What the hell is happening in Yemen?

It all began on Sunday. Lazy ears or lazy fingers slipped on the keyboards of major news outlets across the globe. Instead of protesters marching to the president’s mosque on Sunday, it became the presidential palace. Since that tiny bit of misinformation, a torrent of sensationalist hogwash about Yemen has been disgorged by the AP, AFP and Reuters. It has essentially created an alternate Yemeni universe, one where Sana’a is about to explode with revolutionary violence.

I would like to clarify things with a timeline of actual events. This information is coming from me and a few of my colleagues here. We’ve all actually seen these events with our own eyes.

Friday, Feb. 11: Spontaneous march after Mubarak’s resignation of about 1,000 people. Attacked by a few pro-government demonstrators. When it was reported that protesters were attacked with “knives” in Yemen, what’s really happening is that people are waving their Janbiyyas around. Janbiyyas are traditional daggers worn on a belt by Yemeni men. They wear them all the time. If they show up to a protest wearing a Janbiyaa, calling them “armed demonstrators” is another sensationalist swipe.

Saturday, Feb. 12: Pro-Saleh demonstrators are all settled in to their tents in Tahrir Square. I think its safe to say that if all the tents are fully packed, they could hold about 1,000 people. I’ve seen with my own eyes government trucks distributing food to these people. I’ve heard from trusted sources on the ground that they’re also paying them, as well as other pro-saleh demonstrators, and giving away free qat. I’m still fuzzy on the anti-protests on this day but I think it was just a few people at Sana’a University.

Sunday, Feb. 13: I detailed the entire march in my previous blog post. About 1,000 people marched from Sana’a University to the president’s mosque and were attacked by riot police and plainclothes police officers on their way back to the university.

Monday, Feb. 14: Out come the lawyers. What Al-Jazeera reported as a (hilariously) 3,000-strong throng (say that three times fast without thinking of a g-string) of anti-government protesters was closer to 1,000 lawyers, students, and activists. I hesitate to say 1,000, I think its much less, but I’m going to give the slightly larger figure the benefit of the doubt since I didn’t see it. The AFP went absolutely nuts, depicting Monday in Sana’a as a prehistoric warzone, complete with clubs and rocks. While there was violence on Monday, the most credible reports I’ve heard are of small spats here and there between pro and anti-camps. The real cavemen are the ones that are feeding this balderdash to the AFP.

Tuesday, Feb. 15: Al-Jazeera again reports 3,000 anti-government protesters. I think they’re mainly pulling this from the AFP (I can’t find their article from Tuesday) at this point. That is definitely untrue. About 500 pro and 500 anti-government demonstrators were at the old campus of Sana’a University. Police were keeping them apart as a few of them threw rocks at each other. They filed out around 1 PM, which is lunch/qat time. The giant police force in the central of the city AJE mentions, again, is the group of Saleh supporters that are camping out in Tahrir, enjoying the complimentary vittles.

Wednesday, Feb. 16: A few colleagues went to both old and new campuses of Sana’a University today and all of them said there were nothing but pro-government demos. Somehow, we end up with this gem form the AP. They claim that THOUSANDS of policemen blocked THOUSANDS of student protesters from Sana’a University from joining THOUSANDS of OTHER student protesters somewhere else in Sana’a. That’s rich…and impossible. This AP article firmly establishes the Yemeni alternate universe, somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. Maybe in that Yemen the Russian Club has reasonably priced drinks? No, impossible.

Keep in mind that this is only in Sana’a. I can confidently say that demonstrations in Taiz and Aden are quite large and the government is probably trying to contain them more violently. What is actually going on in Taiz is a mystery, I don’t know of any journalists at all working in that city. From the pictures I’ve seen and the things I’ve read earlier in the week, I can confidently say that if a revolution is going to take place in Yemen (its still probably won’t) its going to start in Taiz. By all (credible) accounts, the protests in Sana’a are winding down. There are plans for more protests next week. Look to those demonstrations to see if the grassroots movement is really going to take hold in Sana’a.

The Telegraph has reported that Paddy Power, the famous Irish bookie, is offering odds on the next Arab country to force their leader to step down, with Yemen installed as the early favorite with 15/8 odds. If you’re placing bets with Mr. Power, allow me to suggest that you’ll lose money betting on Yemen to be the next to fall.



4 thoughts on “What the hell is happening in Yemen?

  1. Pingback: Intifada update — War in Context

  2. Interesting post trying to relativize the situation… You’re perfectly right, many reports are exagerated for a dramatic effect !

    But by doing that, I think you also minimize some things : not a word about people beaten up with tazers (confirmed by many), some friends saw the knifes, clothes were ripped… Also nothing about the foreign journalist harassed to leave (police stole shootage, phone and others from CNN, BBC arabc reporter beaten up too, etc…)
    Yesterday, there was more than 1,000 people next the new Parliament (on setting st), and I saw some people beaten up by the police. I also many trucks full of military personal with sticks and weapons, so wouldn’t be surprise that “Thousands of police” was not that far from the reality…
    Trying to relativize is a good thing, but try to not forget some importants facts…

    Finally, just a comment about the number of people during the protests : friday night, I was on Tahrir around 11pm, there were around 200 people, not more. I stayed there 1hour to see, and then left… but around 1am there were thousands of people in the streets, and the pictures I saw show much more people than waht I saw 2h before… So sometimes, depending on where exactly you are, and what time, the number of people changes… That can explain (sometimes) why the some reports have differents numbers…

    • Thanks for the input, Benjamin. I didn’t mention much about the violence on Sunday’s protests because I detailed the entire day in a previous blog post. I was there myself and was about three feet away from being zapped with a taser. I also heard yesterday about armed police but heard from people on the ground that the violence was minimal.

  3. Thank you Jeb for posting this. I live in Sanaa and I truly believe that the media is making it sound BIG.

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