When Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh appeared on TV for the first time yesterday after surviving an assassination attempt, his startling appearance--singed face, stiff body, bandaged hands--was only part of the story. A no less important part was that he gave no indication of when he would return from surgery in Saudi Arabia or if he would transfer power, reinforcing the political deadlock that has gripped Yemen since his departure. After nearly six months of protests against Saleh's three-decade rule and at least 200 reported deaths, the president is still clinging to power, even as the country contends militants and separatist stirrings in the south and a mounting humanitarian crisis. There are signs that this reality is taking a heavy toll on the protest movement.
The New York Times reports today that the young Yemeni activists who launched the country's uprising from Sanaa University "are increasingly dispirited, depressed and divided." The paper's description of the protest scene near the university is particularly vivid:
At one time, the tent was spilling over with young people, clicking away at their laptops, posting videos to the Internet, filing updates to Facebook. These days, the tent is mostly empty, with no more than five or so at a time trying to keep their movement alive ...
No one seems to be able to take tangible steps in any direction. They spend more time sitting in tents bickering-- and at times outside tents physically fighting--about the differences between them, particularly between independents and those who belong to the Islamist political party.
There are other signs that the Yemeni uprising is losing steam. News from the country has slowed to a trickle, with Al Jazeera's Yemen Live Blog uncharacteristically silent for the past nine hours. Saleh's supporters also appear to be gaining strength. Al Jazeera points out that Saleh's "family and inner circle continue to hold vital security and energy portfolios" and Saleh himself "is said to retain significant support among some powerful tribal leaders." After the president appeared on TV yesterday, his supporters set off fireworks and firing weapons, killing 11 people in the process, according to the AP. Al Arabiya has footage of the celebrations:
Reuters also captured some of the giant Saleh pictures his supporters brandished during rallies in Sanaa today:
All this isn't to say that the protest movement is finished. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters still filled public squares from Taiz (see above) to Sanaa today, and Al Jazeera adds that the opposition has benefited recently from "high-level defections from military leaders and prominent clerics and politicians." Indeed, if these videos from an opposition Facebook page of protests today in Sanaa and are any indication, people are still coming out in droves, though perhaps not at previous levels.