Islamic militants have consolidated their hold in parts of southern Yemen, controlling market prices, ordering women to stay indoors and recruiting young men into their ranks. The AP says “government forces do not appear to have the will to fight the Islamists, raising fears that al-Qaida’s most dangerous wing is making significant gains as the weakened regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh unravels in the face of an array of opponents.”
The Yemeni government says it has averted a suicide bomb attack on Aden which has a port and oil facilities. In order to bolster the embattled Yemenis, Saudi Arabia has given it 3 million barrels of oil in a number of shipments which arrived through Aden.
The VOA reports that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman arrived in the capital, Sana’a, to try to broker an end to Yemen’s political crisis. He called for an immediate power transfer from President Ali Abdullah Saleh, recovering from wounds in Saudi Arabia, to end the paralysis. “Washington is growing concerned about increased activity by Islamic militants in Yemen as the country struggles with a broader opposition uprising against Saleh. Insurgents have launched several attacks in southern Yemen during the country’s political unrest.” Isobel Coleman, writing in a Foreign Policy blog says “Yemen now suffers from a power vacuum.”
Yemen’s current situation is not so much a negotiation between the advocates of reform and the remnants of the old regime—as is the case today in Tunisia and Egypt—but instead looks more like a raw power struggle between rival armed factions. The sons and nephews of President Saleh have a monopoly on the country’s security forces, whereas the influential Ahmar clan, a rival family, has its own forces fighting Saleh and in recent months has been bankrolling the protests. A further wild card is General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar (not related to the Ahmar clan), who defected from the military and brought loyal troops with him. These troops have been protecting protesters and have also clashed with Saleh’s forces. This situation could easily devolve into civil war. Moreover, the political opposition is relatively weak and not in a position to argue effectively for lasting reforms amidst this chaos.
“The longer this goes on, the worse it is for Yemen and the Yemeni people,” said Christopher Boucek, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Things were made worse by attacks by Islamist groups on the oil pipeline infrastructure which have further reduced the country’s ability to support itself.
Yemen is simply one of several countries in the region which are reaching critical points: the Libyan campaign against Khadaffy, the scheduling of the Egyptian elections and the continuing crisis in Syria are some of the others. There is very little talk from the administration now about leading the “Arab Spring”. Now it is mostly wait-and-see and hope for the best.