The Arab Spring uprising in Yemen succeeded at first but ultimately failed. The traditional ways of doing things, which depend on lots of corruption and coercion are still around, even if the Saleh dictatorship is not. As many feared, the new government has nearly as many bad habits as the old one. Changing the government was relatively easy, changing the way politics, business and society works in Yemen has, so far, proved impossible. The alliance with the tribal leaders provides a lot of security for al Qaeda. The government does not want all-out war with the tribes and will not go deep into tribal territory to arrest known al Qaeda leaders and technical experts because it risks major conflict with the tribes. This is one reason the government continues to support the American UAV operations. Despite all the publicity the occasional civilian casualty of these attacks, the UAV launched missiles are far safer for civilians than a more traditional attempt that sends in troops to grab the terrorists. The tribal leaders realize that the UAVs are safer for their followers and do not demand (too strenuously) that the government halt these aerial operations. After all, it makes al Qaeda more generous with their “gifts” (bribes) to the tribal leaders to pay for cooperation, protection and hospitality. Al Qaeda really wants the UAVs to go away because these aircraft are constantly monitoring al Qaeda operations and regularly catching key al Qaeda personnel somewhere (on a road or a seemingly isolated building) where they can be hit with a missile. This deadly cat and mouse game is facilitated by Yemeni military intelligence, which uses informers within the tribes to pick up on which new al Qaeda people have arrived, who has left the country and what the Islamic terrorists are up to. This is partially self-defense because al Qaeda is still intent on overthrowing the government (after shattering the military first) and establishing a religious dictatorship. Even many of the tribal leaders don’t go along with this and cooperate with al Qaeda because the money is good and al Qaeda is seen as a bunch of perennial losers who talk a big game but never deliver. Al Qaeda is also helpful in keeping the army away, because the troops will push the tribesmen around if they get the chance. The al Qaeda suicide bombings and death squads keep the army preoccupied with concerns for the safety of soldiers and especially officers.
Meanwhile the Islamic terrorists and tribal rebels (north and south) have settled down into a pattern of continual violence. The Islamic terrorists are regularly assassinating key government and military officials as well as clerics who condemn them or tribal leaders who get in the way. The tribal leaders (and their families) see their traditional wealth and privileges threatened by all this talk of clean government and democracy. That is indeed the case because the tribal leaders are the ones who use bribes and coercion to take what they want and that cripples the economy and makes all manner of progress impossible. Al Qaeda, which is also very hostile to democracy, make common cause with the tribal leaders (except the Shia ones in the north, which Sunni religious radicals consider heretics) and that has proved more of a problem than the deposed Saleh dictatorship.
The recent (February 14th) prison break is but one of many. Since 2006 there have been 23 such breakouts which involved 459 inmates getting free. Over 70 percent of those prisoners escaped since 2012, largely because of several escapes made possible by attacks on prisons by tribesmen or Islamic terrorists. Less than a quarter of the prisoners escaped the traditional way (in small numbers via tunnels, subterfuge or bribes). Security officials believe that several of the recent mass breakouts were facilitated by bribes.
March 4, 2014: In the south (Balhaf on the Gulf of Aden) a navy admiral in charge of local security was attacked by an al Qaeda death squad. The admiral survived but two of his bodyguard died and one was wounded. In the southeast six military personnel kidnapped when their aircraft made an emergency landing (on the 2nd) were freed.
March 3, 2014: In the east (Shabwa province) seven soldiers died in two clashes with al Qaeda. Later in the day an American UAV used a missile to kill two al Qaeda men believed involved in the earlier attacks.
March 2, 2014: Outside the capital a senior military commander was killed by assassins and his bodyguard wounded. Elsewhere on the outskirts of the capital two tribesmen died and three soldiers were wounded when armed tribesmen objected when stopped at a checkpoint and told they could not take weapons with them into the city.
February 28, 2014: In the north fighting between Shia rebels and soldiers (aided by pro-government Sunni tribesmen) left eight soldiers and 16 Shia dead.
February 26, 2014: In the south (Hadramout) al Qaeda assassins killed a popular anti-Islamic terrorism cleric. Elsewhere in the province the army general in charge of intelligence for the province was also assassinated. Meanwhile the UN passed a resolution authorizing sanctions on individuals found to be causing problems with peacemaking inside Yemen.
February 23, 2014: In the southeast (Shabwa province) fighting between two tribes left three dead. Soldiers were sent to halt the violence but were forced to back off when told that the tribes would go after the army (frequently) if the troops tried to intervene.
February 22, 2014: In the southeast (Shabwa province) gunmen shot dead a colonel in the intelligence services.
February 21, 2014: In the south (Aden) two people were killed and 20 wounded when police fired on protestors trying to enter the city center and block traffic.
February 20, 2014: Intelligence collected in Yemen about an al Qaeda bomb designer hiding out there led to a worldwide warning that there might be a new shoe bomb design available to Islamic terrorists. There was no sample of such a bomb available, or even a photo and the apparently the threat was really a rumor of such a new device.
February 19, 2014: In the south (Hadramout) al Qaeda assassins killed a cleric who had preached against the assassination campaign the Islamic terrorists have been using against the government and critics in general.
February 18, 2014: In the south (al Dali province) separatist tribesmen attacked an army convoy, killing seven soldiers and kidnapping 14 others. Elsewhere in al Dali separatist tribesmen attacked a government compound, killing six soldiers. But five attackers died as well and the attack was repulsed.
February 16, 2014: In the capital security forces disrupted an al Qaeda plan to attack the airbase outside the city. Police arrested three men believed to be al Qaeda members and involved in the planned attack.
February 15, 2014: In the south (Aden) security forces disrupted an al Qaeda plan to attack a refinery outside the city. Police arrested 27 men believed to be al Qaeda members and involved in the planned attack.
February 14, 2014: In the capital al Qaeda attacked a prison, killed seven security personnel and got 29 prisoners out, including some senior al Qaeda personnel. Several prisoners were killed as well as a few attackers. Inside help (via bribes) was suspected. In the wake of this attack senior security officials declared a major reorganization of how prisons are run.