The death of Osama bin Laden yesterday in Pakistan put the spotlight on two things. One, al Qaeda no longer depends on Pakistan as its main base. This is largely because Pakistan has become so hostile to the Arab dominated al Qaeda. Instead, the Yemen branch, AQIA (Al Qaeda in Arabia), has become the al Qaeda home office. Months of unrest, as opponents try to overthrow longtime Yemeni leader Saleh, are thought to strengthen AQIA, but that is only temporary. If a new Yemen government does not increase the pressure on AQIA, Saudi Arabia stands ready to go in and destroy an organization that loudly proclaims its goal of overthrowing the Saudi monarchy. But Yemenis have contempt for Saudi military power, an attitude based on thousands of years of history. However, in the last half century, Saudi oil has changed this ancient balance of power. Yemen is no longer more populous than the rest of Arabia, as it had been since the end of the last ice age (12,000 years ago), which gradually turned most of Arabia (except Yemen) into uninhabitable desert. Yemen, with little oil, has become an over-populated, poverty-stricken political mess. Yemeni military power is still formidable, but split among dozens of tribal and political factions. Saudi Arabia does not want to invade Yemen, but if faced with a stronger AQIA, launching more attacks into Saudi Arabia, the Saudis have shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to defend themselves.
AQIA, and the rest of al Qaeda, is finding that the death Osama bin Laden was not a big deal in the Arab world. That's because the wave of uprisings against Arab despots this year has become the focus of Arab attention. Al Qaeda has, over the last decade, become a despised organization among Arabs. The slaughter of Moslems by al Qaeda in Iraq, and other nations, destroyed most of the support al Qaeda had on September 11, 2001. Worse, the current Arab uprisings are calling for democracy more than religious dictatorship. Nevertheless, the pervasive corruption in Arab nations has kept the use of Sharia (Islamic) law a popular approach to cleaning up government. Historical, and recent, experience has shown that Sharia does not work, and simply provides more opportunities for corrupt clerics. So Sharia may not last long when applied in practice. Meanwhile, in Yemen, and other Arab countries, al Qaeda is seen as a failed idea that has come and gone.
President Saleh's Republican Guard is gradually being withdrawn from towns and cities in the south, and being brought back to the capital, to insure Saleh's safety. The security forces contain 150,000 men. There are 80,000 troops in the armed forces, plus 70,000 in paramilitary forces (50,000 police and 20,000 in tribal militias that are on the payroll, an effort to keep them loyal.) Over half of the government budget goes to maintaining these 150,000 armed men. Most are currently neutral, or loyal to Saleh. The president has about 20,000 armed men (half Republican Guard, half secret police) he can really depend on. Most of the others are less dependable, but only a minority of them are actively opposed to him. So far, about 150 protestors have been killed in three months of demonstrations against president Saleh. There have been fewer deaths among the security forces, tribal rebels and Islamic radicals (mostly al Qaeda).
Civil war in Yemen is now more of a possibility. Opposition groups are reluctant to negotiate with Saleh anymore, even with Saudi Arabia and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) providing mediators (and pressure on Saleh to make a deal.)
May 2, 2011: Soldiers killed one demonstrator in the south, as protests continued.
May 1, 2011: Demonstrations began to grow again because president Saleh refused to sign the agreement that would remove him from power. In southern Abyan province, Al Qaeda gunmen attacked a government building, killing three soldiers before being driven away.
April 30, 2011: President Saleh refused to sign the transfer of power document he had earlier said he would sign. Opposition leaders see this as another effort by Saleh to wait out the demonstrations and remain in power. The violence today left two soldiers and four civilians dead, and over twenty people wounded in the port city of Aden.
April 29, 2011: Several hundred thousand people demonstrated throughout the country, mainly in the capital. There, many of the people in the streets were supporting president Saleh.
In the port city of Aden, police killed an al Qaeda leader and disrupted a bombing operation. Elsewhere in the south, an al Qaeda attack on a checkpoint left two soldiers and a civilian dead.
April 28, 2011: Nation-wide demonstrations continued, in part to protest the previous day's violence by the security forces.
April 27, 2011: In the capital, twelve protestors were killed (and over 200 wounded) by security forces, who were trying to disperse the large demonstrations. In southern Abyan province, Al Qaeda gunmen attacked a troops, killing two soldiers before being driven away.
April 25, 2011: President Saleh and the opposition made a peace deal, brokered by the GCC. Once signed (on the 30th), Saleh would leave the presidency within 30 days, and new elections would be held 60 days after that.