INTERNATIONAL. The security situation in Yemen is no doubt deteriorating, but the opposition forces still do not have the strength to dislodge pro-Saleh forces in the capital, and that’s precisely why we’re seeing a political gridlock in Yemen continue.
The Saudis are meanwhile trying to prevent civil war in their southern neighbor but because all forces to this conflict are falling back on tribal law to fight their way out of the gridlock, this is a crisis that is bound to intensify in the coming days.
Over the weekend, opposition forces, particularly coming from tribesman loyal to the influential al-Ahmar family made a number of claims to the media that large-scale defections took place within Yemen’s most elite military unit, the Republican Guard. It appears that many of those claims were widely exaggerated and that Saleh still has pretty strong military control in the capital itself.
Next door, Saudi Arabia’s obviously very frustrated with the situation. They are trying to prevent civil war in the country. They’re also largely embarrassed by the failure of the GCC mediation. What’s becoming clear now in this situation is that all sides to the conflict are falling back on “urf,” or tribal code, in trying to fight their way out of the crisis. The problem is that tribal code is not as strong as it used to be for a number of reasons.
As a result you have a situation where neither side fully buys into either the political negotiations or the tribal negotiations. So the opposition hasn’t bought into the political mediation led by the GCC and the Saleh family has not bought into guarantees on paper for their immunity when tribal code actually calls for their debts. And this is really the fundamental tension we see between the modern Yemeni state and its tribal tradition, which is in effect prolonging the crisis.
Meanwhile, while the vast majority of Saleh’s forces are focusing their energies on holding down the capital, the writ of the state is rapidly disintegrating in the rest of the country. For example, in the southern coastal city of Zinjibar, we’ve seen Islamist militant activity on the rise in recent days as a hodgepodge of like-minded Islamist militants have come together in trying to overrun checkpoints, attack military targets and essentially try to assert their control over the city itself.
The opposition continues to claim that this is all a charade by Saleh, using the al Qaeda card to convince outsiders of the consequences, specifically the counterterrorism consequences, of forcing him out of power.
At this point in the crisis, that argument doesn’t really hold. Most of the casualties are coming from the military and rising Islamist militant activity in the country right now could be used on the other side of the argument to say that the longer Saleh stays, the greater the risk of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula expanding its sphere of influence in the country.
The propaganda on all sides of this conflict are cutting into reality, and that reality is that while Saleh is struggling to maintain control of the capital, an array of rebel forces in the rest of the country are facing the opportunity of a lifetime in trying to expand their territorial control ultimately at the expense of the state.
Notes: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed .
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