2011 in Yemeni history – an overview

Baraa Shiban

2011 unfolded to be an exceptional year in Yemen’s history, a year that carried the dreams of millions of people throughout the country. Dreams of building a civilized country, free of tyranny. The Yemeni Revolution came as an extension to the Arab Spring which was able to topple three dictators up till now. Yemenis drew a unique picture for their revolution. Their struggle came peaceful, unarmed, and was lead by women and youth. The young revolutionists were able to create innovative methods to address their demands and make their voices reach the whole world.

2011 started with demonstrations and protests, which initially started in 2007 by the Southern Movement and the Yemeni Activist Tawakul Karman. The political life was reaching a dead end, especially after the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) parliament members in January held a protest in front of the Parliament refusing the policies of the ruling party – GPC – and announced that they will boycott elections if the regime didn’t make deep electoral reforms.

On the International level, the Tunisian ex-President, Ben Ali, fled the country on the 15th of January announcing the victory of the 1st Arab Revolution in the year 2011, and the Egyptian Ex-President Hosni Mubarak followed after less than one month. Those two revolutions had their influence on the Yemeni people and announced that it was too late to make any changes or reforms, and the Yemeni regime is on the edge of a cliff.

Launching the Squares:

On the 11th of February – the day Mubarak stepped down – a group of youngsters went out to the streets of Taiz, announcing the beginning of the Yemeni Revolution, while their revolutionary colleagues in Sana’a were still trying to find a place to make a set-in, in front of the University of Sana’a, after regime loyalists occupied Sana’a’s Tahrir Square to prevent them from copying the Egyptian experiment.

On the 18th February, youth activists along with Tawakul Karman succeed to form a set-in in Sana’a after a series of marches and protests in front of Sana’a University, and clearly called to overthrew the regime. On the 27th of February JMP officially announce that they join the revolution.

Core of the Revolution:

On the 10th of March, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh presents an initiative to get out of the crises, offering to form a new constitution, a parliamentary system, a federal system for governorates, and a change of the electoral system. The initiative was waved off by the JMP who said that the revolution had already gone beyond these proposals.

The 18th of March, also known as the Friday of Dignity, was an important day for the Yemeni Revolution and will probably be remembered throughout Yemen’s history. 52 martyrs fell and hundreds were wounded by snipers, who turned to be regime militias, in Change Square in Sana’a. This bloody day was about to bring the Yemeni regime to an end after a rain of resignations from the Government officials. Saleh quickly announced the dismissal of the government, and remained a so-called caretaker government.

On the 10th of April, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers call on Saleh to step down and present an initiative under their supervision. The initiative was refused by Saleh at the beginning and accused Qatar of being behind formulating the initiative. Later on, he announced that he agrees to sign but asked the GCC to exclude Qatar as a term to sign the initiative.

22nd of May, Ali Abdullah Saleh officially refuses to sign the GCC initiative, after many visits by the GCC General Secretary and many amendments on the initiative formula as well. His refusal came only a few hours before he started armed confrontations with the Al-Ahmar family, the leaders of the biggest tribe in Yemen.

On the 24th of May, around 40 tribe leaders were killed and injured after a missile attack on Al-Ahmars House in Sana’a. The tribesmen were in a mediation mission to end the clashes between Saleh’s forces and Al-Ahmar family, which brought the Saleh regime to face the whole tribal system. On the 29th of May, Saleh forces storm the Freedom Square in Taiz, burn the tents and loot the field hospital. This leaves behind 18 martyrs and many injuries.

On the 3rd of June, an assassination attempt on Saleh and senior Government officials takes place in mysterious circumstances. Saleh and his officials leave to Saudi Arabia and many viewers addressed it as the end of his regime. This however, turned out to not quite be the case.

The Revolution Continues:

On the 7th of July, Saleh appears on TV for the first time since the assassination attempt. This ends all speculations about his death. On the 17th of August, the Revolution components announce the National Council of the Peaceful Revolution.

On the 18th of September, a youth march was able to cross the borders guarded by Central Security Forces, thus resulting in the death of 20 participants. The Republican Guards led by Saleh’s son, shelled the Change Square heavily which forced the Pro-revolution army to interfere. Soon thereafter, on the 23rd of September, Saleh suddenly returns to Yemen, many viewers said that he returned to save what’s left of his regime after the clashes and confrontations between his forces and the Pro-revolution army. After his return, a series of visits by the UN envoy,  Jamal Ben Omar, take place to convince Saleh to sign the GCC initiative.

On the 7th of October, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announces Tawakul Abdul Salam Karman to be the first Arabic woman to receive the prize due to her active role in the Yemeni Revolution. On the 10th of December, Tawakul Karman receives the Noble Peace Prize in Oslo.

On the 20th of October, the UN Security Council issues resolution No.2014 that calls Saleh to sign the GCC initiative. Then, on the 23rd of November, Saleh signs the GCC initiative that states his step down as a president and forming a government of National Reconciliation.

On the 20th of December, the pedestrian “Life” march leaves Taiz, and crosses 265 kilometers to reach Sana’a on the 24th of December. This is the biggest march in the history of Yemen and it sends a clear message from the Yemeni people and the International Community: the Yemeni Revolution still hasn’t fulfilled its goals. The last days of December witnessed a parallel revolution. Many governmental sectors witnessed the resignation of some senior officials. It’s worth mentioning that the employee strikes are still continuing and the people expect that these kind of strikes will end the remains of Saleh’s regime. The end of 2011 does not mean that the Yemeni struggle for freedom is over.

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