Yemen: Bluffing, Bullying and Bluster


June 7, 2011:  President Ali Abdullah Saleh remains in a Saudi hospital, insisting he will soon return and do what must be done. The Saudis hope this includes finally signing a Saudi-backed peace deal which would have Saleh and some key allies going into exile. In fact, the Saudis are hinting that Saleh will sign the agreement without returning to Yemen, perhaps after being given an offer he can't return. Inside Yemen, the "Saleh coalition" is still strong, but can only survive if all the factions agree on a new leader. The Saleh forces are now being led by Ahmed Saleh, the president's son and commander of the Republican Guard. Ahmed is considered more corrupt, and meaner, than his father. Ahmed is not stupid, but is not as much of a coalition maker as his father. But Ahmed is still a deadly force to be reckoned with.

In the last week, over 200 have died in the political violence. While there is a lot of shooting and political posturing, there is little enthusiasm for a real civil war (with lots more fighting, and casualties.) While all the shooting and demonstrating goes on, there is also a lot of negotiating, in an attempt to reorganize the network of tribal, business and political alliances that has kept the Saleh family in charge for over 30 years. This is a very complicated process, since the tribes (especially the two major tribal coalitions) have very complex power structures. Moreover, the country is very poor, doesn't have much to lose. Thus there is more enthusiasm for the traditional bluffing, bullying and bluster, than an attempt to fight large, bloody, decisive battles. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have entered these negotiations, trying to ensure that the most durable and effective coalition is formed. Yemen has very serious economic problems, which demand a lot more attention than who is in overall charge of the mess. While the demonstrators call for democracy, it would be block (tribal) politics, with the leaders (and their negotiations) having to contend with the will of the people via the elections.

In the south, army efforts to force Islamic radicals outside of Zinjibar has left nine troops and six Islamic radicals dead. The Islamic terrorist groups are small, but violent and unpredictable. You can't really negotiate with them, as they are on a Mission From God.

June 6, 2011: The ceasefire in the capital broke as gunmen from both sides opened fire. At least six died and dozens were wounded.  In southern Abyan province, five al Qaeda gunmen were killed.

June 5, 2011: As most Yemenis realized that president Saleh had left the country, large scale demonstrations broke out in the capital, and some other cities, to celebrate.

June 4, 2011: Saleh was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. Saleh said he would be back within a week. But several members of Saleh's family also flew to Saudi Arabia.

June 3, 2011:  An attack (apparently using rockets or mortars) on the presidential palace in the capital left president Saleh injured (apparently burns, bruises and a collapsed lung).

June 1, 2011:  Violence in the capital left over 200 people dead or wounded. This is mostly caused by the Hashed tribe turning against their long-time ally president Saleh.


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