Yemen : Saleh gone, now what ?

April 27, 2011

#Cartoon - #Yemen wants Ali Abdullah Saleh OUT!  on Twitpic

Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh has decided to leave power and hand over the reins of  government to a transitional government  in exchange for immunity from persecution. It seems that Saleh is now, finally , on his way out . What implications this holds for Yemen ? More mayhem perhaps.

Map picture

Yemen has long been on the brink of being a failed state . It is an impoverished state which imports most of its food from outside. Its suffers from high population growth and a large unemployed youth population . The sources of revenue for the government are dwindling, with oil reserves running out . Yemen could also be the first state in the world to run out of water. Tribal divisions run deep. Add to that prevalence of widespread Khat intoxication , and you have the prefect socio-economic nightmare .

The problems of Yemen don’t end here. The  country has a large population of Zaidi Shias . These have long been engaged in a bitter conflict with Saleh government . The government has long tried to supress their rebellion , with direct Saudi and covert American help, with little effect.

Al-Qaeda has also been active in Yemen and have frequently attacked government forces. The recent parcel bomb attacks on board FedEx and UPS have originated in Yemen .Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula has publicly identified Yemen as the base for their operations in Saudi Arabia.

Then there is the movement for South Yemen , which aims to create a separate State of South Yemen . This movement, centred in Aden , perceives itself to be exploited and marginalised by the northerners and aims to set it right by creating a separate state of South Yemen.`

This country in short is an almost impossible place to govern. The fact that Saleh was able to hang in for 32 years, is a testimony to the amazing political skills the man possessed. He used every trick in the book to keep these political demons under the lid .Saleh has described his 33-year rule and his power plays with the leaders of the country’s many tribes, as a "dance on snake heads."   But now he is gone and there seem to be nobody on the  Yemeni political scene with the skill and the wherewithal to keep these snakes in check.

The current opposition is held together by a common hatred of the regime and is very likely to disintegrate post Saleh. The various competing interests of the Southerners, the Islamists, the Houthis are likely to ensure a weak government in the days to come.  There are already signs of dissent within opposition ranks . Further none of the opposition leaders have a mass following.

This absence of credible leadership post Saleh would enable the separatist movements to further gain steam . Al-Qaeda is probably already watching with glee the prospect of a weak government at the helm. Yemen with its difficult terrain and proximity to Saudi Arabia will be the perfect base for them .

Regimes like that of Saleh  , for all their brutishness and corruption , have brought stability to historically unstable places like Yemen.  Long entrenched , these have been felled like oaks in a storm by the youth revolt . But the world may soon find out that these youth have little experience in running a country, let alone one as complex as Yemen .

Although this doesn’t justify their continued existence, there is certainly a case for their more orderly phasing out. The sudden demise of these regime might just have left a  vacuum which would be difficult to fill and which ,like all vacuums, would be very destructive to the geopolitical fabric of middle east.

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