Despite ten months of marching and protesting, the youth were entirely excluded from the GCC agreement. It is thus worth investigating who and what the Youth Movement now is, and how they have developed.
In order to understand the role of the Youth Movement, we need to look at their contribution to political change, and the history of the revolution in Yemen.
In mid-January 2011, a group of Sana’a University students marched towards the Tunisian Embassy in Sana’a, celebrating the departure of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. They demanded changes in Yemen; calls for the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh or his regime had not yet begun.
Along with those in Sana’a, young people in other major cities started taking to the streets. In Aden, the youth protested on January 18, 19 and 20. Meanwhile, protests were also held in Taiz, the city that would become a focal point for the revolution and the government’s bloody crackdown.
January 20 marked the day that calls finally began to be heard in Yemen for Saleh to step down. Larger and more frequent protests could be seen on the streets calling for economic reform.
Until January 20, the protests had consisted mostly of students and youth; they were poorly organized and had no real support.
According to Tawakul Karman, journalist, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a group of students from Sana’a University asked her to help them organize a revolution like those seen in Tunisia and Egypt. She agreed and the group began gathering in Karman’s basement.
On January 29, Karman and the youth group took to the streets, unifying the demands for the fall of Saleh’s regime. Karman is a member of the shura council of Al-Islah, the leading opposition political party. The head of the Sana’a University Student Union is also a leading member of Al-Islah, and he too played major role in promoting the protests.
February 3 saw the first call for a “Day of Rage”, with tens of thousands joining protests and marches both against, and in favor of, the government. The protests lasted for only a few hours; people soon returned to their daily lives. At the time, fewer than ten youths were camped in front of Sana’a University, which has since become known as Change Square.
The next day they were arrested by security forces. Hashim Al-Abarah, one of those detained, told the Yemen Times that they were treated well, more as guests than detainees, and that they were asked to list their personal grievances to be transferred to the president. They demanded a Yemen for all Yemenis, not just for the privileged elite.
Then, on February 12, following the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, youth groups started to camp in front of Sana’a University in earnest. The demanded serious political change rather than basic economic reforms.
It was then that protesters began to face attacks from government thugs. An officer from the Interior Ministry told the Yemen Times on November 20 that “President Saleh militarized thugs and paid them to attack protesters… rather than sending his forces and be directly accused of violence.”
As the protests gathered pace and more people began camping in Change Square, the youth began to become more organized, identifying themselves as movements or coalitions. In the third week of February, hundreds of protesters joined the youth in Change Square after encouragement from opposition political parties.
By February 18, the Civil Coalition of Youth Revolution (CCYR), a new entity to coordinate between various independent groups in the square had been founded. While the CCYR is the biggest body of its kind to gather independent youth, it is not comprehensive. More such groups have been founded since February, as the youth become more organized. They remained less powerful than the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) that controlled the Square by supplying food, medical equipment and other necessities to the protesters.
Following the Friday of Dignity massacre of March 18 in which 52 were killed, news of General Ali Mohsen’s defection was not welcomed warmly by youth activists. They feared that he had joined simply in order to hijack the revolution and to avoid punishment after it had finished.
In April, the conflict in Change Square between the youth and the political parties became clear, especially after members of the Al-Islah party hit female activists and detained seven students. Following these events, the youth stood against the possibility of a power transfer and condemned the JMP position.
The next big conflict between the youth and the JMP was in June, after the departure of President Saleh to Saudi Arabia for treatment. The youth called for a protest by the National Council against acting president Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, and were attacked by General Mohsen’s forces, their own supposed protectors.
The situation remained the same between the youth, the JMP and General Mohsen until November 23 when a political agreement was signed to protect Saleh from prosecution and bring the JMP to power.
The Youth movement, by this time, had learned from their mistakes. They began to organize themselves into political groups. “We needed to start our own political party, nothing would change unless we play the political game for our favor,” said Ismail Mohammed, a protester and member of a new party.
After signing the agreement for the transition of power, youth activists said they would take advantage of the situation whilst the political opposition became part of the regime.
“The JMP and Ali Mohsen where the reason we could not get any further with our revolution, therefore by becoming part of the regime our message to topple the regime is stronger as long as it includes them” said Moteab al-Baydhani a leader of independent youth in the square.
Whilst some of the youth started their own political parties, others demonstrated their independence from the JMP by launching a historical march from Taiz to Sana’a to show the world that their revolution will not be hijacked.