Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Yemen's Perilous Future

Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh is likely never to return to Yemen as his injuries are quite severe - internal brain bleeding, burns over 40% of his body, chest wounds from shrapnel including one piece that was lodged near his heart, and other assorted injuries.

That's left the country in the hands of his hand picked vice president, who isn't likely to turn over the reins of power to the opposition. However, it means that Yemen is likely to be plunged into a civil war or continued violence as factions vie for control.

The country is still racked by violence, and security forces have regained control over a major port facility.

Youth and activist groups are pledging to form their own transitional government if Saleh doesn't resign and relent to a transition government.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that the 65-year-old autocrat suffered severe burn and shrapnel wounds that would prevent him from returning to Yemen anytime soon and raised doubts about his ability to rule.

“We have to take advantage of this moment,” said Riyad Zindani, 23, a student at Sanaa University. “A chance has been given to us on a plate of gold.”

If reports about Saleh’s condition are true, it could shift the balance of power in Yemen and speed up a political transition, diplomats and analysts said. Saleh’s extended absence would allow the United States and Saudi Arabia more time to persuade him to remain in exile. In Yemen, it could convince Saleh’s supporters — especially his sons and nephews, who continue to hold powerful positions in the security forces — that his nearly 33-year rule has come to an end.

That could pave the way for the acceptance of a power transfer initiative forged by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council, composed of Yemen’s neighbors — a proposal many here view as Yemen’s best hope for a peaceful transition of power. Even if Saleh were to return, though, his grip on Yemen would be severely weakened by his absence.

“When he is so badly hurt, and unable to function for at least several months, then it is inconceivable that he will be able to maintain power,” said Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst. “And the main obstacle in the way of implementing the GCC initiative is now out.”
While a truce is largely holding in Sana, the capital, the same can't be said for elsewhere in the country.
The fighting has reduced Zinjibar, once home to more than 50,000 people, to a ghost town without power or running water.

Health official Alhadar Alsaidi said disease was spreading from dead bodies on the streets and wild dogs eating them. “I call on local and international health organisations to help us removing bodies from the streets and burying them,” he said.

The Yemeni army said this week it had killed 30 militants in Zinjibar, where a local official said 15 soldiers had also died in battles for the town seized by gunmen nearly two weeks ago.

Some of Saleh’s opponents have accused the president of deliberately letting al Qaeda militants take over Zinjibar to demonstrate the security risks if he lost power.

The volatile situation in Yemen, which lies on oil shipping lanes, alarms Western powers and neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia, who fear that chaos would give al Qaeda free rein there.
Al Qaeda and other Islamists would most definitely exploit the power vacuum created in the wake of Saleh's absence despite claims that the situation in the south is designed precisely to exploit this prediction so as to allow Saleh to hold on to power. The problem though is that al Qaeda is as much a menace to fellow Muslims as they are to the West and the US in particular. Their body count is exceedingly high among Muslims - anyone who doesn't practice Islam the way the Salafists decree.

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