The Yemeni revolution, which began by independent youth, made it possible to stand up against former President Saleh’s 33 years of misrule including corruption, injustice and nepotism. Protesters went to the street in mid Jan 2011, to say enough is enough. Then on the 21st of February, a group of university students camped outside the gate of Sana’a University. Day by day more people joined, until it transformed into a tent-city with thousands of inhabitants: Change Square was born.
The truly revolutionary aspect of this movement is the peaceful nature it took. There are 70 million firearms in a country with the population of 24 million, yet peaceful protesters refused to take up arms, despite the violent and brutal attacks against them, that resulted in approximately 2,000 martyrs and thousands wounded, according to the ministry of human rights.
The regime that had once neglected the youth was forced to interact with them, due to their street power not military power, expanding bargaining beyond the traditional political elite.
Where we are today in Yemen is a product of the interplay between the power of the street that pushed for reform and the political negotiations of the formal political elite with the ruling party and the international community. Unfortunately, the process by which traditional parties negotiated, excluded the demands of the streets, which limited their eventual bargaining power.
While youth have been recognized as an important entity, the political process had sidelined them. This partially explains why thousands of activists and protesters are still camped in change square living in their wooden or fabric tents.
While many positive steps have been taken including the official removal of Saleh from power, the creation of a transitional unity government to lead the country, and the adoption of new laws and decrees such as the right to access of information; a complete break from the past through comprehensive changes is yet to be seen. Today, many of the same players of the old regime remain in place disconnected from the majority of the population. Many independent youth are concerned that the traditional opposition figures who worked side by side with the old regime are just trying to co-opt the revolution for personal gains.
The demands of the street extended beyond the removal of the president to include comprehensive change to the entire political structure, which has been the cause of marginalization. Parliament recently announced that tribal Sheikhs will receive $60 million, which is an example demonstrating that the transitional government is not keen on moving away from the patronage system towards a modern civic state on the basis of equal citizenship, social justice, and a plural political system.
Nevertheless, the rules of Yemen’s political structure are still being negotiated, and many new political actors and political parties, including youth parties, have emerged. Young people now are more willing to express their opinions and to be proactive in influencing their societies.
The extent to which they are able to push for reforms will demonstrate whether Yemen will move towards a more inclusive political process. Inclusionary politics will not only mean inclusion of new actors, and more open door meetings, but also giving those in decision making positions, the actual power necessary to make these decisions.
Politicians should remember that youth will no longer accept to be silent witnesses in their own countries, exclusionary politics will no longer be tolerated. The seed for change has been planted, and it will take years for the tree to grow. It is our duty as citizens however to make sure to water that seed and give it the proper nutrients to flourish or else it will be as if no revolution has taken place.