Did Yemen just have a revolution?

The ‘will he stay or will he go’ game that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has played for the last year to forestall change has gone another round: he went, this time to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for further treatments as a consequence of the bomb attack he suffered in June.  The last time he went — to Saudi Arabia — not much happened in his absence and he returned to Yemen as president, which made me question at the time why the protesters had not taken better advantage of the opportunity.  Now, with Saleh in New York, the Yemenis have voted in a new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

So, is that it then?  Can we add Yemen to the list of successful revolutions in this year of unprecedented change in the region?  No, or at least not yet.  Thus far, Yemen looks more like Egypt, where Mubarak resigned but left regime stalwarts in the military in charge, than like Tunisia, where the change has been more profound.  The new president was Saleh’s vice president for the last 17 years and the only candidate in the ‘election’ last week so one can be forgiven some skepticism about whether democracy has arrived at last.  Indeed, according to the New York Times the vote count had an all-too-familiar ring to it:

Yemen’s Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum announced Friday night that Mr. Hadi had won the election with 99.6 percent of the vote. A total of 6,651,166 Yemenis voted for Mr. Hadi, and 15,974 voted against, by writing “No” in the box next to a photo of Mr. Hadi on the white ballot sheet.

True, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is a southerner — he was brought into the regime to placate the south after losing the civil war to Saleh and the north in 1994 — but given the way that the north has totally dominated the south since that war this only reinforces the impression that he is a puppet, because it seems doubtful a southerner with real power would be allowed to take over the country.  But here is perhaps the most compelling reason to think little has changed: earlier today, Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Yemen.  He went to a private residence, not the presidential palace, but he still has a telephone and many people he can call.


The photo above, taken in Sanaa, Yemen by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda, won the World Press Photo of the Year for 2011.  There is a certain grace to the image but, to me, the video of street protests in Sanaa that I wrote about and embedded in this post gives a more powerful sense of the scale of the revolutions that have swept the Arab world this year.


Click here to read the first iteration of Saleh’s will-he-or-won’t-he game, including my own impressions of Yemen from the month I spent there in 1992 as the country was struggling with the after effects of the first civil war (in 1990) that unified North and South Yemen.  Or here to read about Saleh’s miraculous recovery from the bomb attack or here for my despair at his return from Saudi Arabia.  Or here for a sense of the violence meted out on the people of Yemen, which is why Saleh had to go.

Click here for all my posts on the Middle East or North Africa.


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