Friday, March 18, 2011
At least 35 people have been shot dead and hundreds wounded in Sana'a after soldiers and plain-clothed government loyalists opened fired on protesters trying to march through the Yemeni capital.
The death toll, which is expected to rise, is the highest seen in more than a month of violence in Yemen, with protesters demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.
The protest on Friday had started peacefully. Tens of thousands filled a mile-long stretch of road by Sana'a University for a prayer ceremony mourning the loss of seven protesters killed in similar violence last weekend.
As the prayers came to an end, however, the sight of black smoke from a burning car caught the attention of protesters, who began surging towards it.
Witnesses say the first shots were fired by security forces trying to disperse the protesters and they were joined by plain-clothed men who fired on the demonstrators with Kalashnikovs from the roofs of nearby houses.
If I may be permitted one criticism of the revolutionary movement in the Arab world, as someone comfortably esconsced in California, it is this: the participants have been naive about the implacable US opposition to their liberation. They have believed that the imperial power of the US can be neutralized through massive, non-violent mobilizations. Sadly, they are learning a hard lesson, one already understood by the Iraqis, Palestinians and the people of Afghanistan. The US, and its most stalwart allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, will utilize whatever level of violence that they consider necessary to suppress a perceived threat. In this instance, they consider the revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East as an existential one to their continued hegemonic control, and the US and Saudi Arabia have responded accordingly.
On Friday, the family of Ahmed Farhan, 30, who was killed on Tuesday by security forces in Sitra, an island south of the capital, received the body of their son, with its shotgun pellet wounds to the back and gaping hole in the skull. The family had been trying to bring him home to this activist Shiite village and bury him here, but permission was withheld.
In Bahrain, the Arab spring turned to winter in less than a week. Martial law was declared on Tuesday. It is now illegal to hold rallies. Tanks remain outside the central hospital and Saudi troops are here as back-up. Still, on Friday the Farhan family buried their son and, despite the ban on protests and gatherings, some 5,000 people helped them do it in their home village of Sitra. The village, once an island, is now linked to the mainland by landfill and causeway. It turned into a sea of raised fists and tearful wailing, piety and political indignation, the core of what has been driving the Bahraini protests since mid-February.
The Farhan family is poor, like many in this village, and like many of the 70 percent of the country that is Shiite. Ahmed Farhan, who never married, lived with his family in a ramshackle structure around a courtyard, having lost his job as a fisherman some years ago after harbor construction made fishing impossible. He was taking part in a protest demonstration when he was killed.
If Salih in Yemen and al-Khalida in Bahrain succeed in suppressing public protest, they will then proceed to impose even more severe authoritarian measures of social control, with the assistance of private contractors recommended by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. As with the current violence, the US will issue public denunciations without adopting any measures to induce Salih and al-Khalida to ameliorate their repressive measures, indeed, as noted, it will instead provide covert aid to intensify them, hidden from public view through the black box of war on terror programs. The poor populace of both of these countries are going to soon find themselves subject to the sort of technological surveillance and violence inflicted upon people in the occupied territories and Afghanistan. The need to economically exploit these people for the benefit of the elites will be the only contraint upon it.
My guess is that the people of these countries will adapt, and develop new ways to resist based upon the need to confront the US and the Saudis, as well as their kleptocratic rulers. They may initially limit themselves to non-violent practices, but they will be prepared to respond to violence with violence, and they will direct any such violence towards targets designed to inflict the greatest possible hardship upon their enemies. Indeed, we should not dismiss the possibility that the future resistance will, from the inception, embrace violence as the means for their liberation. While it is far too soon to say that the revolutionary movements of 2010 have been effectively suppressed, it is likely that, if they are, they will reemerge in a much more violent manifestation with severe global consequences.