Unprecedented Popular Celebrations Marking the Sept. 26 Revolution

Yemenis challenge Houthis, and commemorate the anniversary of the September 26 Revolution in their-controlled areas
Jamal Hassen
October 11, 2023

Unprecedented Popular Celebrations Marking the Sept. 26 Revolution

Yemenis challenge Houthis, and commemorate the anniversary of the September 26 Revolution in their-controlled areas
Jamal Hassen
October 11, 2023

It was probably the first time that we saw a popular celebration of the September 26 Revolution, which is not of an official nature. On the night of September 25, pictures circulated of soldiers in central Sanaa removing Yemeni flags from cars and confiscating them. Conversely, the cities of Sana’a, Ibb, and some rural areas turned into a spontaneous popular festival, with car processions in which young men and women carried Yemeni flags and chants for Yemen repeated in everyone’s ears, accompanied by patriotic songs.

The scene was taking the opposite path to the Houthi movement's orientations. Since the group's control of Sana'a in 2014, the features of the official celebrations of national holidays, which shaped Yemeni identity, have disappeared, not only on September 26, but also on October 14, the anniversary of the start of the revolution in 1963 against the British occupation in southern Yemen, and on November 30, when the last British soldier left Aden to declare independence.

These stations constituted moments of accumulation, inseparable from each other, culminating in the unification of Yemen on May 22, 1990. All of them have disappeared from the official public space in parallel with the war raging in Yemen since March 2015, with the exception of the areas controlled by the internationally recognized government, which have eroded in areas controlled by the Transitional Council, which calls for secession.

Actually, the Republic, symbolized by three colors—red, white, and black—was dragging with it the faults and sins of previous conflicts, which resulted in a lame content of power without losing sight of the complexities of Yemeni reality. This thorny reality imposed itself on the design of a form of authority that based on a fragile centralization, which continued to suffer with the expansion of its military, security, and government institutions.

All of this was based on administrative dysfunction, rampant corruption, and an overlapping organization governed by the influence of military, political, and tribal forces. Consequently, politics was mixed with ingrained roots in the formation of Yemeni societies and then constituted a conflict with any orientation towards state-building. In a quick reading of the reality of the state, the structures of the state institution, regardless of the nature of political governance and the manifestations of sharing its influence, become practical gains on which to build.

However, Yemen's problem as a national imagination formulates itself on divisions that are more closely linked to reality, and this, by its nature, was produced by the contents of complex conflicts during the past period. Also, what was declared a federal form during the previous period, which I saw as a solution, was like a dreamy context, contrary to reality, in the sense that it needs political accumulation, reinforced by the structure of power and its institutions. So, due to the weakness of the political concept and the ambition of the elites, regional divisions have formed.

Thus, this ambition regained itself in conditions that helped to create new forces that reproduced themselves according to the contents of traditional control but gave way to direct regional intervention led by Saudi Arabia.

All of this has re-sorted the ambitions of forces trying to inherit the old system, and others working to restore their influence, which the popular protests have dispossessed them of, but it is a sorting that borrows its presence from traditional formations that imposed themselves on reality, according to the space of regional hegemony.

Most likely, this is what the leader of the Transitional Council, calling for secession, Aidaroos Al-Zubaidi, clearly and unequivocally expressed to the American Associated Press: that they will restore the southern state through negotiations with the Houthis, adding that it will be a long negotiation.

Therefore, Al-Zubaidi realizes that there is still a long path through which the southern state, whose flag he raises, can be restored. This does not mean that he rules out direct military conflict; rather, he sets out a clear belief: that the political arena in Yemen will be emptied for him and the Houthis, according to which Yemen will return to what it was before 1990.

This is what the proponents of this discourse imagine, at least in terms of signs that restore the shape of borders to pre-unity. While it will return politically and imaginatively much further, that is, before the September 26 revolution—as it is a turning point in modern Yemeni history—and re-characterizing the place geopolitically by limiting Yemen to what it was during the reign of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom, and returning to the colonial term “South Arabia,” which the October 14 revolution revolted against, and annexed it to the English colonizers outside the lands of southern Yemen.

