Yemen’s predicament

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Al Saleh seems to be running out of options. Despite offering to not contest elections and other socio-economic incentives, he has not been able to control the growing opposition that now include some of his key officials and generals, and erstwhile tribal allies. Maybe this is why he has now offered to step down albeit on certain conditions.

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Published: Sun 27 Mar 2011, 11:08 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 6:57 PM

What those conditions may actually mean has been left vague but as per his televised speech, it entails transferring power to “safe hands and not sick, resentful or corrupt hands”. Reiterating that his government was against any violence and shedding of blood, he warned that any concessions meted out were only to deter further killings.

Saleh’s speech on Friday, dubbed the “Day of Departure” by the opposition, however, had no impact on those protesting. It seems that with every passing day the protesters are getting more determined despite the scores of killings last week and the government’s counter efforts. The government has denied any involvement of its security forces in the shootings. However, this claim has been widely rejected as even Saleh’s close allies broke away with him after these shootings.

There is wide speculation that Saleh and one of his top generals, Ali Mohsen, who recently joined the opposition, may have been considering a deal on a safe exit from the country. Though a presidential spokesman denies Saleh’s involvement in such a deal, the general perception is that considering his eroding grip on the situation, the Yemeni leader may well be looking at a way out.

The other worrisome factor especially for the United States here is Yemen’s fragile security and given the tense political situation and the consequent instability, putting an end to the current scenario may be the best option. The fact that a firmly entrenched and resurgent Al Qaeda in Yemen would fully exploit the ongoing turbulence to its advantage is weighing heavy in Washington. Only last year the terrorist group had raised the security stakes by launching terror attacks and rising as a regional security threat. With Sanaa unable to handle the situation on its own, the United States had extended counter-terrorism support to strike down on the group’s leaders and its known strongholds. A serious uprising by Yemeni Houthi rebels near the Saudi border and problems with separatists in the South last year had further worsened the situation for Saleh.

Irrespective of regime change in Sanaa, the problems in Yemen remain a tangible reality, as does the crippling poverty, unemployment, ethnic-tribal divisions and a fragmented political order. Saleh’s stint in power extending for over three decades had at least held it all together. Care must be taken that the power vacuum created in case of his departure must not create further instability, something Yemen can scarcely afford.

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