Analysis: Yemen's prolonged political crisis
Source: , Author: Reva Bhalla
Posted: Thu September 15, 2011 5:30 pm

INTERNATIONAL. Protests and clashes between opposition and pro-government forces have continued across Yemen since Monday, when the Yemeni president signed a deal authorizing his vice president to negotiate a power transfer deal with the opposition and organize early elections.

The president and his allies may not be able to assert authority over the Yemeni state overall, but his faction is making notable progress in strengthening control over the capital, Sanaa. That means Yemen will remain in protracted political stalemate and below the threshold for civil war for some time to come.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who remains in Saudi Arabia while his family members and allies continue to run state affairs in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, signed a deal on Monday to authorize his vice president to negotiate a power transfer deal with the opposition and organize early elections in line with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] initiative.

That initiative calls for Saleh to step down with immunity and the organization of early elections within three months of signing the deal. The deal, as expected, was full of caveats. Saleh retains the right to reject the deal in the end, and he refused to give up his post overall. If Saleh is going to leave, and he’s in apparently no rush to do so, he is going to leave on his own terms.

The opposition saw right through the deal and promptly held demonstrations on Tuesday under the slogan “no deal, no maneuvering, the president should leave.” Saleh likely anticipated the opposition’s reaction. This is yet another step along the way that allows Saleh to appear cooperative with the U.S. and other mediators while holding out just enough on opposition demands to make it appear as though the opposition is the one rejecting the deal in the end.

What’s more important to understand, and something we’ve been saying since the beginning of this crisis, is that Saleh and his clan have been maintaining control over the organs of the state that matter, namely the security apparatus. In recent days for example, the Republican Guards, led by Saleh’s son, have been making notable progress in reclaiming opposition territory in and around Sanaa.

And the United States, for lack of better options, is okay with that, especially after the United States has made considerable investment in Yemen since 9/11 in an attempt to develop a so-called new guard that would keep at least some distance from the large number of Islamist sympathizers that continue to pervade Yemen’s intelligence and security agencies.

The United States is maintaining pressure on Saleh and his allies to work with the opposition, but Washington is just as concerned about creating the conditions for civil war in the country that would play to the hands of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its jihadist allies that continue operating in the country.

Meanwhile, the main arbiter in this dispute, Saudi Arabia, remains very much divided over how to manage this political crisis. Some Saudi factions have openly backed Saleh and his clan, while others have been backing the tribes and major opposition figures that are against Saleh.

Some of this has to do with personal differences between Saudi King Abdullah and Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif in their personal relationships with Saleh, but it goes to show that even Saudi Arabia has yet to form a coherent policy in managing its southern neighbor.

Saudi Arabia generally prefers Yemen to remain weak and thus deeply exposed to Saudi influence. At the same time, Saudi Arabia does not want Yemen to disintegrate to the point that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose target set remains strategically lasered in on the Saudi kingdom, has the room to harness its skills and use Yemen as a more secure launchpad for transnational attacks.

These mixed signals from Saudi Arabia are prolonging the political crisis in Yemen, but what’s clear is that Saleh and his clan maintain control over Sanaa, the capital, and the opposition does not yet have what it takes to shift that dynamic in any fundamental way.

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This article is republished with permission from STRATFOR.

© 2011 STRATFOR. All rights reserved




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