Independent activist leaders say they were manipulated by the opposition parties, which agreed to a deal with the government last year and are now sharing power with Saleh’s ruling party. Although Saleh has formally stepped down, he appears determined to remain influential through his powerful relatives and allies.
The activists say that they won’t leave Change Square until the remnants of Saleh’s regime are gone and that they will press the new unity government to enact far-reaching reform. But a sense of frustration fills their discussions.
“This revolution has been stabbed in the back,” said Khaled al-Anesi, a lawyer and one of the core leaders of the revolt.
Across the Middle East and North Africa, young activists are struggling to find a role in post-dictatorship societies as they continue pushing for their vision of a better future. They face well-organized opposition movements or armed militias that now wield much greater influence.
In Yemen, many of the young protesters say they have been left out, their voices silenced. Instead, an older generation of opposition leaders, their credibility tainted by previous ties to Saleh’s government, will have the greatest say in shaping a new Yemen.
The revolution could gain momentum again, especially if the new government fails to meet its promises or if Saleh meddles in the country’s affairs. But for now, youth leaders acknowledge that the current environment is partly their own doing. They have not been able to unify, allowing political parties to influence the direction of the uprising.
“They pulled the revolution in different directions,” said Maizar al-Junaid, 32, a Sanaa University graduate seated inside a large tent in Change Square near posters of Che Guevara. “Every side is trying to attract the youth to achieve its own goals, and this has led to divisions and fear for the future.”
From unity to division
A year ago, Change Square was buzzing with unity. Protests that began with a small group of youth activists, including one of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners, Tawakkol Karman, blossomed into a revolution. Political parties sent their supporters to the square, multiplying the size of the demonstrations and the pressure on Saleh.
By last summer, the square was a remarkable sight as rival tribesmen and political foes pitched their tents side by side. They had one goal: Saleh’s removal.
Despite their different political affiliations, most of the youth activists held the same views. They were against a U.S.-backed power-transfer deal, crafted by Yemen’s Persian Gulf neighbors, that gave Saleh and his family immunity from prosecution for allegedly killing protesters. And they opposed allowing Saleh to turn over power to his hand-picked successor, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is also a former defense minister.