Yemen leader in effort to weaken protests

2011-05-26 11:46
Dubai - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh may have provoked fighting in Sanaa with the country's most powerful tribal leader in a last-ditch effort to maintain power and weaken popular protests, analysts say.

Clashes began on Monday between security forces and tribesmen loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who heads the powerful Hashid federation, a day after Saleh refused to sign a Gulf Co-operation Council- (GCC) sponsored accord that would have seen him cede power in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Saleh instead issued further demands, including that the opposition ink the accord in his presence, and explicitly warned of civil war.

"Faced with deadlock he himself created, Saleh opted for the strategy of chaos," said Frank Mermier, an expert on Yemen with the French research centre CNRS.

"Either the president has decided to start a civil war, or he is provoking clashes for Saudi Arabia to intervene," Mermier said, noting the close relationship between impoverished Yemen's oil-rich neighbour and the Hashid tribal confederation.

Mermier said that Saleh may push the six-nation GCC, of which Saudi Arabia is the leading member, to "carry out a new mediation with an amended plan that would benefit" him.

Limited options

The plan that Saleh refused to sign provided for his departure within 30 days, the formation of a unity government with the opposition and a presidential election within two months.

Saleh, who has been in power for 33 years, has since January faced protests calling for his departure from power.

"Through the violence, Saleh wants to marginalise the peaceful protest movement," Mermier said, adding that the president "does not have many options".

The fighting has supplanted daily protests in a string of Yemeni cities as the centre of the media's attention, while the number of young people camped out in "Change Square" in Sanaa, the epicentre of the protest movement, has decreased.

Fares al-Saqqaf, the director of the Centre for Future Studies in Sanaa, agreed that the fighting marks a desperate attempt by the president to hang on.

"It seems that Saleh wants to provoke a civil war, expanding the fighting to dissident units of the army," Saqqaf said.

Military edge

Until now, the forces of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a general who has pledged support for the opposition but is not related to Sheikh al-Ahmar, have not entered the fighting, although they control part of the capital.

Even though the tribes are heavily armed and Sheikh al-Ahmar can count on thousands of experienced men in the highlands, Saleh still has the overall military edge, with aircraft and tanks at his disposal, analysts say.

But at the same time, "the army is mostly made up of tribesmen, and they may choose ... tribal solidarity and rally to Sheikh al-Ahmar", Saqqaf said.

Abdul Aziz al-Sager, director of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre, said that "as long as President Saleh is determined to hold on to power, there is no other option but violence".

Yemen "is heading towards a Libyan scenario where the head of state provokes general clashes with the tribes", Sager said.

Only "a strong message" from the international community, including the neighbouring Gulf countries, will be able to stop the violence, he said.

US warns its citizens in Yemen

Otherwise, Sager said, Yemen will be divided, not into a northern and southern part as in the past, but into distinct entities, among them a region controlled by the Zaidi Shi'ite rebels in the north.

North and south Yemen united on May 22 1990, but the south declared its independence on May 21 1994, sparking a civil war that ended with the region overrun by northern troops.

In addition to anti-regime protests, tribal feuds, poverty and a southern secessionist movement, Yemen is also battling a northern rebellion and an al-Qaeda resurgence.

Meanwhile, the United States has ordered all non-essential diplomats and embassy family members to leave Yemen amid the mounting violence, Reuters reported the US State Department as saying on Wednesday.

"The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. There is ongoing civil unrest throughout the country and large-scale protests in major cities," the State Department said.

The United States in March told its citizens to avoid travelling to Yemen and said those already there should consider leaving due to deteriorating security.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  ali abdullah saleh  |  yemen  |  uprisings  |  yemen protests

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go! - shop online today

Save up to 40% on outdoor accessories!

Tents, sleeping, day packs and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Month End Madness Sale!

Save up to 60% on across a wide range of goods from books to electronics, DVDs and many more. Sale end 31 January 2015. Shop now!

Valentine’s Day gifts – 14 Feb!

Gifts to spoil him and her. While stocks last. Shop now!

30% off fragrances

Get 30% off fragrances for him and her. While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off All Textbooks

Save up to 30% off an extensive range of prescribed textbooks for all major universities and FET colleges. Shop Now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


Spontaneity and bright ideas are emphasized today but there is a tendency to be too impulsive and you may want to keep a handle more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.