Yemen after Saleh

  • 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

Last week, Yemenis voted in an uncontested election for the successor of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The only candidate in the ballot, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the country’s former deputy president since 1994, received the backing of the overwhelming majority of the population. Many hope to put the turmoil and uncertainty of the last several years behind them. Observers and editorials in the region, however, are doubtful that Yemen’s future will be any brighter than its past. Others, however, have expressed hope that the country can move forward.

Skepticism about Saleh’s true intentions was quite high among the Yemenis themselves, even before the vote took place. Yemen Post’s editor Hakim Almasmari cautions, “President Saleh has realized that it’s game over when it comes to him, however, he will take his chances seeking to keep his family in control of Yemen, even if it means doing so indirectly, at least until they reorganize their cards. Controlling Yemen does not necessarily mean being president, but rather controlling the military and security forces, and this is what Saleh’s family currently has and will die for.”

Al Hayat’s Abdullah Iskandar also worries about what the future has in store for Yemen since “the tools of his authority are still in place….The Yemeni spring ended a regime that lasted more than three wretched decades. However, it placed all the accumulations and the heavy burdens of that regime before the new authority, which is why in the post-Ali Abdullah Saleh phase Yemen will not be able to elude the fate of a failed state without the political and financial efforts of the sponsors of the settlement that ended his rule.”

The Khaleej Times editorial provides a broader analysis of the challenges that post-Saleh Yemen is likely to face: “Socio-economic problems like poverty, unemployment, and lack of essential resources like water and food are looming large in the background, as are the security challenges. It is not only Al Qaeda that remains a potent threat….The continuing discord with the Houthi rebels and the secessionists in the South are real threats and must be dealt with through dialogue….The new government cannot be expected to wield a magic wand….But this does give a golden opportunity to the government to join hands with the people to make sincere, result oriented efforts and rebuild a nation.”

Others, such as the Lebanese Daily Star editorial board, are even more fatalistic, calling Tuesday’s vote a “path to failure…. Many Yemenis are rightly questioning whether Tuesday’s vote constitutes the democratic future they have fought for, and in many cases, died for; whether this is really the promised end to Saleh’s 33-year rule….[T]he country faces many great challenges, and coupled with Hadi’s ascendancy to power in a way many view as undemocratic, it is unclear as to what the next few years will hold….Coupled with endemic corruption, none of these signs point toward a stable, democratic or prosperous Yemen. They point toward the creation of a failed state.”

However not everyone is convinced Yemen’s history is doomed to repeat itself. For example, the Oman Tribune editorial calls the vote a ‘new era’ for the country, suggesting: “Hadi’s most crucial task is to unite the nation that has been in ferment for nearly a year ever since mass protests began against the rule of Saleh.  Then there is the disaffection in the south of the country, once independent before it united with the north in 1990….[Hadi is] a man of few words, he has the respect of most of Yemen’s political parties and this includes the opposition. That’s because of the role he played with considerable sagacity after Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia. His handling of the plan for a political settlement of the crisis and role in convincing Saleh to give up power certainly won him many admirers.”

Also, the Saudi Gazette foresees a “stable future for Yemen…. The year-long protests, the signing of the Gulf initiative and the presidential elections represent an important chapter in the modern history of Yemen….These elections come at a time full of political disputes among parties and the disruption of the country’s governmental services due to the lack of security in some parts of the country….If successful and transparent, the elections should build a new Yemen. With the secession movement in the south and the problem of the Houthis in the north, the important question is: Will the presidential elections succeed in ushering in a new, secure, modern life for Yemen and for the long-suffering Yemeni people, or will they take Yemen back to square one, especially in light of the recent return of Saleh to the country?”

Finally, UAE’s The National seems to suggest that the one-man ballot is about all Yemen is capable of dealing with at the time: “Yemenis will surely take some pleasure in Mr Saleh’s departure from office, but Mr Hadi has worked with the ousted president since 1994 and is the only candidate on the ballot tomorrow. So he is not exactly a symbol of wholehearted change….In many countries, a non-contest to ratify a deal among elites would be regarded as a travesty of democracy and a recipe for more trouble. But considering the depth and breadth of Yemen’s troubles, this process seems to be a necessary if incomplete step – perhaps the only possible step – away from the precipice of the country becoming a failed state.”

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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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