Ten meters marked the boundary line between a few thousands of protesters and troops of the National Security Bureau (NSB). A number of NSB soldiers lined up on the side of the road leading to the NSB HQ, cradling their AK-47 rifles in their arms. A five-meter barbed wire preceded riot police who were clutching batons, with two water cannon trucks on standby behind.
The same site witnessed a crackdown yesterday when a Houthi-led protesters who had erected tents to call for the release of fellow members were forced out and fired at. Ten people were killed and over a hundred were reported to have been injured.
An owner of a small business said that security vehicles crashed into the tents and hurt some protesters. “They were also firing at them from those roofs,” said the business owner, pointing to two old houses where plainclothes soldiers shot at protesters from.
Today’s protest was safe as both protesters and NSB soldiers respected the informal boundary line. Protesters spent quarter of an hour during which they delivered a statement, reiterating their demand for the release of detainees and chanting their anti-American and Yemeni government slogans.
“National Security cowards, follow the American Army,” chanted the crowds.
The Houthi group, of the Shiite sect of Islam, has a relatively long history of animosity with the Yemeni government. The Houthis were a small group of people residing in a barren mountainous area in northern Sa’ada province when the government launched its campaign against them in 2004 over accusations that the group was an Iranian ally. The first round of war ended in that same year with the Houthi’s leader, Hussain Badr al-Deen al-Houthi, killed. Yet another six rounds of war followed, with the government this time being accused of provoking a sectarian conflict as tribal militias, who were and still are, in a state of hostility with the Houthis, joined the fighting.
Today’s protest also called for disbanding the NSB and the release of fellow members the Houthis say were detained before and during the 2011 uprising. Their statement said that arresting their members continued even after a new chief of the NSB was appointed. It held president Hadi responsible.
The 2011 popular uprising gave the Houthis an upper-hand in gaining a wave of public support as well as more territories under their control. Although the popular protests brought all powerful rivals together, including the Houthis, under a unified goal to force former president Saleh out, animosity prevailed among them after Saleh singed in late 2011 a US-backed GCC deal that guaranteed him immunity in return for him stepping down from power. Part of that deal was a power share of the government portfolios divided evenly between Saleh’s then ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an umbrella group of six parties, led by the powerful Islamist party of Islah, which formed the bulk of opposition to GPC.
The Houthis did not have a share of that government, or else was not offered any share by the JMP. The Islah party, the Houthis’ partner in the uprising, left Change Square in April 2013 as they said “the revolution goals were met”, but the Houthis remained because they believe more goals have yet to be met. Both not sharing with their partners in the government and remaining at the square, gave the Houthis more support by a wide segment of the public that is critical of the current government.
Known for its anti-American sentiment, the Houthis maintain they will remain in Change Square until “the goals that brought them into the square are met”.
“National Security lackey, its intelligence goes to the [American] Ambassador,” chants another of the protesters’ slogans upon leaving the NSB site.