Yemen rejects Saleh offer with biggest protests yet
Nearly 100,000 called today for President Saleh to step down, despite his proposal yesterday for sweeping reforms. But Yemen's growing protest movement lacks a coherent plan, raising concern that other groups could seize control of the country.
Just one day after Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh proposed sweeping reforms that would change the country’s constitution and transform the government into a parliamentary system by 2012, nearly 100,000 people gathered on the streets outside Sanaa University calling for his immediate resignation.Skip to next paragraph
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“Six months ago we might have accepted a plan like this. But this is a way for [Mr. Saleh] to stay in power,” said Yousef al-Ward, an opposition demonstrator from the nearby village of Beni Hushaish. “We want a new government – without him in it.”
Friday’s demonstration, the largest to date in Yemen’s capital, was marked by a fearless defiance after protests turned violent earlier this week. On Tuesday, security forces opened fire on protesters, injuring dozens and killing one. Rubber bullets, live rounds, and tear gas were fired at demonstrators, who were attempting to push back security lines and expand the area where thousands have been camping out for weeks.
The rapid growth of the opposition in recent weeks has increased the pressure on Saleh to either yield to or confront the uprising. However, the surge in numbers has also brought tension to the opposition itself.
Despite the fact that the students, Islamists, tribesmen, and political leaders that make up the opposition are united in calling for the fall of the regime, their perspectives diverge sharply when it comes to how that should be done and what should come next. Without a coherent plan, the opposition may be creating opportunities for other groups to seize control of the country.
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Fault lines on women's rights, role of Islam
As the demonstrations continue into their second month, fault lines among the opposition are becoming increasingly apparent – especially on fundamental issues such as the type of freedom desired and the prominence of Islam in a future system.
Most Yemenis protesting at the university simply label their desired changes as democratic reforms, although the exact meaning of those reforms remains a subject of debate.
“The idea of democracy is not clear to people here,” says Adel al-Surabi, a spokesman for Sanaa’s youth movement, which began the protests in January. The movement, which has been adamant in demanding Mr. Saleh’s immediate departure from office, has yet to express a vision beyond the collapse of the government.
“I don't think a real democracy is possible, but we want something better than what we have now,” says Mr. Surabi. Most Yemenis, he says, are unprepared to break from traditional elements the country’s societal structure.
“They say they want to be free like some countries in the West, but then if you asked them if they want their sister or their wife to have that same kind of freedom, they would say no. They want a free country, but not for women.”