Yemen: Waiting For Someone To Blink

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March 25, 2011:  Today, protest groups say they will make a major effort to force president Saleh out of office. Saleh says he will leave on his own terms, by the end of the year, in order to avoid another civil war. But most of the demonstrators want him out now, and an increasing number of government leaders agree. The opposition groups want a new constitution (that replaces a presidential form of government, as in the U.S., with a parliamentary one, as in Britain), new (within a few months) elections, and removal of the secret police and paramilitary forces that help keep the president in power. Saleh says this will allow the chaos of the past to return, and some Yemenis agree with him. But not many are out in the streets.

While some military commanders have turned against Saleh, most have not. These commanders not only have their jobs to worry about, but also the extras. Corruption is widespread in Yemen, and all senior officials get a slice of the cash and favors. A new government means that no one currently in power is likely to have a job. These colonels and generals would lose everything. Many are inclined to stick with Saleh, who has survived many attempts to remove him in the past 32 years. Now, the elderly Saleh says he will "retire" by the end of the year, and talks darkly of civil war if he is not allowed to depart on his own terms. But in Yemen, people keep in touch, and many Saleh loyalists are no doubt discussing switching sides with prominent opposition leaders (especially tribal leaders and other senior members of the government.)

March 24, 2011: In nearby Dubai, police reported that they had foiled an attempt to smuggle 16,000 guns from Turkey to northern Yemen. It was not disclosed who was getting the weapons. It was not the government, and could be pro or anti-government tribesmen.

March 23, 2011:  The parliament voted for, and president Saleh quickly approved, a new emergency law that, in effect, declared martial law, and suspended many legal restrictions on what the police and troops can do against suspected "enemies of the state (and Saleh)".

Britain has evacuated all but a few of its embassy personnel, and continues to advise British citizens to stay out of Yemen until things quiet down.

March 22, 2011: In the southern port of Aden, anti-Saleh demonstrations turned into widespread looting. At least 44 people have been arrested for looting. Generally, the protest organizers have managed to keep the demonstrations peaceful, and avoided a lot of property damage or looting.

In the southern province of Abyan, a group of al Qaeda clashed with soldiers. Two terrorists were killed, and several of those who fled were wounded (as were five soldiers.) Al Qaeda has openly joined the opposition to Saleh. But since there aren't many al Saleh members in Yemen, even if they joined one of the major demonstrations, you would not notice the presence of the Islamic terrorists. Moreover, many Yemenis are hostile to al Qaeda, and a new government would probably reflect that.

In the capital, three senior army leaders defected to the opposition, and this led to fears that some army officers were seeking to grab power themselves. If so, it didn't work. Many Yemenis fear that some generals will try to grab power, but this is a very unpopular option with most Yemenis, and the generals know it. Saleh has responded to this outbreak of disloyalty (some senior civilian officials left as well), by firing his cabinet and asking parliament to give him emergency powers.

March 21, 2011: In the south east coastal town of Mukalla, members of the Republican Guard brigade were seen fighting with one of the regular army brigades. It was a minor skirmish, with two dead and several wounded. The Republican Guard brigade, along with the Special Forces brigade, are the two strongest of the 30 or so combat brigades in the military. The government has about 140,000 armed men on the payroll. Half are in the military, and half are paramilitary (secret police and, mostly, regular police, including 20,000 tribal militia). Combat brigades vary in size, from about a thousand, to over 3,000 troops. Most of the brigades are spread all over the country, dealing with Shia tribal rebels in the north, and tribal separatists and Islamic terrorists in the south. Most of the armed men in the capital are police, the Republican Guard is the largest military force. But because of their loyalty and reliability, detachments of the Republican Guard can be found all over the country.

March 18, 2011: Large demonstrations in the capital were broken up by government snipers, who killed over 50 people (while wounding even more) and caused panic among the protestors. Many Yemenis, especially Saleh supporters, though this move was excessive, and the number of senior people supporting Saleh began to shrink more rapidly.

 

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