Yemen’s 2011 Arab Spring: Unfinished Business

Published on 13 February 2014 in View Point
Nadia Al-Sakkaf (author)

Nadia Al-Sakkaf


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As Yemen marked the third year since its Arab Spring uprising on February 11, I realized that we should have started our uprising years before 2011. Politcal pluralism manifested itself in Yemen through its opposition parties, we had a relatively good civil society presence and we had many activists who took to the streets demanding all kinds of rights.

For example, all the way back in 2007, the area between the Cabinet building and the former  premises of the Information Ministry was renamed “Freedom Square” by those who held protests and sit-ins there—years before Tunisia even thought of a revolution and years before the sit-ins in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

But it is what it is, and for some reason we had to wait for the Arab Spring to take place to get us into action. When the spark was lit, Tunisia and Egypt decided their fate in weeks while it took Yemen months of popular and political struggle before we found a solution. And that too, was different a different process. Instead of toppling the regime, we made a deal and by the end of around one year of protests, we signed an agreement—making everyone king.

This transition deal, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, required power to be shared by both the former regime and the former opposition, creating a void of political opposition. In such transitional scenarios, strong civil society and independent media are supposed to fill the void left by the opposition and truly represent the public’s best interest.

However, this didn’t happen. Unfortunately, most of today’s media is playing a negative role. Not only do they not represent the public’s best interest, but they also create chaos, instigate hatred and spread fear and anxiety in the country.

Not to mention that most Yemeni politicians are extremely selfish and far too dense to learn from the past. A quick look at recent history would show anyone with eyes how propaganda and capitalizing on others’ failure instead of building one’s success is bound to backfire. Alas, there is no cure for stupidity.

Stupid politicians and a lack of independent media and civil society is a very dangerous combination. As it is, we are already living through a very fragile transition, surrounded by poverty, armed militia, thugs and terrorists.

We can’t afford to have those in charge of steering the country through this transition committed to their personal, short-sighted interests. We can always complete the unfinished business of 2011, but at what cost?