Thursday, February 3, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power since 1990. Pressed by a week of protest, the head of state had yet given up on Wednesday seeking a third term, while making some concessions to the opposition. The developments inevitably recalls the popular revolts of Tunisia and Egypt. Yet the people of this country in the Arabian Peninsula is special to raise.
* The economic and social heart of the turmoil
Yemen, which has 24 million inhabitants, has long been struck by poverty and unemployment. "The economic variable is central to the current tensions," says Francois Burgat well, CNRS researcher and former director of the French Center for Archaeology and Social Sciences in Sanaa (CEFAS).
According to the development agenda of the UN in Yemen, over 45% of the population currently lives below the poverty line set at two dollars a day. Gross national income (in purchasing power parity) amounted in 2009 to 2,330 dollars per year per person, an amount comparable to that of Cameroon.
This poverty is mainly due to rampant unemployment. According to the latest estimate made in 2003, 35% of the population is unemployed. These conditions are particularly resented by the Yemenis as the image of his wealthy neighbors on the peninsula, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the country has significant energy resources.
Yemen, which is not an OPEC member, produces the 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Revenues related to this industry represent 25% of GDP and providing 70% of state finances. The country also has significant gas resources to the tune of 259 billion m3.
In power for thirty-two years, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who reunited the country in 1990, has tightened its policy from the civil war that pitted southerners and northerners in 1994.
In power for thirty-two years, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who reunited the country in 1990, has tightened its policy from the civil war that pitted southerners and northerners in 1994.REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
* A hard power since 1994
Critics of the street also focus on President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The citizens of the only republic in the region have witnessed for over fifteen years a considerable hardening of the regime. Upon unification of the country in 1990 under the auspices of the current president, the power was "at the forefront of political openness in the Arab world," said Francois Burgat. "The democratic space was then widely opened," adds Frank Mermier, researcher and expert on the arcana of politics in Yemen.
The present uprising will take place only through a culture of debate in this country since the time when the multiparty system and real freedom of the press were advocated by the government. But a civil war between southerners and northerners in 1994 marked a turning point in the practice of President Saleh.
The Republic of Yemen, so dark in grave abuses of democracy. The president banned certain newspapers, jailed journalists, while repeatedly pushing the legislative elections. Ali Abdullah Saleh also places his family and his tribe of origin for key government posts.
The ruling party, General People's Congress (GPC), also takes on huge proportions. Thus, during the 1999 presidential election, Saleh does not face only one opponent, yet as an independent member of his own party. Seven years later he was reelected with 82% of the vote.
In this context, plus internal disturbances (Shiite rebellion in the north, south separatist movement, the growing influence of al-Qaida in the country), the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts have acted as a detonator. Since mid-January, four people have tried to set themselves on fire, like Mohamed Bouazizi, whose gesture sparked the revolution of Tunisia in January.
* What are the consequences of a reversal?
The early departure of President Saleh would lead to a period of uncertainty inappropriate for western countries and especially the United States. Yemen, despite its support for Iraq during Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, is on good terms with Washington. Strengthening the political clout of the opposition, including the Islamist party Al-Islah, would a priori not seen favorably by the United States.
In practice, the possible arrival to the business of Al-Islah would not cause disruption that might be feared. "A moderate Islamist party fringe has even participated in the exercise of power until the 2000s, alongside the president, without the Yemen's relations with Washington are impacted," said Franck Mermier.