Driving around some parts of Sana’a you would not think that this is the capital city of a regime on the brink of collapse. A protest encampment occupies the central Tahrir Square, but this is in support of the government. Pictures of the long serving President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, are plastered on lampposts and hang prominently in shops. Things appear to be… normal.
Delve deeper and, even in this apparently pro-government area, signs of something deeper emerge. There are regular checkpoints in the area and the Central Security Forces and Republican Guards are clearly visible in their pick up trucks. Listen into snippets of people’s conversations and you hear talk of marches, shootings, and the buzzword, revolution.
This is a city divided. Since the announcement that he was supporting the protesters, Ali Muhsen, the second most powerful man in the country, has moved the army to protect the protesters, and has in effect taken over large sections of Sana’a. Graffiti calling the President a murderer is clearly visible on the main thoroughfares of these areas. Soldiers are kissed and hugged by protesters, in scenes reminiscent of Tunisia and Egypt.
Outside of the two centres of the pro and anti government camps, Tahrir and Sana’a University respectively, the situation is less clear. Street vendors sell badges emblazoned with Ali Saleh’s picture, most drivers will wind up their windows. Interestingly Saleh’s picture is displayed alongside Saddam. A few cars are plastered with posters of Ali Saleh, most people pretend they haven’t seen them.
For a city with protests regularly topping 100,000 it seems strange that outside the protest area things are so calm. Government institutions and symbols of the regime are heavily guarded, but the crowds that simply overran the institutions of Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi are nowhere to be seen. It is eerily quiet.
Walking around Change Square, and the large protest camp that encircles it, the mood is jovial. Tribesmen frisk people coming in, but smiles are exchanged. In the early evening various television sets are surrounded, with everyone intently watching al-Jazeera. Tents are set up representing everything and anything. Different tents hold conferences and lectures, sometimes attended by important figures. The main stage hosts music, poetry and even breakdancing.
A festival. But is it a revolution?
Other cities in Yemen seem to be different. Pictures from Taiz show huge crowds, openly confronting security forces. Many businesses shut their doors today, answering a call for civil disobedience. This call has also been heeded in the Red Sea city of Hodeida, and Aden.
The stalemate that is prevalent in Sana’a is occasionally broken, with the apparent attempted assassination of Ali Muhsen on Tuesday being the most serious example. The President himself does not seem confident enough to come out of his palace. However, he continues to play his game. What it is, no one seems to know.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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