Here it returns with different tools and within regional intervention, however it takes us back to the September Revolution, which stimulated the start of the revolution in the south. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia intervened at that time to help the royalists, with Western support led by Britain and France, as a symbol of traditional colonialism and what this gives them to redraw their geopolitical bases in the region.

So, the anniversary of September comes today, at an intersection with circumstances and changes sweeping the Yemeni political reality, and perhaps the popular outing of Yemenis to celebrate September Revolution Day, and in the Yemeni capital in particular, was a result of an (unconscious) feeling of the dangers of what the national moment is going through.

However, more clearly, it was a form of soft uprising in which Sanaa, as well as Ibb, said their word in the face of the Houthi group. The scene was a documented sign of the civil accumulation that Yemen has witnessed for decades, which remained besieged by a traditional discourse in which the interests of religious, tribal, and political forces intersected.

“What measures will the Houthi group take in the coming period, specifically towards the civil space, which events have confirmed is still pulsing, defying with its soft resistance, and at the center of its control?”

The scene cannot be viewed as a state of separation between civilization and tribalism or countryside, because this would be tantamount to denying a reality that reflects the transcendence and abolition of a segment of society characterized by presence and effectiveness at the level of reality and was a deep part of the national conscience.

But, the scene was embodied by Sana'a and Ibb as two cities in which they evoked the symbolic components of Yemeni society without exception, that is, as a permanent meeting point between Yemeni formations. Rather, this even constituted an unconscious voice about the dangers to which the national identity is exposed. In accordance with their customs, they re-deepen the national tone according to which the consciousness of Yemenis, with their different elites and social entities, should take.

This is not a draft solution, but an emotional state necessitated by the accumulated events of a deep crisis experienced by Yemeni reality.

Of course, it will constitute a warning bell that will not go unnoticed by a group working to impose its political grip on reality. Most likely, this soft power will seem to it to be a source of deep concern.

This raises the question of the nature of the measures that the Houthi group will take in the coming period, specifically towards civilian space, whose events have confirmed that it is still pulsating, defying through its soft resistance, and at the center of its control. This is whether the group will take more repressive measures to clamp it down.

On the other hand, it is true that the Yemenis' rush to celebrate was stimulated by arbitrary scenes when soldiers removed Yemeni flags from cars and confiscated them the night before September 26. In a way, it confirmed that the group sees in the manifestations of the celebrations of the anniversary of the Yemeni revolution as a form of opposition to it. Likewise, the group’s prevailing belief is that there are parties that instigated this interaction in secret and in a period that promises radical changes, or what it called a correction process in the government, which was announced on the night of their celebration of the Prophet’s birthday, which coincided with the day of September 27, by dismissing Ben Habtoor’s government and assigning it to manage regular affairs.

Did the popular celebrations play a role in postponing a decision according to which the rest of their allies in the Congress Party would be eradicated?

According to the reactions of Houthi activists, including the stigma of women's honor and a description of the pictures of girls who appeared carrying flags from cars roaming the streets of Sana'a—without forgetting the several decisions in which the group imposed a form of ban on mixing in a number of colleges at Sana'a University—the scene carries a positive warning for any ruling authority: reconsider your policies. This can be summed up as the fact that the more forms of repression and restrictions there are, the more tension and boiling in secret will be met with them. Consequently, there are two options: either the group adopts a more flexible policy that stimulates economic and social activity in a way that creates relief, or it continues with practices of repression and restrictions.

Most likely, the second option will be the one that will be witnessed, although it will take gradual, perhaps more accelerated measures. However, this will entail many risks because Yemenis want to regain their homeland from the abyss, even if it takes the form of an imagined identity that is at risk but is characterized by warning and alarm. Rather, the result was that for the first time in world history, a group that considers itself a ruling authority arrested hundreds of young people because they raised the flag of their country, Yemen, cheered for it, and celebrated its revolution.

What do we call that?

Jamal Hassen

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