For almost two days, Yemen’s capital of Sanaa has returned to its normal self. Children set off fire crackers in the dusty streets, souks heave with men haggling over bags of qat leaves, the stimulant chewed like tobacco for several hours a day. The city has eagerly welcomed the respite from a tumultuous, and perhaps decisive, week of bloodshed.
But the city remains a tinderbox of sand-bagged buildings and myriad checkpoints manned by wary soldiers. Yemenis are muddling on without a political solution that would ease flaring tensions, which risk pushing the country into civil war. Of particular concern is the entry of Mohsen's troops into the fray.
Since defecting in March, Mohsen – who is rarely referred to by his last name of Ahmar to avoid confusion with a powerful family here by the same name – and his troops have largely operated behind the scenes. Eager to appear as protectors and not protesters, they confined themselves to setting up and manning sandbagged entrances to Change Square. But the events of the past week have shifted the dynamic.
Mohsen’s troops are now fully intermixed with the protesters; cruising through the camp in the back of armored vehicles, chewing qat in protester’s tents, even being treated alongside injured protesters in the nearby field hospital. Initial doubt over whether the renegade troops would aid their cause has largely been replaced by the prevailing attitude that they are the “heroes and vanguards” of the revolution.
“In an ideal world we wouldn’t need the firqa [Mohsen's troops] but now it’s different, it’s clear to us now that without them we’d be slaughtered,” a young protester leader named Adel told the Monitor on Monday. The fear remains though that their increasingly active role may help justify an even tougher crackdown by the regime on the basis they are fighting armed groups and not civilian demonstrators.