The Road Ahead for Yemen

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

The situation in Yemen continues to remain deadlocked, despite months of anti-government rallies. Though opposition forces have been bolstered by the defection of large numbers of soldiers and officers, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s return has underlined the regime’s resilience. Moreover, despite the best efforts of regional actors like the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as UN envoys, few believe a breakthrough is possible in the short term.

According to the Yemeni news-site Almotamar, “President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Thursday that it is the right of the opposition to come to power but via the constitution that shows the means of transfer of power peacefully….Saleh pointed to the outlaws’ crimes, topped by attacking military camps, killing soldiers, blocking roads, cutting off electricity, blasting oil pipeline, hindering oil and gas access to citizens and impeding the students’ access to the educational establishments, stressing the scholars’ responsibility to demonstrate the Islamic Sharia’s judgments in such crimes that impact negatively on the country and citizens’ interests….The scholars, who tell the truth and criticize the outlaw acts, are accused by the opposition of telling lies, Saleh said, urging them to keep on saying the truth and fear none but Allah.”

Meanwhile, Hakim Almasmari and Elena White, writing for Yemen Post, caution against using al-Qaeda as a justification for Saleh to remain in power: “Yemen’s ruler Ali Saleh is trying to use the latest U.S. attacks on terror suspects in Yemen to prolong his stay in power….In reality, the loss of yet another al-Qaeda leader might in fact weaken Saleh’s position in the eyes of its foreign allies….Those ‘requests’ actually cost Saleh dearly as his fellow countrymen very much disapprove of Americans intrusions within Yemeni airspace as they resume their Drone campaign. Since many civilian casualties often accompanied such air strikes against alleged al-Qaeda’s targets, Yemenis started to cry out, ‘treason.’ The tactic of evacuating more than 120,000 innocent civilians from the province has resulted in the damage of more than 4000 homes and death of more than 370 civilians this year in the province.”

Similarly, Asharq Alawsat’s Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed believes that the two threats — al-Qaeda and Saleh — are not mutually exclusive. Al-Rashed argues “For the Yemeni citizens, the problem lies in President Saleh’s refusal to step down, and his intent to transfer power to his sons and relatives. As for the world powers however, the problem is al-Qaeda. In my personal opinion both are right; al-Qaeda is a problem and so is Saleh. Saleh has been walking a tight rope and accordingly Yemen remained undeveloped for more than 30 years. He only cared about remaining in power by achieving tribal and regional balances, once with Saddam Hussein, another time with Gaddafi, and now probably with al-Qaeda, when it is time for him to leave. The world will not tolerate a regime that has been rejected both domestically and internationally.”

However, the presence of al-Qaeda in Yemen is a double-edged sword. As Nadia Al-Sakkaf puts it in an article on Yemen Times: “Although there has been no talk of deploying international troops to Yemen, such an outcome is not out of the picture, especially since al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is very much thriving in the country. Recognizing this threat, the regime is desperately trying to convince the member states — especially the Permanent Five countries — to stay their guns….What this comes down to is an important test of the world powers’ commitment to supporting democracies abroad. Will they listen to Benomar’s briefings and with a shrug dismiss the hundreds of Yemenis who have been killed, opting instead to stick with Saleh as long as he takes care of al-Qaeda? Or will they learn from the lessons of democratic transitions in the past and start to show some teeth in defense of Yemen’s disaffected public? And now that Al-Awlaki is presumed dead, will the regime get away with killing its own people?”

Others warn about the long-term consequences of inactivity in the face of Saleh’s intransigence. Writing for Asharq Alawsat, Hussein Shobokshi asserts: “People have grown sick and tired of the Yemeni President’s statements; they know they are nothing but feeble attempts to buy time and extend the President’s stay Yemen, whilst at the same time he is employing all means of intimidation against his opponents, including threats and murder…. If this situation persists, the country will be ravaged by a ruthless civil war. Ali Abdullah Saleh has exhausted his time in power. The man has worn away all his pledges, and lost all his allies and backing supporters. Even his foremost traditional alliance which kept him in power all this time, namely the support from the most two pre-eminent tribes in Yemen: Hashed and Baqil, has disintegrated.”

On the other hand, Al Hayat’s chief editor George Semaan wonders whether“the impasse in Yemen [is] leading to ‘Sudanization’…. It does not seem that the balance of power in Yemen has tipped in favor of any particular side….While foreign pressures have so far failed to push the situation in Yemen towards change and while the opposition squares are consolidating the existing balance of powers on the ground, the question is: Will the youth on Change Square and the moderate powers refusing to join this or that camp, or to hear the voices calling for secession rising once again, ultimately give up? The shortest way out of the tunnel is a new path, i.e. the emergence of a third power that would lead the uprising away from the struggle between those aspiring to inherit the authority instead of changing the regime….So, will the squares produce a third party capable of changing the equation prevailing domestically and abroad?”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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