News / Middle East

Political Stalemate Threatens Civil War for Yemen

Yemeni protesters, their faces colored with their national flag and Arabic writing that reads
Yemeni protesters, their faces colored with their national flag and Arabic writing that reads "stop killing the innocent", chant anti-government slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana'a, October 11

Yemen’s popular uprising is now eight months old and has begun to look more like a power struggle among elites and a clash that could turn into civil war.

Once again, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has reneged on a promise to step down because he does not want his political opponents to run for election. Back in Sana’a after a three-month absence for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for injuries he received in a bomb blast, the president is unbowed by months of protests demanding he step down.

Protesters are frustrated because the president repeatedly called for elections and a peaceful exchange of power but failed to promise to step down.  With such uncertainty and fighting between heavily armed loyalists and foes of President Saleh, the prospects of a democracy are growing slim.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, who has served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen for a year and started his Foreign Service office in the Middle East in 1975, warns that the domestic conflict could deteriorate rapidly if there is no progress on the political front.

Most experts agree that the only practical road map for a political solution to the instability and conflict is a proposal made by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The plan calls on President Saleh to transfer power to his vice president for a two-month transition that would end with new presidential elections. The plan also calls for an end to the protests, the formation of a national unity government led by a member of the opposition, and amnesty for President Saleh, his family and his aides.

Although he has several times promised to resign, he has changed his mind each time, leading to more anger on the streets, where protests have escalated since January.

Gloomy factors on the ground

“You cannot have a transition to democracy in the midst of a civil war and this is what the situation in Yemen is looking like more and more,” said Marina Ottaway, a democracy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Ottaway detected some gloomy factors on the ground in Yemen.

First, there is a divided army with troops who are faithful to President Saleh and those with Major General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, who severed ties with the president in March.

Second, there’s also a continued insurgency, including a secessionist movement in the South, the Shi'ite Houthi rebels in the North, and the Yemeni wing of Al-Qaida.

Third, protesters continue to flood the streets who are relentlessly demanding democracy but have no power when confronted with violence and force.

Fourth, structural economic problems, the country running out of oil and water, and weak institutions will all contribute to more instability.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen David Newton agrees. “The situation in Yemen is messy, violent, and there is a great danger of collapse in Yemen; they really do need a negotiated solution, not a civil war,” he said.

“I think they are sliding back, at least to more violence because, while the president may not want to hang onto power himself, he is trying to ensure that his family will largely remain in power.”

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh delivers his speech on state television in this still image taken from video, October 8, 2011.
Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh delivers his speech on state television in this still image taken from video, October 8, 2011.

The Saleh regime is noted for nepotism: Saleh’s son is commander of the Republican Guard, his nephew commands the Special Guards, and other nephews command the National Security Agency and the national tobacco company. In-laws, cousins, brothers and step-brothers direct the Yemeni Oil Company, Yemeni Airways and serve in many cabinet positions.

Ambassador Newton noticed that the opposition is focused on one major issue: to change the regime. However, he pointed to several other problems including tribalism, lack of unity among opposition elements, structural problems when it comes to the economy, resources, state institutions and huge social problems related to increased levels of poverty.

Bleak future on the horizon

“Those are certainly the problems that are not going to disappear. They plagued Yemen under Saleh and they are not going away automatically even if there should be a political agreement,” said Ottaway. “The economy is in shambles and that is not a temporary crisis. But there is something fundamentally wrong with the economy, especially when Yemen is running out of oil and water.”

The head of the powerful Hashid tribe, Sheikh Sadique al-Ahmar, center, surrounded by guards, attends the funerals of tribesmen, who were killed in clashes with Yemeni security forces, in Sana'a, May 27, 2011.
The head of the powerful Hashid tribe, Sheikh Sadique al-Ahmar, center, surrounded by guards, attends the funerals of tribesmen, who were killed in clashes with Yemeni security forces, in Sana'a, May 27, 2011.

Experts, such as Ottaway and Newton, believe that Saudi Arabia has to use its great influence in Yemen, including with the Al Ahmar tribe, other tribal leaders, and with President Saleh and his military leaders to expedite a political solution to avoid a full-scale civil war.

Other experts argue that the United States and Saudi Arabia should cooperate to avoid a power vacuum that could endanger their interests in Yemen. Their chief concerns are keeping al-Qaida at bay and supporting a post-Saleh government to start solving its economic problems.

Ambassador Feierstein argues that with food and fuel prices rising globally, and the economic impact of the current prolonged political uncertainty, Yemenis will encounter tough challenges. ”The government, the private sector, and the friends of Yemen should all pay attention to the urgency of addressing these critical economic challenges,” he said.

Experts agree that securing a political solution in Yemen could encourage international donors to commit funds to develop the country and lend a hand to reduce Yemen’s endemic poverty.

 

الجمود السياسي يهدد باندلاع حرب اهلية في اليمن مع التاريخ من الرئيس علي عبدالله صالح وتكتيكاته المماطلة وكسر الوعود ، ومستقبل اليمن تبدو قاتمة.
Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs