Yemen: Rumors of War
Sana'a- Feb 27, 2011- The possibility of violence, and even civil war, loomed larger over Yemen on Sunday, as opposition leaders announced that they would join a mass protest against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruledÂ the country since 1978. In typically florid remarks published Sunday, Saleh vowed to resist the protesters Â ”with every drop of blood.”
The confrontation shaped up after the announcement by the main Yemeni coalition opposed to Saleh, the Joint Meeting Parties, or J.M.P., that on Tuesday it would join the young Yemenis who have been pouring into the streets to demand Saleh’s ouster. The J.M.P. contains Islah, the country’s main Islamist party, and the declaration portends demonstrations larger than any that have filled Yemen’s streets so far.
But there are even more troubling portents, and they are beginning to worry Yemen’s political elite. The fear, expressed by Yemenis in interviews this week, is that the country’s well established tradition of political violence may soon resurface.
The main causes for concern are indications that the Al-Ahmars, the Yemeni family regarded as Saleh’s main rivals, may be preparing for a confrontation—and maybe even a violent one. Â In the past several days, members of the Al-Ahmar family, who have so far stayed out of the demonstrations, have begun hinting that they are prepared to take on Saleh in the streets. Together, four Al-Ahmar brothers form the most significant bulwark against Saleh. They include Sadiq, the head of the Hashid tribal confederation, the president’s own tribe and the most powerful in Yemen; Hamir, the deputy speaker of Parliament; Hussein, a powerful tribal leader; and, most significant of all, Hamid, who wants Saleh’s job.
On Saturday, Hussein Al-Ahmar urged a gathering of several thousand fellow tribesmen to push for the overthrow of Saleh. “I’m announcing my resignation from the ruling party, party of corruption, and my joining of the revolution of young people until this regime is toppled,” he said.
The concern, expressed among Yemenis here, is that the Al-Ahmars will call out their loyal tribesmen to use force to help them push Saleh out. Most Yemenis are armed, and the Al-Ahmars are believed to be able to call on tens of thousands of tribesmen to rally to their cause. If the battle were joined, and Saleh called out Yemen’s armed forces, some Yemenis estimate that a significant number of soldiers would probably defect to the Ahmar side. That would mean civil war, something the country has experienced before, in 1994.
“Unless something changes, things will definitely move toward violence,” said Abdul-Ghani Al-Iryani, a prominent Yemeni.
In the middle of these two forces—the Saleh regime and the tribes around the Al-Ahmars—are the young people in the streets. Most of them have been calling for Saleh to quit. But it’s hard to imagine that many of the demonstrators—who have showed remarkable restraint so far—would favor an outbreak of violence.
The surest way to heading off a violent confrontation between Saleh and the Ahmars would be for the president to cut a deal with the formal political opposition. For their part, Yemen’s opposition leaders have been wary of making such a deal, lest they lose credibility with the protesters. For this reason, Â it would seem that the burden is on Saleh to make significant concessions to give the opposition the political cover it needs to reach a settlement.
How likely is that? Nobody knows. But after thirty-three years in power, Saleh is not a person used to compromising much with his enemies. He used to crushing them— sometimes in the streets.
Source: The New Yorker.