The massacre in Taiz received little attention in the West, blending in with the larger chaos and violence enveloping the Arab world. In Syria, tanks were rolling through the streets of several cities, as months of protest evolved into a bloody national insurrection. In Libya, the civil war was festering into a grim status quo, with NATO airstrikes unable to dislodge Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from his Tripoli stronghold. Even Egypt and Tunisia seemed endangered, with fresh violence breaking out and their economies in tatters.
Yet the events in Taiz took on a tragic dimension that went beyond the numbers of dead and wounded. Taiz is Yemen’s least tribal city, home to the highest number of educated people, professionals and traders. The city was “the heart of the revolution,” in one popular refrain, and its protesters were less politicized and more rigorously nonviolent than elsewhere in Yemen. The attack on May 29, with its deliberate cruelty and excess, confirmed what many Yemenis feared: that Saleh sees the democratic uprising as a greater threat to his power than Al Qaeda. The burning of the Taiz square, after all, coincided with the collapse of all government authority in large areas of south Yemen, where heavily armed jihadist groups have captured two towns and several villages. In the northwestern province of Saada, too, a militia movement now reigns supreme; they recently elected Yemen’s biggest arms dealer as their new governor. All this has implications that go well beyond Yemen’s remote mountains and deserts ”” the chaos in the north, for instance, threatens to set off a proxy conflict between the region’s two great nemeses, Saudi Arabia and Iran ”” and the Yemeni military has done little to oppose any of it.
Even after Saleh was flown to a hospital in Saudi Arabia in early June, wounded in a bomb blast at his palace mosque, his government ”” or what is left of it ”” seemed determined to crush the unarmed protesters while leaving the rest of the country open to some of the world’s most dangerous men….