By William Tucker
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused, for the third time now, to sign an agreement to transfer power and leave office this past Sunday. Instead, he ordered forces still loyal to him to attack the residence of Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the leader of the Hashid tribe. In response, members of the Hashid fought off the government assault and have seized several government buildings. The fighting overnight has led to nearly 50 deaths and scores more wounded. Saleh has recently remarked that he would not allow the country to slip into a civil war, though his actions indicate otherwise, nor would he allow the country to be taken over by al-Qaeda. The latter is a strange comment since he is known to actively work with the terror group when it benefits him. The protesters in the capital and beyond simply want Saleh to go knowing full well that he has played these games before.
Unfortunately, the opposition movement has not organized effectively. They have managed to work with the GCC on a transition process, but they haven’t offered a viable alternative to Saleh’s government. It is possible that they are playing this close to the vest so Saleh doesn’t target these leaders for assassination. That being said, the real power still lies with the tribes who are better organized and better armed. Some tribes do belong to the larger opposition movement, but they will put tribal interests first when facing any hostile action from Saleh.
Power in Yemen is diverse and typically managed through agreements between the ruling party in the capital and the numerous tribes. This system under Saleh has unraveled. It may be too early to call this a civil war, but it is difficult to see how this could play out otherwise. Although the U.S. has made several statements, including the recent policy speech from President Obama, the reality is that Washington has few interests in Yemen and would be unlikely to participate in any military operation to settle the conflict. Instead, Washington would much prefer that Saudi Arabia take the lead on Yemen. Riyadh’s interests in Yemen are far more profound and the U.S. does not want to see any conflict spill over into Saudi Arabia. In the meantime negotiations will continue even though Saleh has repeatedly shown he is not interested in participating leaving the use of force as more likely avenue to end his reign.
Photo: Associated Press