Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose compound was attacked
today, appears unable to shut down the unprecedented challenge to
his 32-year rule.
Yemen slipped closer to a full-blown civil war today as
opposition tribesmen attacked the compound of President Ali Abdullah
Saleh for the first time. While the president appears to have
narrowly escaped serious injury, the escalating fighting represents
an unprecedented challenge to his 32-year rule.
Mr. Saleh has long faced down opposition to his rule from
disparate groups, spending vast amounts of blood and treasure to
placate tribal leaders, northern rebels, and southern secessionists.
But now Saleh's diverse rivals have coalesced around the nonviolent
youth protest movement inspired by Egypt, presenting a more unified
challenge to his grip on power.
"We are all one in demanding that Saleh leave power," says Nuha
Jamal, a youth activist in the southern port city of Aden. "All of
Yemen is united in this cause."
How Saleh courted tribal leaders
Saleh's fragile hold over the country first began breaking down
when hundreds of student protesters took to the streets minutes
after the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "After
Mubarak, it's Ali," they chanted, until riot police stormed the
relatively small crowd and broke up the march.
Since that day, Saleh's hold over Yemen has been crumbling. Now,
his forces are fighting one of Yemen's most prestigious tribal
confederations in a gang-style street war in the capital, which has
been shaken by artillery barrages and pitched battles for more than
Saleh, learning from centuries of Ottoman failures, knew from the
outset of his reign that any attempt to subjugate the tribes would
end in disaster. After all, it was Yemen's most beloved and powerful
tribal figure, the late Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who led the
parliamentary vote that made Saleh president of the Yemen Arab
Republic in 1978.
From that day, he made allies of northern Yemen's two most
powerful tribal confederations, the Hashid confederation of which
his own Sanhan tribe is a part, and the Bakil confederation.
Saleh has not held onto power solely through brute force and
terror but through the patronage of tribal leaders - giving them
money and political positions in exchange for loyalty.
But Saleh's hold over the tribes has completely disintegrated
since the youth uprising began. Sheikh Hamid-al-Ahmar - an
opposition politician, millionaire businessman, and son of Abdullah
al-Ahmar - immediately expressed his support for the revolution and
joined those calling for an end to Saleh's rule.
In March, his eldest brother - Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the titular
head of the Hashid confederation - voiced his support for the youth
revolution as well. Two other brothers also defected that month:
Hussein bin Abdullah al-Ahmar, who was a member of Saleh's ruling
party, and Himywar al-Ahmar, deputy speaker of parliament.
Now the Ahmar family is leading battles against government
military units, resulting in the worst fighting seen in the capital
since the 1960s. …