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Yemen's President Remains in Office Despite Widespread Opposition

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Yemeni protesters chant slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sana'a, Yemen, September 28, 2011.

Yemeni protesters chant slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sana'a, Yemen, September 28, 2011.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has managed to hang on to power despite a popular uprising, regional pressure, military defections and an assassination attempt. Some political observers accuse the United States and Saudi Arabia of propping up an unpopular leader, while others argue there are no attractive alternatives.

For long-time Yemen political observer Mustafa al Ani, there's no mystery to why President Saleh is still in power.

"He still enjoys some support for a very simple reason; the personalities which are leading the opposition are no less corrupt than the government," he said. "They really have a bad reputation and people know them very well."

Al Ani, the head of the security department at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, singles out tribal leader Hamid al Ahmar and Islamist Abdel Mageed al Zanadani as two prominent anti-Saleh figures with what he believes are questionable pasts.

But they are only the beginning of a long list of people who oppose the president.

Al Ani believes the situation in Yemen is fundamentally different than the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, with many of the divisions seen now having a long history in the fractious, impoverished Arab state. Those splits, he says, are proving an impediment to pushing through basic reforms.

"There is no actually clear vision how anyone can lead Yemen out of this deep problem. It's basically the disintegration of the political vision now," he said. "And no one agrees. Even the question of the constitutional amendments, you are talking about so many versions of the constitution and everyone is basically defending his own interests. "

Not everyone is so pessimistic. Yemeni columnist Hakim al Masmari puts a different spin on the multitude of voices.

"The revolution is led by everyone: by tribal adults, by youth, by liberals, by the opposition conservatives, by senior leaders," said Masmari. "The idea is not who will be behind the change. The idea is seeking democracy and freedom."

The editor in chief of the Yemen Post, in Sana'a, says the main problem facing the country is not its internal divisions, but foreign interference.

"If the United States and Saudi Arabia did not support Saleh, he would have been forced to step down," he said. "Most of the financial support and the weapons are given by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. The two countries have been a burden on the Yemen revolution and must understand that the future of Yemen will not be in their favor if they do not give in to the will of the people."

That will, Masmari argues, will prevail, with President Saleh inevitably stepping down, whether "today, tomorrow or next year." What both men agree on is that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, plus other states in the Gulf and the Horn of Africa, should be greatly concerned about the situation deteriorating further.

"A total security collapse will have a huge impact on increasing terrorist activities, separatism and organized crime," said the Gulf Research Center's al Ani:We have a long list of problems if we allow the security situation to collapse in Yemen. It will definitely have an impact on the whole region and can not be confined to Yemen - absolutely not.

Editor Masmari agrees that terrorist groups often attract the disaffected, adding the reminder "Yemenis are poor, and well armed."

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