The Yemeni government kills its children

This little boy is one of the more than fifty people killed by the Yemeni government in the last two days in the capital Sana’a alone.  The Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is precisely the sort of secular, military-trained, authoritarian leader-for-life that has proved vulnerable to popular revolt across the Arab world this year; indeed, Yemen saw many months of large and generally peaceful demonstrations — I wrote about those at the time, including extraordinary videos showing the scale of the protests — that might have succeeded in forcing a change in government if they had peaked earlier, at the time of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.  Three months ago, when a bomb attack in Sana’a forced Saleh to seek treatment in a Saudi hospital I wrote that “it is his final parting disdainful gift to his country that he allowed violence, not the many months of peaceful demonstrations across Yemen, to force him from power.”  Saleh then made a spectacular and unwelcome recovery and in his absence the Yemeni government has, indeed, headed down the path of bloody suppression blazed by Libya’s Gaddafi and Syria’s Assad; hence the violence of the last 48 hours.

The image above of the murdered little boy is especially moving, of course, but it is the larger pattern of an autocrat clinging to power without regard for the lives or well-being of his citizens that is the real problem.  In the US, many idle observers of the Middle East see everything through the prism of their fear of Islamists coming to power — here is an example left by a reader on my website but I wrote about the darkness of the comments on the New York Times site too — and, to be sure, the revolutions present an opportunity to the Islamists, as they do for many others across the political spectrum.  But it ought to be difficult to look at a government prepared to kill its children and conclude they are still preferable to the alternatives.  Democracy is about the process, not the outcome.  Whatever government emerges from the freely expressed will of the Yemeni people would have a legitimacy — and, with it, a responsibility for its citizens — that Saleh has not had for decades.


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