By Ariel Zirulnick/ April 15, 2011
Yemen's religious and tribal leaders have joined the growing ranks of those demanding the immediate resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In a statement issued late Thursday, they rejected a proposal crafted by the Gulf states' leaders that would have arranged a gradual transfer of power from President Saleh. Instead, they backed a two-week deadline for his resignation made earlier in the day by the political opposition, and added that all of Saleh's relatives should be removed from the country's military and security forces, Al Jazeera reports.
Yemen's tribes have been the wild card in the country's unrest, remaining divided over whether to support Saleh or the protest movement. Saleh is credited with holding the still deeply tribal country together, gaining the tribes' loyalty with money and other forms of patronage. When the protests in Yemen began in February, Saleh turned to the tribal leaders – not ruling party loyalists – for support, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
Saleh relied on the tribes to help put down protests in their early weeks, with some of them occupying the city's main square to prevent protests from happening. Now, with more tribal leaders defecting, as well as a key military leader, the number of people Saleh can rely on for assistance is dwindling.
Saleh received a major blow when Sheikh Hussein bin Abdullah al-Ahmar, a leader in one of Yemen's two powerful tribal confederations, resigned from the ruling party in February. His resignation also threatened to disrupt the delicate balance between the tribes, the Monitor wrote.
Because the sheikh is a leading figure within one of Yemen’s two main tribal confederations and a member of one of Yemen’s wealthiest and most powerful families, his resignation and support for antigovernment protesters threaten to increase tensions between Yemen’s tribes, which are divided on whether to support Saleh.... independent political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani explains that a miscalculation by either the Saleh regime or the al-Ahmar family could lead to civil war. “If either side overestimates its power, there could be war."
If Saleh is overthrown, Yemen's tribal dynamics are likely to be a key factor in determining the nature of the government that replaces him.
The Gulf states, Saudi Arabia in particular, have been struggling to come up with a compromise deal that would keep the country stable but still be acceptable to the protesters. The opposition has so far refused to compromise on their demand for Saleh's immediate removal from office, although defected military leader Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar has welcomed the mediation efforts, according to Al Jazeera.
The Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, are concerned that instability in Yemen could spread and leave a vacuum that the local Al Qaeda franchise could exploit. Reuters reports that Saleh's demand for immunity from prosecution for him and his family is what has held up a deal.
The Gulf initiative calls for Saleh to transfer power to his deputy, but under no specific time frame, and includes immunity for the president that has ruled Yemen for 32 years. Saleh has accepted the deal, according to Al Jazeera.