OP-ED Political Analysis

In Yemen, Is it the End?

by Dr. Murad Alazzany


Since the incident of last Friday, in which over fifty people were shot dead and one hundred were left wounded, events in Yemen have kept undergoing dramatic changes.

As much as it was horrifying, it drew a strong nationwide condemnation. Consequently, it happened to put the president under steadily growing pressure.

The pressure increases as prominent cabinet ministers, top officers, parliamentary members, and government officers and journalists kept announcing their resignations and solidarity with the revolution.

The list continues to grow, and the president’s repeated denials of the security forces’ involvement do not convince.

However, the most dramatic development in the political scenario of Yemen was when Major General Ali Mohsin, the head of the Northwestern military zone and the head of the first armored division, announced his joining and support of the youth revolutionary movement.

In a recorded speech aired on Aljazeera TV, he declared the deployment of his army units to protect the protesting youth.

The General’a announcement resonated powerfully throughout the country. This is due to his proximity to Saleh.

He has always been called the right-hand of Saleh and the most important pillar of support for his rule. He even had the distinction of being behind the Saleh’s rise into power in 1978 and the victory of the northern forces against the separatists in 1994.

However, during his military life as a top army general, Ali Mohsin managed to widen his control over many military institutions. It is well-known that members of the army units under his command are more loyal to him than to the president or the country.

At the same time, he managed to utilize his influence to build strong alliances with many tribal chiefs in the northern and southern parts of Yemen, and most significantly to create a strong alliance with the leaders of the Islamic Islah party.

That is why this man could survive the eliminations that have reached many senior top military men in the past two decades by the president.

Being aware of his prominence, Yemenis received the news of Mohsin ‘ssupport for the youth movement with a mix of joy and awe.

They knew that his support will open a wide door for more support for the revolutionary protest. In turn, that will create more cracks in the regime in a way that weakens Saleh and forces him to relinquish power.

There is much truth to the theory holding that the defection of the Major will likely followed by that of many military generals. Such a phenomenon worries many Yemenis amid whispers of a possible coup.

They fear that their revolution might be hijacked by military men as they earlier feared a hijacking by tribal sheikhs.

But their fear was dissipated by the fact that the major is a shadowy person who seldom appears on TV.

He has the military skill to make a good army leader but not the political dexterity to make a president.

He is just needed now to fill any the vacuum power ensuing from Saleh’s fall and to play the role of Tantawi of Egypt.

That is, to replicate his steps in preparing for a civil government in the post-revolutionary phase.

In a sense, Major Ali Mohsin can play a significant role in writing the Yemeni revolution’s success and in preventing the country from descending into chaos and turmoil.

The defection of General Mohsin represents a new threat for Saleh which seems not to have expected. It means a serious split of the army which is the only card Saleh has left to maneuver with his political rivals.

But it seems that President Saleh has not tired in trying to find a solution for the crisis that may end his rule soon.

The resignations of dozens of government officials and the defection of many military generals have shaken his inner circle but have not dented his aplomb.

Surprisingly, he still appears more defiant than responsive to the clamoring demands for his ouster that have spread all over the country.

Many Yemenis worry that his defiance and persistence to stay in power will drive the country into a civil war.

Their worries increased when the defence Minister, Brigadier General Muhmmad Nasir Ali appeared on TV to declare the loyalty of the armed forces to the President and to the state, and not to allow any coup attempt against legitimacy and democracy.

The statement by the defence minister shattered the expectations engendered by Mohsin’s defection, and its potential to lead to a graceful exit for Mr Saleh. It rather underscored the appearance of a serious split in the military.

The removal of Saleh has become inevitable. However, Saleh is misreading the situation — it seems that the president has not fully comprehended the Tunisian and Egyptian lessons.

Just like bin Ali and Mubarak, his concessions are made under the pressure of the protest and not out of his will to make fundamental political and economical reforms in the country.

Earlier, when the protest was in its nascent stage, the president defiantly rejected a proposal  of five points presented by  the coalition of opposition parties through influential religious clerics and tribal sheikhs.

That proposal represented a golden opportunity for Saleh to end weeks of unrest and protest all over the country. The president carelessly rejected it.

Now when the protests’ fervor has become stronger and the events accelerated further, the president accepted the proposal he rejected two weeks ago.

He appeared willing to leave power in six months but after a parliamentary election. But such an offer was rejected swiftly by the opposition. It is viewed as too little and too late to meet the youths’ aspirations and demands.

The president has lost his knack to manipulate his political opponents. Any concession he makes at the moment will unravel after the bloodshed that led to the defection of top army generals and dozens of government functionaries.

There is no viable option for him but to step down and leave office soon. Otherwise he will face more isolation as the landscape of the opposition is increasingly widening on his account – as for now it is attracting more supporters and reaching places which have previously been immune to the anti-government protests.

It is definitive now that shooting any more of the peaceful protesters will easily spell the end of Saleh.

If he is relying on the army units left under his son’s command, he is committing the most fatal mistake in his reign. Those units will not stand for long, they may witness a flood of resignation and defection in the coming days.

And even if they stand, they cannot use force against the protesting youth. Such a possibility increases by the Fatwa which is issued by a group of religious clerics by which they forbid soldiers obeying the orders of killing peaceful protesters.

If they do,  they will open a door for bloody skirmishes that will never stop.

In Yemen, the state does not maintain a monopoly on violence. Weapons are widely available and the level of literacy is very low. Conflicts are oftenly decided by force. But in such cases more blood may spill before the standoff is resolved. That makes the possibility of being driven into a civil war very high.

Mr. Saleh is really in a pathetic situation. He resists facing the same fate of Mubarak and Bin Ali and at the same time warning us of the Libyan scenario.

He threatens Yemenis with the possibility of a civil war ensuing from his removal. Such a scare tactic is seen as attempt to portray himself as the only one who can rule a united Yemen.

He kept warning of the various groups that have recently joined the opposition. That is, the secessionists in the south and the Houthi rebels at the north. He is right to a certain extent when he said these groups are fractious and only united around the goal of his ouster.

Such movements have not abandoned their agendas but have merely frozen them. There is a likelihood that they will not remain united once Saleh is deposed.

But it must be realized that the movement of the youth is the strongest now on the ground and its voice is the loudest.

In those rallying points of change and freedom a civil society is in the process of being formed. This society becomes a model for all Yemenis aspiring to see the values of justice, equality and freedom prevail.

Any popular movement that does not pronounce its conviction of these principles will be marked an enemy of the revolution. It must be noted too that as the youth could topple the regime, they will be able to topple any agenda not conforming with these revolution principals.

Saleh might be curious to know who is going to be the president after him. He might be concerned about the future of the country and may be about his own and family’s future. However the right thing he can do now is to let the people decide the future of their own volition.