Water not war…or fireworks
Last night was, in my experience of the near five months since protests began here, one of the most bizarre and unbelievable yet in Yemen.
Bearing in mind Sana’a has witnessed heavy street battles with prolonged periods of sustained gunfire and shelling for at least 10 nights out of the past 14 in the northern district of Hasaba. When silent red flares flew across the night sky to the north late yesterday evening, local residents around where I live screamed for people to get inside their houses. The red flares have been used regularly in recent days by the Republican Guard to direct soldier and tank artillery fire.
What followed was what I, and many of my Yemeni neighbours, (I live in a pro-Saleh area I might add) believed for at least 30 minutes was the much feared of war breaking out between the al-Ahmars and Saleh’s son, Republican Guard commander Ahmed Ali. The sound of AK-47s along with 50 calibre machine gunfire shook the city as hundreds of men opened fire simultaneously and continuously across the capital for around 45 minutes. As the gunfire subsided and I hid in the stairwell of my house, the sound of fireworks could be heard in its place. Poking my head outside the door bemused and stunned residents, like me, watched in surprise and with much uncertainty a 2.5 hour-long firework display all around the city.
As one young man sat in the road, apparently ‘celebrating’ by burning tyres I shook my head in complete disbelief. In the same spot 10 days ago local residents had set up a road block complaining about the more than tripling price of water. Now, although other than the man and his tyres and random individuals wandering with guns, there were no people rejoicing, the skies were filled with signs of celebration and the air with the smell of spent ammunition, as Sana’a took delight in reports of Saleh’s recovery from surgery in Saudi Arabia, according to state TV.
I thought May 22’s surreal events were enough of a theatrical performance but last night left me speechless and for several moments terrified that the oft talked of civil war had begun.
This supposed spontaneous reaction to news from Riyadh seems unlikely, given that the money spent on bullets last night could have provided several hundred water trucks to the city’s desperate residents, as most of Sana’a slipped into its 24th hour without electricity.
Last night’s display seems to indicate even more strongly that Saleh will indeed be back soon.