President Ali Abdullah Saleh's recent return to Yemen has
emboldened Saleh loyalists and angered protesters further. A civil
war in Yemen could have repercussions for global trade.
As Yemen enters its ninth month of widespread antigovernment
protests, President Ali Abdullah Saleh's attempt to reassert control
rather than negotiate with the opposition is pushing the country
toward civil war.
While most Yemenis have shown great restraint and persist in
their calls for a peaceful transition of power, the recent return of
Mr. Saleh after convalescing abroad from a June assassination
attempt has emboldened both Saleh loyalists and protesters opposed
to his regime.
"Saleh won't quit until the whole country is on fire," declares
Aklan Faris, who has defected from the elite Republican Guard run by
the president's son. "But by God he has gone too far. It is ayb
[shame] to kill women and children. God willing, Saleh and his
family will be forced out."
But neither Saleh's government nor the opposition - a diverse
movement of tribal leaders, military defectors including Maj. Gen.
Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and disillusioned youths - appears to have the
support or military assets to triumph decisively over the other.
"None of the key protagonists - Presi-dent Saleh and his family,
Ali Mohsen, and the al-Ahmar family - are showing signs that they
are either willing to back down or able to achieve an unambiguous
political or military victory," says Sarah Phillips, a Yemen
specialist at the University of Sydney in Australia.
A civil war in Yemen would not be one in which a single group
challenges another. It would be multidimensional, and it could have
repercussions for the region - most notably Saudi Arabia, which
shares an 1,100-mile border with Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is ill-equipped to deal with the kind of
humanitarian crisis that would result from a civil war in Yemen, and
the conflict could spread to the Saudi provinces of Jizan, Asir, and
Najran, which are home to both ethnic Yemenis and religious
minorities - some of whom clashed with the Saudi authorities in
Such a conflict could also heighten the threat of piracy along
the Bab al-Mandeb, a strategic strait that is critical to
international oil and cargo shipments.
Divided military, divided country
The Republican Guard, the Central Security Service, and the Air
Force, all commanded by relatives of the president, have played key
roles in maintaining Saleh's tenuous grip on power.
Despite the thousands of antigovernment demonstrators who
continue to fill Yemen's streets, Saleh still has a substantial
number of supporters both within the military and among the general
populace - likely influenced by his extensive patronage networks
through which he has long bought support in exchange for cash, jobs,
However, the increasing level of violence against civilians
threatens to erode the cohesiveness of even those military units
that remain loyal to the government. Saleh's return to Yemen and the
continued resolve of the protesters are driving many of these units
to take ever more desperate measures.
"Saleh and those around him know they have nothing to lose," says
Mohammad al-Jawfi, an officer attached to the 3rd Armored Division
led by Ahmar, Saleh's "iron fist" for decades until his defection
this spring. "It is all or nothing for them. They think they can win
now that Saleh is back, but he has lost the people. The men who
fight for him are fighting for money. What happens when the money
But while much of Saleh's support is undoubtedly purchased, some
Yemenis genuinely support Saleh out of the fear that chaos will
follow his ouster at the hands of taiyanni, as the young protesters
are pejoratively called. …