Developing

Yemenis Tell Syrians To Carry On The Fight

My car pulled up beneath a motorway flyover. Groups of men slowly filed past ranks of armed policemen and armoured trucks with officers manning heavy-calibre machine guns.

They paused only to pass through a line of civilians who patted them down quickly.

I could hear the crackly screech of a public address system in the distance and took my place in line. Patted down, I was waved through by smiling stewards and walked on towards the noise.

It is Friday in Sana'a, Yemen's capital. Before me at the end of the motorway slip road over 100,000 people prayed together over six lanes stretching back a mile. I have never seen anything like it.

I had been told that in common with much of the Arab world caught up in a year of the Arab Spring , Sana'a's people never miss an opportunity to remind themselves and their government that the revolution is not complete and that they will not let it slip through their hands.

They gather on the motorway because nowhere else is big enough - but these gatherings are no longer just about Yemen.

They see themselves as custodians of the Arab Spring and for the next hour or so I listened to speakers and the crowds rail against Yemen's previous dictator but more importantly against the leadership of Bashar al Assad in Syria.

"Bashar is finished like Saleh (Yemen's deposed president). Yemen and Syria, we are one," a man in the crowd shouted to me.

After 33 years in power and months of violence and bloodshed Ali Abdullah Saleh was eventually persuaded to stand down and hand over to his deputy, in a plan formulated by the Gulf Co-operation Council , a grouping made up of the Gulf States.

In return for relinquishing power, Saleh was given immunity from prosecution.

A number of countries believe this type of deal could provide a way to stop the violence in Syria. So far al Assad has dismissed the notion out of hand.

In Yemen some of those who played an instrumental role in bringing down Saleh believe it would be the best solution.

Muhammad Abu Luhoom, a politician and tribal leader who has been at the heart of politics in Yemen for years, believes it is the only answer.

"I think what we have achieved here is the best and most significant development in the Arab world for 100 or 150 years, and I am serious," he told me in his heavily-guarded compound in central Sana'a.

"I feel for Syria and the international community has to show it is serious about this. The president should go and the people will then be free as they are here. There is no fast track revolution; it takes time but this is the best solution," he said.

The trouble is that Yemen is not the most obvious example of an overwhelming success.

There are uprisings in the north and south, an on-going war against al Qaeda, a drought, a famine and an economy almost completely stagnant or in decline; Yemen barely qualifies as a united country.

That is something keenly felt by those people who risked bombs and bullets to stand against the regime. Their camp in Change Square, where it all started, is now a virtual town.

Volunteers serve 30,000 free meals a day; over 90,000 people regularly stay. They do so because they do not yet believe that their revolution has achieved its main goals.

"We want many things. A united army, democracy and the will of the youth to be followed," one of the camp regulars told me inside the myriad of tents that make up this 'Town'.

There is no fast-track revolution and many accept that. But the message they send to Syria is simple - stick with it, the pain is worth it.