Some media outlets have reported the recent clashes between government forces and armed tribesmen as clashes between anti-government protesters & government forces. This is simply incorrect. I understand that Yemen can be quite complicated and confusing, so below is a very basic frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide about the difference between the peaceful revolution and the armed tribal clashes.
When did peaceful protesters begin?
Different protests began from mid January, when youth inspired by the fall of Ben Ali's regime, took to the streets. The protests were not daily until the night of Mubarak's resignation on February 11th when youth decided to hold sit-ins and camp out until the end of the regime. These protests spread nationwide, and day by day, more people joined, until it transformed into tent-cities. Since then protesters are still camped out there. When there is a march people leave to march but then return to the sit-in site. They have not left even after clashes began.
Did peaceful protesters take up arms against government?
For the past three months, peaceful protesters have NEVER taken up arms, even when attacked.
What is the difference between the attacks against peaceful protesters by government forces & the armed clashes between tribes and government forces?
The peaceful movement and the recent armed conflict are two separate issues. The armed clashes are between government forces & armed tribesmen loyal to Alahmar.
Peaceful protesters did not take up arms since the beginning. Government security forces and thugs repeatedly attacked peaceful protesters using live ammunition and snipers, expired tear gas, batons and rocks, which resulted in at least 250 deaths and thousands of injuries. The UN said reports indicated that in the latest attacks against peaceful protesters in Taiz had been killed by "Yemeni army, Republican Guards and other government-affiliated elements who forcibly destroyed the protest camp in Horriya Square using water cannons, bulldozers and live ammunition." Hundreds have also been arrested over the weekend, while dozens of others remain unaccounted for. Despite all these attacks, protesters are still vowing to remain peaceful.
The other clashes are between armed tribesmen and the government. How exactly it started and who began shooting is unclear, both sides accuse the other of firing the first shot. What we know is that the area around Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar's house, head of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation and an uneasy ally who abandoned the president and joined his opponents. , has been in control of the sheikh and his guards for a while. They were informed that the girl's school in that area was being stockpiled with weapons by government forces. Tribesmen claimed that Saleh was using that building and others to attack Sadeq Alahmar's home. Who then started the shooting is unknown. On May 23, 2011 Saleh's forces attacked Sadeq's home. Alahmar's house when most of Alahmar brothers were gathered there. Tribal fighters came to al-Ahmar's defense and seized a number of government buildings in the Hassaba neighborhood of the capital, Sanaa, during intense clashes. Since then, clashes have continued off and on. Heavy artillery, mortars, machine guns and even air strikes (in Nihm) have been used. Clashes have extended to Nihm and Arhab.
Why did the armed clashes between tribesmen and government begin?
While promoting the revolution is certainly part of the reason that Saleh is angry against Alahmars, it certainly is not the only reason. There is a deep personal problem between both sides. Many people believe this is a personal fight between Alahmar and President Saleh, a fight of «egos».
Are all the tribes with al-Ahmar?While Sadeq Al Ahmar is the leader of the Hashid Tribal confederation, he does not have total control over decision, as the confederation is not monolithic. In fact, it is still divided between pro-Saleh & anti-Saleh sentiments. In addition, President Saleh still has some tribal loyalty especially in areas neighboring Sana'a.
Are civilians affected? How?Many civilians have died in the clashes, and homes have been destroyed. Residents report seeing artillery, mortars and tanks. The situation is intensified, as citizens in the area have had no electricity or water for the past four days. Families feel worried, scared, and fear for the future. Many feel trapped in their house as the shelling continues. In addition to the physical harm on citizens, there is of course the psychological trauma that children face during conflict. The truce has failed as clashes have restarted again. Locals in Sana’a have fled the fierce clashes to their ancestral villages fearing for their lives after more than 115 people were killed in previous clashes in the capital.
According to the Yemen Times «Business has been paralyzed completely in most streets of Sana’a amidst continuous power cuts and water shortages. Most commercial shops appeared closed on Tuesday in several streets of the city.
How are people reacting to the conflict?
The majority of people is naturally upset about what is happening and fears for the future. However, the reactions seem quite divided: Some are making them heroes, others are denouncing their actions.
- Many people feel that Alahmars had no other choice but to defend themselves, given that their house was hit by a missile. Some people have sympathized to the point of joining the clashes with Alahmars. Others have sympathized from a distance.
- Some people believe this is a personal fight between al-Ahmar and the current government. They see it as a fall-out between two friends who were very close or as karma as they view Alahmar family to be as corrupt as the President. While they do not necessarily support Alahmar side, they worry for the civilians who are caught in the middle. They think people should stay out of this tribal personal fight because « they are getting what they deserved »
- The group in between the first and second group believes that we should condemn the attacks even if Alahmars do not have a very clean history. This is against human rights.
- Yet others are quite upset that al-Ahmars got engaged in the violence. They see it as a trap and feel that they should have refrained from responding. Even if their house was hit, they say they should have contacted media immediately to highlight the issue and remained peaceful.
- Some believe that for Saleh this conflict is a good way to divert attention from the peaceful revolution and focus on the clashes.
- Some believe that while President Saleh managed to divide Hashid, the attack against al-Ahmar's house gained them support and revised the sense of kinship amongst the Hashid confederation.
Is there a civil war in Yemen right now?
No, it has not yet escalated into a civil war. It is still ONLY between tribal members & the government. The military has not joined the conflict, despite the strong attempts of the government to drag it into conflict. Peaceful protesters and citizens as a whole have also not joined. It seems that Saleh is really pushing the military and the youth to join by constant attacks against them. When and if that happens, war will start. How long it will last and what the consequences will be will depend on many local and international factors.
Disclaimer: this is a very simplistic introductory summary to the issue. This by no means is sufficient to understand the current events.