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Analysis: Popular Revolt Stacks Odds Against Yemen’s Saleh

Posted on 10 March 2011 by hashimilion

President Ali Abdullah Saleh is still resisting the popular clamor for his removal that has convulsed Yemen since protesters toppled Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak four weeks ago, but the odds are stacking up against him. About 30 people have been killed, mostly in the rebellious south, in clashes between Saleh’s security forces and the tens of thousands of protesters turning out daily across the country.

So far Saleh and his foes have avoided the bloody all-out battles for control such as those unfurling in Libya, where an equally determined Muammar Gaddafi is fighting for survival.

The Yemeni leader, who has ruled for 32 years by cannily navigating tribal politics, installing clan relatives in top security posts and rewarding loyalty with cash and favors, may be reluctant to go down the Gaddafi route, yet the prolonged standoff in the streets carries mounting risks of violence.

Police and security men fired into demonstrators near Sanaa University late on Tuesday, killing one and wounding 80.

“The events of last night illustrate that Saleh is willing to use increasing violence in an effort to maintain his rule,” said Sarah Phillips, a Yemen expert at Sydney University.

“The problem he has is that opposition to his regime is incredibly diverse, both geographically and in terms of what people want, after the immediate desire of seeing him step down, and that he now has very little that he can offer people.”

There is no sign of any let-up in the swelling protests against Saleh by Yemenis who blame him for what they see as decades of high-level graft, poverty and neglect.

“The momentum now is with the opposition, both protesters and the political parties, and that’s become increasingly clear,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center.

“We saw the largest pro-democracy protests in Yemen’s history last week. We’re seeing more opposition unity.”

Saleh, already combating revolts in the north and south, as well as an ambitious al Qaeda wing, has been losing the support of once-allied tribal sheikhs, lawmakers from his ruling party and Muslim clerics, but the army and police still seem loyal and the president’s Saudi and U.S. allies have not deserted him.

The veteran leader may accept that he cannot extend his rule indefinitely. “At this time, the most he would hope for is to preside over a transition period until the end of his term in 2013,” said Yemeni political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani.

WAR CHEST

The 68-year-old leader, using what opposition MP Abdulmoez Dabwan calls a “war chest” of cash, can also bring out loyalist crowds in his defense — this week his party organized free lunches for hundreds who then joined a pro-Saleh demonstration.

Saleh has pledged to quit in 2013 and not hand power to his son, but rejected an opposition plan proposed last week for political reforms and a timetable for his departure this year.

Ali Omrani, a former member of Saleh’s party, said Yemenis were no longer satisfied with vague promises from the president.

“He needs to offer something very clear about the peaceful transfer of power. He has to start with the security services and make a gesture — at least begin removing his relatives.”

Saleh accuses his foes of threatening Yemen with chaos and portrays himself to the West as a bulwark against al Qaeda. His government this week asked foreign donors to stump up $6 billion to fund its budget deficits over the next five years.

“Yemen wants more money to come in and Saleh wants to really try and fragment and fracture the protesters,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University.

“He believes if he can do that, he can continue to survive. But a lot of the protesters are wise to the game… and are trying to stand in solidarity with one another,” he said, citing the so-called Houthi northern rebels and southern secessionists.

Saleh’s challenges have multiplied in recent years as oil and water resources dwindle in Yemen, an unruly land of mountain and desert where guns abound and central authority is lax.

“The inability of the central government to deliver basic public services, the absence of law and order and the fragmentation of society have created the ideal environment for autonomists, secessionists, insurgents and irredentists to emerge and flourish in many parts of the country,” said Khaled Fattah, at Scotland’s St Andrews University.

The protests feed off youth unemployment, hunger and corruption, but many of Yemen’s 23 million people are also fed up with an autocratic leader who denies them a voice — and are impatient with opposition parties trying to cut deals with him.

Hamid, the Brookings analyst, said Saleh’s strategy was to stall and promise dialogue without altering the fundamental structure of the system in hopes the protests lose steam.

“But I don’t think we should be under the illusion that Saleh is going to become a democrat overnight,” he added.

Iryani said Saleh’s entourage was probably pressing him to fight it out and if the power balance shifted in his favor he might even opt for Gaddafi-style force — although in Egypt and Tunisia the military refused to suppress popular protests.

“The army has not been tested against the people yet. When it does, I expect it to disintegrate quickly,” he said.

Source Reuters

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Egypt Inspired Protesters Battle Security Forces in Bahrain and Yemen

Posted on 15 February 2011 by hashimilion

Demonstrators clashed with security forces in Bahrain and Yemen, emboldened to challenge ruling regimes by the success of Egypt’s populist uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.

