First published on Muftah.org
Hundreds of Yemenis are marching 250 kilometers from Taiz to Sana’a to
protest the immunity clause contained in the Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC) initiative. Demonstrators began their journey on Tuesday December
20 and are hoping to arrive in Yemen’s capital in time to hold protests
in front of the Parliament on Saturday.
On that day, Parliament is scheduled to vote on a law granting
immunity to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and many senior officials, in
accordance with the terms of the GCC implementing mechanism signed by
Saleh in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2011.
Dubbed the “Life March,” the demonstration is reviving the
pro-democracy movement after the disappointment that followed the
signing of the GCC implementing mechanism.
“The youth walking all the way from Taiz to Sana’a is a historic
moment that is beyond description. It shows resilience and power of the
people,” said one of the protesters.
Members of the pro-democracy movement have a number of grievances
with the GCC deal, including the movement’s exclusion from the
negotiation’s process, the lack of real comprehensive change in the
plan, especially in the military arena, and the granting of immunity to
Saleh, his aides, and many others.
Due to a lack of transparency, no public document listing those who
will be granted immunity has been released. However, off the record,
members of the Joint Meeting Party (JMP), an opposition coalition, have
admitted that some members of the opposition are included in the
The Life March has revived hope that peaceful resistance is still
possible even after ten long months of protest. In the many cities and
villages protestors have passed through, they have been welcomed with
cheers, music, food, and shelter. Along the protest route, many have
also joined the march. A number of Facebook groups have been created to
document the march, and a live stream has been setup for people to
follow the protestors’ journey.
By fostering new forms of resistance, Taiz city has become a symbol
for innovation and inspiration in Yemen. This trend has continued with
the Life March, making people feel proud and hopeful once more.
Implications & Challenges
The ruling party has accused the JMP of inciting protestors to march
from Taiz to Sana’a. In particular, the party has accused Hamid
al-Ahmar, a businessman and prominent figure in the Islah party, of funding the life march
to disrupt the GCC agreement. Some political analysts believe that
Hamid al-Ahmar and other players, who have not found a place in the GCC
deal, may have incentives to halt the plan. The ruling party has also
called for GCC mediation and threatened to derail the GCC deal if the Life March is not stopped.
Protestors at the Life March have denied the
ruling party’s allegations and have stated that neither the JMP nor any
other group has been involved in organizing the march.
While the march has certainly invigorated the revolutionary spirit,
not all pro-democracy activists support the initiative. Some feel that
it is a waste of time, and that effort should be placed on building
pressure groups to oversee the newly formed national government.
The Pro-Democracy Movement and the GCC Deal
While the majority of pro-democracy activists feel that the GCC
initiative and implementing mechanism are imperfect, not everyone agrees
on the current and future actions that the movement should take.
Currently, the movement is divided between those who disregard the GCC
deal entirely and do not feel the need to address any of its components,
and those who believe that the GCC initiative and its implementing
mechanism are imperfect, but insist that the movement should participate
in the political process and form new political parties and pressure
There is also another group, within the movement, that supports the
GCC initiative as the only viable solution. Munir Al-Mawery, an
outspoken activist abroad and member of the national council, wrote in
an op-ed piece in Al-Masdar online
“If Parliament refused to pass the immunity law, this will be a
precious gift to the deposed president and his family who will seize the
opportunity to thwart the initiative, cancel the presidential elections
and allow the return of the ousted president to his palace.”
While the GCC initiative and implementing mechanism provide one
possible exit to the deadlock, it did not involve popular participation
and, therefore, did not address any of the street’s demands. With real
grievances ignored, and no representatives to speak on their behalf,
many Yemenis feel alienated and disappointed.
The Life March demonstrates that the revolution will continue and
evolve into different forms. Political players have yet to learn that
the Yemeni people will no longer tolerate a system of exclusion. If a
real solution is to be reached, protestors and major stakeholders need
to be part of the process. Collective participation is the only way to
give the people a sense of ownership and endow the political process
with real legitimacy.