Yemen – Observations as the uprising unfolds

24th June: Saleh in his refusal to do the bidding of the GCC and the United States and instead gamble on challenging the uprising, very nearly paid with his life.
The assassination attempt illustrates the impasse that the uprising has reached. It has proved unable to unite all the opposing forces in Yemen society under one banner and programme. Now the initiative has passed to ex-Saleh allies and coup plotters within the Saleh camp.

In this respect, Saleh’s judgement of the opposition’s weakness was correct. The inability of the uprising the carry through the overthrow of Saleh has lead to tribal divisions coming to the fore. Stirring up sectarian divisions was a deliberate policy on the part of the Saleh camp, they are quite willing fight a civil war if that is what it takes to hold onto their power and privilege.

What makes this such a volatile and unpredictable situation is that the forces facing each other are unstable. The opposition is made up of an uneasy and fractured alliance of the youth, tribal leaders and defectors on the one side. On the other side are the Saleh forces who, having suffered splits and defections, still control the state apparatus.

In light of the doubtful return of Saleh, the most likely outcome is a deal stitched up between opposition tribal leaders and Saleh’s allies.

Such a deal though, would leave the mass of the protesters out in the cold with none of their demands satisfied. With the shortcomings of the protesters leadership there is a real danger that tribal division and sectarianism could fill the vacuum and take a hold in the protest movement.

With the pause in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the failure of the Libyan uprising and likely victory of Assad in Syria, it’s looking more probable that events in Yemen could take the course of civil war.

26th April: President Saleh of Yemen has found his position much more precarious than Assad’s in Syria. Suffering defections, the Yemen regime hasn’t remained as solid as that in Syria. With splits within his own ranks and the protests continuing unabated, Saleh has little room for manoeuvre. He has had to accept, in words at least, a proposal from the GCC to step down in thirty days, provided he’s given immunity for his crimes of course! The GCC has not acted out of concern at the loss of innocent lives, this is the same organisation that was invited into Bahrain to suppress protests there.

The motivation of the GCC, especially its principle member Saudi Arabia, is the twin fears of the contagion of protest and the breakup of Yemen into two unstable states. The opposition coalition groups have agreed to the GCC plan, including participation in a transitional government. This is in contradiction to the demand of the protesters that Saleh steps down immediately. The possibility of splits within the opposition would of course give Saleh a glimmer of hope, but only a glimmer.

With fewer cards to play than Assad, it does look probable that Saleh will be forced to step down eventually. Relief for his regime will be temporary though. Its structure will remain intact for a period, but it will be subject to the enormous pressures of the people on the one side and the regime’s beneficiaries on the other. In-spite of, or perhaps because of, the machinations of the west and the GCC, the result would still be instability. While events remain fluid, it’s not certain whether this instability would take the path of the fracturing of Yemen or a state structure so weakened that it would be virtually ineffectual. The Arab uprisings that have brought Yemen to this point still exercise a dominant influence on the Yemen protests. An upsurge in revolutionary action in Egypt for example, could still be powerful enough to completely alter the course of events in Yemen.

25th March: In Yemen, after weeks of protests the military has begun to split under the pressure. Tens of thousands have gathered in Change Square for the ‘Friday of Departure’ rally.