The other Tahrir Square

Lest we forget that Yemen also has a place called Tahrir Square, here's an account from Human Rights Watch about the events there yesterday:

Hundreds of men armed with knives, sticks, and assault rifles attacked anti-government protesters in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, as Yemeni security forces stood by ... Within an hour, the 1,000-plus protesters had been pushed from the square and at least 10 had been detained by security forces ...

Human Rights Watch witnessed at least 10 army trucks carrying men in civilian clothing to Sanaa's Tahrir Square, where a crowd of around 1,000 Yemenis had been demonstrating in support of the historic changes in Egypt and against the Yemeni government. Hundreds of men, their arrival coordinated by uniformed security agents, attacked the anti-government protesters with knives and sticks, prompting the majority to flee ...

A few dozen anti-government demonstrators remained in the square, sitting on the street, but they too fled after being charged by hundreds of armed government supporters. 

It isn't the first time this has happened and it won't be the last. The Tunisian and Egyptian regimes both deployed hired rabbles during the uprisings there – though it didn't save either of them.

President Salih, who already faces a lightly-armed rebellion in the south and a dormant but more heavily-armed one in the far north, not to mention the al-Qaeda insurgency, is well aware of the "Tunisia effect" and the dangers it might pose for him. Last night, shortly after President Mubarak resigned in Egypt, Yemen's National Defence Council held "an expanded meeting" where itdiscussed, among other things, "improving the wages of government staff and personnel of the armed and security forces".

Buying loyalty is a tactic favoured by the oil-rich Gulf monarchies but there's only so far that Salih, heavily dependent on foreign aid, can go in that direction.

There was also a protest in the central city of Taizz, where 15,000 demonstrators gathered outside the governor's office, according toa post on Twitter. A video (of rather poor quality) shows a crowd in Taizz reacting to Mubarak's resignation.

Secessionists held further protests in the south, where government forces reportedly used tanks and treargas and fired warning shots.

This is a fairly normal state of affairs for Yemen and it doesn't pose an immediate threat to Salih. As I have said before, the Yemeni opposition is very disunited. But, with parliamentary elections scheduled for April, the next couple of months are likely to bring a period of intensified activity on the streets.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 12 Feb 2011