Yemen: Peace In Our Time


December 2, 2011: Despite president Saleh agreeing to leave office, his supporters still control the government and military. This is supposed to change as the opposition joins with Saleh supporters to form an interim government until the February 21 elections. Because of this arrangement, fighting continues in the north and south. Up north, it's a war between tribes, especially the Shia tribes that have been demanding more autonomy for years, and the Sunni tribes that consider the Shia heretics. In the south, the fighting is against groups of pro-al Qaeda tribesmen seeking to establish an Islamic state (or "emirate") down there. There are also separatist tribesmen in the south who want make the south a separate country.

Fighting continues in Taez, capital of Taez province (inland, near the Red Sea coast). The city is largely controlled by tribal militias, and has been besieged by pro-Saleh troops. In late May, the government declared that Taez city had been taken over by al Qaeda. Since then, the Islamic terrorists have been driven out of the area by army and Republican Guard troops. But tribal separatists keep fighting in Taez province. There have been over a hundred casualties in Taez during the last few days, mostly from army artillery fire into the city. The continued fighting in Taez has caused large demonstrations in Taez and the national capital. Most Yemenis thought the Saleh deal would lead to a halt in all the fighting, but this has not happened.

The peace deal was in part facilitated by the growing economic problems. Rebel tribesmen have halted most oil exports and the many rebels and tribal militias out and about have interfered with deliveries of food, fuel and other goods.  Because of the worsening food shortages, more and more Yemenis are hungry. The shortage of fuel means more electricity blackouts, and fewer vehicles on the roads. There are nearly half a million refugees, driven from their homes by over a year of violence.

November 29, 2011: Fighting continues in Zinjibar, the capital of the Abyan where al Qaeda gunmen and soldiers have been at it for months. Troops on the ground, their artillery and the air force bombers combined to destroy al Qaeda fighters that have been trying to take over Zinjibar and the rest of the province. Most of the dead are al Qaeda, who are outnumbered and outgunned by the soldiers and tribal militia they face in and around the city. But there are hundreds of al Qaeda fighters in Abyan, and thousands of tribesmen who back them. This has created a sort of civil war down there. The soldiers, although technically under the control of president Saleh, are seen as allies by tribesmen who oppose al Qaeda and Saleh.

November 27, 2011: In the north, Shia tribesmen attacked a Sunni religious school. The attack was repulsed, but there were over a hundred casualties. The Shia tribesmen then besieged the school, and the several hundred people inside it. The Shia said they attacked to halt a buildup of weapons at the school, which were to be used for a new offensive against Shia (who conservative Sunnis consider heretics). The Shia say that the siege is to prevent more weapons from getting into the school compound. The Shia are the majority in many parts of the north, and very aggressive when confronted with Sunni Islamic conservatives.

November 23, 2011: President Saleh signs a peace deal in Saudi Arabia. He agrees to step down within 30 days and turn power over to his deputy, who will form a new government that will include members of the opposition. In return for this Saleh will be able to keep the title of "president" until February elections select a new one, and will be immune from prosecution for anything he did during his three decades of rule. The immunity provision sparked large demonstrations around the country, as most Yemenis want Saleh held accountable for the thousands of casualties among protestors this year. Saleh has made deals like this before, and reneged every time.


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