In January 2011, shortly after the popular ouster of the Tunisian government, major street protests materialized in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, to demand governmental changes. Protests spread to the traditionally restive south, with particularly aggressive protests in cities like Aden and Ta’izz. Initially, demonstrators protested against a plan to amend the constitution and over the country’s sluggish economy and high jobless rates. However, protests grew larger by late January and took on an increasingly pointed tone of criticism toward President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In March, opposition groups presented a proposal that would see Saleh leave power peacefully, but Saleh refused to accept it. A number of prominent Yemeni government officials resigned over the violence used to disperse protests. On 18 March 45 protesters were shot dead in Sana’a. Several days later, Saleh indicated that he would be willing to leave power by the end of the year or even sooner, but he later affirmed that he would not step down. By the end of March, six of Yemen’s 18 governorates were out of the government’s control, officials said.
In April, the Gulf Cooperation Council attempted to mediate an end to the crisis, drafting several proposals for a transition of power. Toward the end of the month, Saleh signaled he would accept a plan that would see him leave power one month after signing and provided for a national unity government in the lead-up to elections. By the end of the month, though, Saleh reversed course and the government announced he would not sign it, putting the GCC initiative on hold.
In early May, officials again indicated that Saleh would sign the GCC deal, and the opposition agreed to sign as well if Saleh signed it personally in his capacity as president. However, Saleh again backed away.
On 23 May, a day after Saleh refused to sign the transition agreement, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the head of the Hashid tribal federation, one of the most powerful tribes in the country, declared support for the opposition and his armed supporters came into conflict with loyalist security forces in the capital Sana’a after Saleh ordered al-Ahmar’s arrest. Heavy street fighting ensued, which included artillery and mortar shelling. The militiamen had surrounded and blocked off several government buildings in the capital and people on the ground were reporting that it looked like the situation was deteriorating into a civil war.
Presidential Palace assassination attempt
On 3 June, a bombing at the presidential palace left Saleh injured and seven other top government officials wounded. Saleh, the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the parliament chief, the governor of Sana’a and a presidential aide were wounded while they were praying at a mosque inside the palace compound. Saleh was initially said to be injured in the neck and treated on the scene; later reports indicated his wounds were far more severe – including a collapsed lung and burns over 40% of his body. Four presidential guards and Sheikh Ali Mohsen al-Matari, an imam at the mosque, were killed.
On 18 September troops loyal to president Saleh opened fire on protesters in Sanaa, killing at least 26 people and injuring hundreds. Witnesses said security forces and armed civilians opened fire on protesters who left Change Square, where they had camped since February demanding regime change, and marched towards the city centre. Earlier on that day.
Return of Ali Abdullah Saleh
On 23 September, Yemeni state-television announced that Saleh had returned to the country after three months amid increasing turmoil in a week that saw increased gun battles on the streets of Sana’a and more than 100 deaths.
On 23 November 2011, Saleh flew to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council plan for political transition, which he had previously spurned. Upon signing the document, he agreed to legally transfer the powers of the presidency to his deputy, Vice President Abdu-Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi within 30 days and formally step down by the presidential elections on 21 February 2012, in exchange of immunity from prosecution for him and his family.
On 21 January 2012, the Assembly of Representatives of Yemen approved the immunity law. It also nominated Vice President Hadi as its candidate for the upcoming presidential election.