How the youth movement was pacified by a transitional process

Published on 8 January 2015 in Opinion
Ahlam Mohsen (author)

Ahlam Mohsen


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The Houthis and Al-Qaeda dominate many headlines concerning Yemen—including the headlines of the Yemen Times. What is noticeably absent in Yemen coverage is news regarding independent youth—the movement behind the country’s 2011 uprising.

Four years after its Arab Spring, the country is faring worse than it did before the protests. Unemployment, one of the driving factors of the protests, hovers around 60 percent, and many youth who enthusiastically came out to push for change are tired and disillusioned.

There are different explanations behind their current silence. Many say it is a result of marginalization, and that the youth movement has taken a back-seat to the dramas taking place between the Houthis, Islah, Al-Qaeda and the Ali Abdullah Saleh camp. Others think their strategy has been one of ‘wait-and-see’.

After the takeover of the capital by Houthis, many youth feared that coming out against the group might leave them vulnerable to becoming pawns in a tug-of-war between the Houthis and Islah.

Since their takeover, the Houthis have promised to clear the country of corruption and to open up the political space for other actors to push for change. Their actions have hardly matched their rhetoric, but a resetting of the country’s power dynamics—something the National Dialogue and transitional process did not accomplish—was a promise worth hoping for.  

The coalition government established by the GCC initiative gave half the government seats to the former ruling party and the other half to the Joint Meetings Party, a coalition of opposition groups. The youth cleared out of Change Square and agreed to peace talks, and pacification ensued.

If the youth movement wants to compete for a shot in shaping the country, they need to reorganize—and quickly. The movement needs to set out its priorities and its next few steps, and it needs to take a series of actions.

If there’s one lesson the movement should have learned by now, it’s that their power is a result of a mass social movement. They’re not powerful political actors, they don’t get funds from regional countries engaged in a proxy war and they’re not any sort of existential threat that needs to be reckoned with.

They can’t afford to just sit at a table and wait to see what they are offered. The movement can participate in the transitional process while still mobilizing its members in protests and actions. Otherwise, they risk being pacified by endless meetings and a shallow inclusion.