On this day seven years ago, Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to step down after a three-decade-long presidency while 20,000 protesters spilled onto the streets of the capital, Sana’a.
What: Yemen Revolution
When: 11 February 2011
Where: Yemen, Sana’a
The first official protest in Yemen inspired by the Arab Spring took place on 27 January 2011, when 16,000 demonstrators rejected the then President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s call for reform. As protests continued into February, people across the country joined demonstrations in central Yemen, including the Houthis from the northern governorate of Saada.
Events on 11 February marked a turning point in Yemen’s history, as the people took to the streets to demand political change. Calls to overthrow the regime were made. The protests were inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, which gave the Yemenis some hope of success.
Yemen had been plagued by unemployment, corruption, economic deterioration and a lack of proposals to change the constitution. Once they started, the protests soon turned against Saleh, calling for him to step down. The protesters urged the country to defy the authority of the government until a new political paradigm could be established. After a year-long protest in Yemen, the Gulf Cooperation Council made a deal that provided Saleh with immunity for events during his term in office. He then stepped down but was given the right to remain the leader of his political party the General People’s Congress (GPC).
Current President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi took the oath of office in February 2012. However, Saleh was planning to retake control of Yemen, this time forging a deal with the least expected allies, his former foes the Houthis.
What happened next?
Yemen slid into civil war in late 2014 when forces loyal to Saleh and Houthi militias, operating together in what was clearly an alliance of convenience, took over the capital Sana’a. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition was invited by internationally-recognised President Hadi to neutralise threats from the Houthis and support a united Yemen.
The coalition has repeatedly been accused, by human rights groups, of targeting civilians through its bombing campaigns in Yemen. The alliance has repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes and says its attacks are directed against its foes in Yemen’s armed Houthi movement and not civilians.
The United Arab Emirates, a major partner in the Saudi coalition, has also been accused of operating secret underground prisons in southern Yemen where detainees have been tortured and disappeared.
In late 2017, Saleh severed the connection with the Houthis after a turbulent relationship and reached out to the Saudi-led coalition for negotiations. Two days later, the former President was killed by the Houthis as he tried to flee Sana’a in the middle of an upturn in violence. The world watched on as there was hope that there would be an avenue for reconciliation and a political end to the conflict. However, the Houthis pushed on and conducted several raids in search of GPC members and forces loyal to Saleh.
The Houthis continue to control Sana’a, with ongoing allegations that Iran supports the group by supplying it with weapons, particularly ballistic missiles.
In addition to the horrors of a civil war, the Yemenis are facing starvation and a cholera epidemic. According to the World Health Organisation, at least one million cases of cholera have been recorded.
According to UN officials, more than 10,000 people have been killed in the war, while more than 11 per cent of the country’s population has been displaced.