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Walid Al-Saqaf: Yemeni people’s demand to end dictatorship is irreversible

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DANYA NADAR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. My name is Danya Nadar. Coming to you from Washington, DC. In Yemen, demonstrations have been escalating, calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On Tuesday, the Army shot live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas against government protesters at a university campus in Sana’a, which is the capital of the country. Joining us today is Walid Al-Saqaf. He is the former editor of The Yemen Times and is currently completing his PhD in Sweden. Thanks for joining us.


NADAR: So tell us what’s been happening in the last little while in Yemen, just to bring us up to speed.

AL-SAQAF: Since February 3, which is the day the revolution started officially, there has been an increasing number of demonstrators all over the streets, different cities, different governorates, all protesting and calling for the end of the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of Yemen, who’s been there for around 33 years. People have been repressed and attacked in streets in different areas. In one incident in Aden, at least nine people have been actually killed during one of those protests and many others injured. An attack took place against protesters, peaceful protesters, just in front of Sana’a University, in the capital, and at least one person died, and just about 80–or more than 80 people injured. So the intensity of the situation is getting higher and higher.

NADAR: Who are these protesters, according to the government?

AL-SAQAF: I mean, there’s always been justifications, ranging from troublemakers to opposition, politically motivated, I don’t know, those that belong to the opposition coalition. Some–more recently they claim that there are some members of al-Qaeda who had actually infiltrated those groups. And so there are a number of other reasons and motivations, sometimes saying that there has been some sort–they trigger violence from within by bringing in some arms or so forth. So, constantly, over and over, they bring in different excuses, different justifications to crack down. And most recently, there is a disturbing revelation saying that the authorities have actually let go of around 1,000 prisoners from the central prison of Yemen, which itself had–within it, there has been an incident in which three prisoners have been killed and many others injured.

NADAR: And what has been the response of the US government?

AL-SAQAF: There’s been an interview saying that the US ambassador had actually approved President Saleh’s initiative for dialog and did not approve of him being removed, just like the case in Egypt or Tunisia. And this is coming in a time just after the crackdown of Sana’a, which sent a really negative and bad message to the demonstrators and to all those yearning for freedom. They are now–actually, the authorities on Yemen have been using this particular interview to bolster their position, saying that, look, Americans are in our support; they think that we are right and demonstrators are wrong. So this has actually sent a negative message. And I do hope that this was not real official policy. It is official; I mean, officially speaking, it represents the US government. But I do hope that something else would come in to compensate for this, because it has been a real letdown to many of those demonstrators, who have been protesting peacefully. If there had been some sort of message saying the–we are, let’s say, concerned by the violence that–taking place or that we do believe they do have the right to be looked into and their requests being met, that would have been given some sort of balance. But as the picture shows right now, the image is not positive at all right now.

NADAR: In other movements across the Middle East, they’ve been mainly leaderless. Has there been a leader that has come out in this opposition movement within Yemen?

AL-SAQAF: No, not at all. It’s been almost exact same scenario, where first a few youth would rally in front of the university, then they would gather more people. They’ll be, of course, attacked by authorities, by the police. Then more people would join in. And then the number would grow to a critical point, where it’s become some sort of mainstream activity where regular people would join in. So you have a youth movement that’s growing and then bringing in people from different areas, from different ages. And then, of course, there is this opposition coalition which has joined in. It’s basically the alliance of the–all different factions of the opposition, including Islah, which is the main party, followed by the Yemeni Socialist Party and Nasseris’ party and others. And they represent different parts of the country–I mean, not necessarily geographically, but originally the Yemeni Socialist Party comes from the south, for example. The only fear is that if the opposition would really, say, take over leadership–and so far it’s not happened, and there is a very strong sentiment, very strong call for this never to happen, because it would really divert it from its goal of becoming nonpolitical, nonpartisan, and making sure that the youth remain there in leadership.

NADAR: So, Walid, what’s next? Have there been protests that are called for Friday? Or how are protesters reacting currently?

AL-SAQAF: If you’ve looked at the footage of the attack yesterday, pictures of people beaten up by the police, of course, shot with live ammunition, you’d notice that a lot of them were upset not because they’re hurt, but because they did not participate [in] that day and next day’s activities and rallies, now calling not only for the toppling of the regime, but also for its prosecution. And this is a trend that reminds us very much of Egypt, efforts by the youth in bringing in the national unity among the different groups from the south, from the east and west, calling for one single demand, which is to end this 33 oppressive dictatorship [sic].

NADAR: What’s the situation in Yemen in terms of how the military is reacting to the government?

AL-SAQAF: There’s been some sort of–not obvious, but some sort of a visible split between the Republican Guards and those very much affiliated to the president and regular Army and even police members. Some Army members have in fact joined the protesters, and this is really a unique thing. And on one occasion, I’ve seen one officer simply remove the stars of his, I mean, rank, removing them and throwing them to the public, saying, I do not wish to be part of a regime that’s oppressing its people. So there is a movement [inaudible] there is something going on in Yemen, and it’s not properly reflected in the media. But what is very clear now is that people are rallying against–again and again with one single cause, which is to end the regime. And that means that the days of Saleh are really limited. And I do hope that the West and the world will realize that it’s become an irreversible process. People are–have arrived to the point of no return, because otherwise it will be bloodshed, mayhem.

NADAR: Thanks for joining us, Walid.

AL-SAQAF: Thank you.

NADAR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Walid Al-Saqaf is a media researcher specializing in Internet censorship. He is a freelance journalist and the former editor of the Yemen Times. He has written for the Gulf News and the Wall Street Journal and is the founder of Currently, Walid Al-Saqaf is pursuing his PhD at the Department of Media and Communication at Orebro University, Sweden.