Yemen: soldiers and workers protest against Saudi-backed administration

Army veterans on the march in protest – picture Noor Surib

By Mirfat Sulaiman

As the war on Yemen enters its 6th year, the administration imposed by the Saudi Coalition in Aden is facing protests by army veterans and workers.  While the government of Mansour Hadi – in whose name Saudi-led forces invaded Yemen in 2015 – resides in hotels in Riyadh, Aden is governed by an administration which is failing to fulfill its basic obligations to meet the needs of local civilians according to international law. Services are collapsing, resulting in water shortages and electricity cuts. Power is off for 6 hours at a time and only on for two. The fall of the local currency compared to the dollar is a major issue. Wage value  had been falling over time, but since the end of July of this year, in Houthi- controlled areas Yemen rial is worth  600 to a dollar when in Aden and south area under Coalition control worth 790 rial. The new currency has been issued is  worth less than the previous -in some areas locals refuse to use it-  and the resulting  rise of food prices adds to the general social crisis

Around 2000 army personnel, including retired soldiers, families of servicemen who have been killed and young soldiers have camped outside the Saudi Coalition office in the Daar Saad district in Aden.

“For over three months leaders and high ranks, retired officers, alongside the families of the wounded and killed in service are at the protest camp, which is peaceful and civilised,” said Ali Mansur Maqraat, a Brigadier-General, editor of the  Army Newspaper told Middle East Solidarity.

“Our army committee led by Major-General Saleh Zunqal and others will put together a plan for escalating the programme. Last sunday we blocked all the roads to the Coalition offices and stopped all entry to the base. We walked to the Oil Port in Little Aden and blocked it for hours. We are doing this for our basic salary that many of us depend on for our families who are starving and under the poverty line.”

“All this did not shake or provoke any reaction from the Coalition leaders to try to understand and find a solution, but they met General Saleh Zunqal and his comrades and asked them to pack up their camp and leave.”

He added, “whoever dreams that the Coalition forces would give wages or 10 megawatts of electricity, build one classroom or restore Aden hospital, he is mad and deluded. We are in the 6th year of the war and we have not seen anything like this.”

General Zunqal, leader of the army committee organising the protests, told online newspaper Aden al-Ghad that the Saudi Coalition was simply fuelling the conflict. “The Coalition will give the weapons and money for internal fights and the destruction of every beautiful thing,” he said.

Retired army officers sparked the first light to the Harak movement for independence of South Yemen against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2007, seen by many in Yemen as a precursor to the Arab uprisings of 2011/12.

Teacher union activists in Aden

Teachers have also been taking action. The independent teachers’ unions in the South has been organising ongoing on-off strike action since 2017. “They promised us a deal and we ended our strike then, we returned to teaching, but they didn’t fulfill their promises, this time we are on full strike until our demands are met. We faced many difficulties but we are adamant this time. Our war is with Hadi’s government” said a teacher and union member Fayruz Ali Al-Radini told Middle East Solidarity. The teachers strike (which covers all schools in Aden) is demanding payment of a teaching-allowance that has been stopped for the last 10 years.

Meanwhile, workers in the Department of Communications in Aden, have scored a court victory, winning their right to be recognised as fully employed. “Although the case has been won, it is not clear when the court order will have an effect on the ground” said solicitor Nazar Sraro. The legal battle has been going on since 2011.

The then-dictator of Yemen , Ali Abdullah Saleh, made a central order to employ thousands of people to try to calm the growing South independence movement, as the citizens of the former Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen saw themselves treated like second class citizens. However, this did not always translate into real jobs with proper conditions due to general corruption.

Workers in Aden have a long history of struggle. Historically Aden’s airline workers and dock workers were the first spark of the uprising against the British occupation in the 60s. The current protests show the possibility for building a new movement among Aden’s workers today to challenge Hadi’s government and the Saudi coalition.

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