Opinion and Editorial

The implosion in Yemen

Filed on May 31, 2011

The crisis in Yemen seems to have escalated beyond control. Even as a ceasefire was declared between the government and Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe after violent clashes left more than a hundred dead in parts of the capital Sanaa, trouble of other sorts 
started elsewhere.

Alleged Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP militants apparently seized the port city of Zinjibar, leading to the government using air strikes against militant positions. Both the opposition and residents of the area have denied that it is Al Qaeda militants, thereby raising suspicions that President Ali Abdulla Saleh may be using the terrorism card to obtain regional support to stay on in power. These armed militants apparently are local tribesmen constituting a group called Ansar al-Sharia. While the objective of this group is to create a fundamentalist emirate, it is not part of Al Qaeda or at least till now.

Other tribal militias are said to have attacked government installations elsewhere even as defections within Saleh’s elite Republican Guards started. The rapid unravelling of the situation only within the past week may be attributed to the presidential camp. Saleh’s refusal to sign the peace deal proposed by regional states of the Gulf — one which the opposition groups had agreed to — has exacerbated the crisis. Comparable to an implosion, the whole political crisis has now slid into a civil war.

The dynamics of Yemen’s tribal and militant society adds further significance, demanding an immediate end to the turmoil. Even if the militants in control of Zinjibar are not AQAP affiliates, their extremist inclination may be ground enough for them to join ranks with the terrorist umbrella entity that will likely extend support to consolidate power. Moreover, even a breakup of Yemen along the tribal and sectarian lines may not be far off unless better wisdom prevails in the ruling camp.

Another thing is that Saleh may have lost any previous advantage at selling to a wider audience his ability to keep terrorists and instability at bay. By indulging in policies that have only added to the chaos, Saleh may have inadvertently let loose all forces of instability, be it sectarian, tribal or terrorists. Whether he played his cards to unleash these deliberately, knowing the inevitable course of Yemen’s political and security dynamics only to prolong his stay in office is something only time can tell. This is why his recent actions even after the GCC proposal entailing his safe exit raises doubts over his intentions. High time Saleh steps down after putting a halt to the fighting currently raging on in Yemen.

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