Taiz to Sana’a in December, which tragically ended in the killing of 9 peaceful marchers in Sana’a on December 24th. More recently, another march to the capital began from the impoverished Red Sea port of Hodeida, a five-day trek which ended on Sunday January 8th in Sana’a.
These are important tactical changes from the occupation of public squares, which has been a cornerstone of protest activity in Yemen since demonstrations began in early 2011. Much criticism of Yemen’s protest movement has centred on its lack of appeal outside the country’s major cities. The occupation of change squares, which are located only in urban centers, was seen as vindicating this criticism and a testament to the movement’s failure to appeal to the 70 percent of Yemenis living in remote rural villages.
The rise of these “Life Marches” may, however, be changing this state of affairs. Many of those living in rural areas are often too impoverished or insecure to leave their meagre possessions behind to participate in protests. By physically taking the protests to the rural parts of the country, via the “Life March”, activists have demonstrated to their critics that the appetite for change is not merely confined to the country’s urban middle-class.
In addition to the Life Marches, the last two weeks in December saw an increase in a new trend of ‘Intra-Institutional Protests’. These demonstrations have been carried out by disgruntled public sector employees in military and police units, government authorities and ministries, and leading national businesses, who are challenging corrupt leaders, poor pay and condition, and other grievances by physically ‘locking out’ or expelling their corrupt leaders/bosses. For many Yemenis, corruption has been the driving force behind anger towards the Saleh regime. By physically removing corrupt public sector officials from office, these demonstrators are using an innovative tactic to directly target the root cause of corruption.
“This is the real revolution, the institutions revolution,” said Mohammed Gabaal, a 40-year-old accountant who is on strike. “The president has appointed a ring of corrupt people all over government agencies.”
For some Yemeni soldiers and workers, this new strategy has been motivated, in part, by the President’s signing of the GCC deal, an important concession that boosted their confidence to challenge other ‘untouchables’ closer to home.
These developments in Yemen’s protest movement all lead to one very important question: are we seeing the second wave of Yemen’s revolution, similar to the November and December upsurge in anti-SCAF protests in Egypt? There is as yet no definitive answer, but all signs seem to point to yes.