By William Tucker
Over the weekend events in Yemen have progressed in such a way that a political change may be near. Rumors of the possible departure of current President Ali Abdullah Saleh, news reports suggesting that the government has lost control of several province, to the recent explosion of an arms manufacturing facility are just a few of the more notable events. When rumors and high profile events persist in a heavily charge political environment it is difficult to separate oneself from the media mêlée that typically ensues. It is at this moment where it is prudent to step back and assess the situation as dispassionately as possible.
In this vein we can start with rumors of Saleh stepping down. At this point it appears as if his regime cannot be saved and Saleh will be doing everything possible to protect his personal interests in preparation for his departure. This is not an easy task for the parties involved in the negotiations as Saleh will want to prevent being tried by any new regime. Essentially, he will want immunity. Another issue that may be delaying his departure is the inconsistency of the opposition. Saleh has been in negotiations with different parties, all of which are typically called the opposition in the press, meaning he may get guarantees from one party while another rejects the outcome. The President won’t make a deal unless it is accepted by all opposition parties – he would be foolish to do otherwise.
Next up would be the reports that the provinces of Abyan, Shabwah, Al Jawf, and Sa’dah are no longer under government control. The most recent reports suggest that some fighting did take place, but government forces have largely withdrawn closer to the capital of Sana’a. If these reports are accurate then the entire south and north of the country have fallen to local tribes, not necessarily to the opposition forces protesting in the streets in Sana’a or Taiz. This poses a significant problem to whomever, or whatever, replaces Saleh. Either the power in Sana’a makes a political deal with the tribes in the outlying areas to reestablish the writ of the state or the new government takes the areas by force. It is possible that the country could fracture, but it is too premature to tell.
Finally we have the explosion at an arms manufacturing plant in the southern city Jaar which is near Aden. Anywhere from 75 to 125 people have been killed in the blast, depending on which source you read, and many more injured. Most reports agree that a group of armed militants seized the plant over the weekend, but the cause of the Monday’s blast is still unknown. In Yemen’s current fluid environment this disaster certainly plays to Western fears of losing any support, no matter how tenuous, in support of fighting al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula. If this was an AQAP operation, then it shows that some in the group are still capable of carrying out operations, but on the other hand it appears that this was done in the absence of any meaningful security presence. Ultimately, AQAP hasn’t gone away and this gives way to Western doubts about Yemen’s future.
All told, the government in Yemen, under Saleh, has recently lost control of parts of the country and has seen the security apparatus begin to unravel. The President cannot survive this dissolution of the state and expect to govern, let alone stay in office. While Saleh’s presidency is beyond repair the details of how he leaves and what replaces him are still being worked out. In spite of the protesters in the street, a fractured military, and a teetering president Yemen still has a long way to go in establishing a future government.