Bahraini riot police fired tear gas to break up protests across the island nation, and one man reportedly was shot dead by police, as demonstrators demanded more political freedom and jobs. Yemeni protesters announced plans for a fifth day of demonstrations after thousands gathered yesterday at Yemen’s Sanaa University to demand President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down, clashing with police and pro-government demonstrators who hurled stones and wielded clubs.

“Each country has its own unique circumstances,” said Alireza Nader, an international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation’s Washington office and a former Middle East specialist at the U.S. Treasury Department. “But whether it’s Persian Iran or Arab Yemen or Bahrain, all those countries are vulnerable to social unrest.”

Oil Region

The anti-regime turmoil is entering a new stage as it moves from the Arab world’s most populous nation to the Persian Gulf region, an area of vital importance to the U.S. and other industrialized nations because it holds more than 50 percent of the world’s oil reserves.

The regional uncertainties were reflected in the cost of insuring debt sold by the government of Bahrain, which rose 11 basis points yesterday to 248, the highest since Feb. 4, according to CMA prices for credit-default swaps. Still, oil tumbled in New York to the lowest level since November amid an abundance of fuel in the U.S. and as tensions eased in Egypt. Crude oil for March delivery fell 77 cents to settle at $84.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest level since Nov. 30.

Shock Waves

The Arab world has been shaken over the past two months by anti-government demonstrations over economic hardship and corruption that drove Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali from office on Jan. 14 and forced Mubarak to resign and cede his presidential powers to Egypt’s armed forces on Feb. 11.

In Algeria, where opposition leaders are planning further protests after violent clashes Feb. 12 in Algiers, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mourad Medelci told Europe 1 the government may lift a 19-year-old state of emergency in the next few days. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said on Feb. 3 that demonstrations, banned under the state of emergency since 1992, would be permitted, except in the capital, according to the state-run Algeria Presse Service.

Facebook Protests

A group called “the Revolution of 14th February in Bahrain” used Facebook to promote the protests yesterday and has more than 13,400 followers on the social-networking website. The date marks the anniversary of the establishment in 2002 of a second constitution, which provided an elected parliament in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and made the kingdom a constitutional monarchy.

“Bahrain, of any Gulf state, is the most susceptible because of the deep grievances of the majority Shiite population” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “The Shiite population is excluded from many types of government employment and municipal services in Shiite villages are below standards in other Sunni neighborhoods.”

Protesters and police battled into the night in the alleys of Diraz, on the northwest coast. Shiite Muslim protesters threw rocks and built barricades of wood and cement blocks, while police fired tear gas and sound grenades.

Tear Gas

“We were starting our peaceful protests when riot police attacked us with tear gas,” Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said in an interview after the protest in Bani Jamrah was dispersed. “We will continue our protests until the government hears our demand.”

A man was shot dead by police during the protests, said Matar Ebrahim Ali Matar, an al-Wefaq party member on the Council of Representatives. Earlier yesterday, residents of the Shiite Muslim village of Nuweidrat said clashes broke out between activists and police after morning prayers.

Bahraini Shiites, who represent between 60 and 70 percent of the population, say they face job and housing discrimination by the government. Bahrain’s royal family has close ties with Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy. Many among Bahrain’s populace retain cultural and family links with Shiite- dominated Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival.

Deep Pockets

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who is Sunni, ordered an increase in food subsidies and social welfare payments as the government sought to ease the burden of rising food prices, the Bahrain News Agency said Feb. 3. He also ordered the payment of 1,000 dinars ($2,653) to each Bahraini family.

In Yemen, an impoverished nation at the southern tip the Arabian Peninsula, protesters yesterday continued to press their demand that Saleh, 68, who has ruled for 32 years, step down. His recent promise not to run for re-election when his term is up in 2013 has not slowed the opposition.

They chanted “Down, down with Ali, long live Yemen” as police formed a human shield to keep crowds from spreading. At least 17 people were injured and 165 detained in Sanaa, Xinhua news agency reported, citing witnesses. Ghazi al-Samee, 31, one of the protesters in the southwestern city of Taiz, said eight people were injured yesterday and that more than 30 people were arrested.

Unlike Bahrain, the Yemen government can’t afford to try to buy calm by offering economic benefits. Yemen faces serious water shortages, declining oil output and a society where more than half the population of 23 million is under 20 years old. About 40 percent of Yemen’s population lives on less than $2 a day.

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