SANA’A, 4 August 2011 (IRIN) - As violence in Yemen continues and the death toll mounts, observers see not only threats to the country’s emerging democracy, but also the possibility of all-out civil war.
"What is happening in Yemen is no longer a peaceful revolution. It is rather a conflict for power between [President] Saleh and the opposition alliance [JMP], which dates back to 2006, after the latter challenged the election results which gave Saleh a third mandate, claiming it was manipulated," says Mujeeb Abdurrahman a political scientist at Hodeidah University.
“We fear that violence may put an end to the emerging democratic experience Yemen has seen since 1993,” he told IRIN.
Even the UN, which sent an envoy to Yemen to assess the situation, agrees that if something is not done quickly to implement a viable transfer of power, there could be very serious consequences.
“Yemen’s political leaders have two options: either to reach an agreement accepted by all to start necessary steps for a practical transition period, or to face collapse and `Somalization’ of the country,” UN Envoy to Yemen Jamal Bin Omar said at a Sana’a press conference on 29 July.
On 30 July, at least 250 people were reportedly killed in clashes between opposition gunmen and Republican Guards in Arhab District, 20km north of Sana’a; and at least 40 others were killed in fighting in Abyan Governorate between armed militants and government troops. Dozens of others have been killed or injured in similar clashes in Taiz Governorate, 250km south of Sana’a.
The economy has lost US$13 billion over the past six months, and the number of poor people has gone up from seven to nine million (out of a population of 23 million), according to local think-tank Studies and Economic Media Centre.
More people displaced
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) puts the number of displaced people in Abyan at more than 80,000 in mid-July, and this is in addition to the 300,000 from earlier conflicts between the government and Houthi-led Shia rebels in Sa’dah and Amran governorates.
Amid rumours that Saleh could be back (from Saudi Arabia where he is ostensibly undergoing medical treatment) in the first week of August, Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, who leads the powerful Hashid Tribal Confederation, warned on 31 July that "Saleh will no longer rule us as long as I am still alive."
The announcement is being seen by observers as an early warning of large-scale clashes between pro- and anti- government forces.
"The people are divided… the army is divided and tribal leaders are divided… Neither party can defeat the other except through ballot boxes in free and fair elections, Mohammed al-Ruaini, a leading lawyer and a former member of parliament, told IRIN in Sana’a; he also warned of the danger of civil war.
Meanwhile, Abbas al-Musawa, a still serving Yemeni diplomat in Lebanon, suggests that an early presidential vote, excluding Saleh and his relatives and "supervised by the UN, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the USA and the European Union to ensure its integrity and transparency" is the only chance the country has of overcoming the current turmoil.
JMP, backed by young protesters, insist that Saleh must quit and hand all powers to his vice-president, Abdurabu Mansour Hadi, before any talk of fresh elections.
Since his departure for Saudi Arabia in early June, Saleh has managed to cling on to power thanks in part to his son Ahmad, who commands 23 Republican Guard divisions and around 40 percent of the army.