Yemenis begin what many hope is post-Saleh era

Reuters , Monday 6 Jun 2011

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure to Saudi Arabia for treatment raises hopes that it signals the end of his long reign as attention turns to from where power may next emerge

In this March 27, 2007 file photo, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz, right, shakes hands with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh before the Arab summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, (AP).

Yemenis celebrated into Monday morning what many hope will be a new era without President Ali Abdullah Saleh, now recuperating in Saudi Arabia after an operation to remove shrapnel from his chest.

A tenuous truce was holding in Sanaa after two weeks of fighting between Saleh's forces and a powerful tribal federation which killed more than 200 people and forced thousands to flee.

Saleh's exit to regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia could facilitate efforts to prise him out of power after nearly 33 years in charge of the Arab world's poorest country.
But the future of Yemen, home to an al-Qaeda wing exploiting the space available in a nation riven by complex rivalries among tribal leaders, generals and politicians, remains uncertain.

Saleh was wounded on Friday when a rocket struck his palace in Sanaa, killing seven people and wounding senior officials and advisers. He is being treated in a Riyadh hospital.

"We are entering a post-Saleh Yemen, which Saudi Arabia and the West may not be necessarily prepared for, but it is a new era that will be very challenging for all concerned," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates and senior analyst at Political Capital.

Protesters, interpreting Saleh's absence as potentially permanent, celebrated in Sanaa where they have been staging anti-government demonstrations since January.

"Who is next?" asked one banner held up by protesters in a sea of red, white and black Yemeni flags, referring to the wave of uprisings in Arab world that has toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and inspired revolts in Syria, Libya and Bahrain.

Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is now formally in charge, but lacks a power base of his own. Saleh's departure could make it hard for him to retain control, although his close relatives still command key military units and security forces.

Other contenders in a possible power struggle include the well-armed Hashed tribal federation, breakaway military leaders, Islamists, leftists and an angry public seeking relief from crippling poverty, corruption and failing public services.

Any descent into chaos in Yemen, which lies next to oil giant Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes, would alarm Gulf neighbours and Western powers worried about al-Qaeda.

Yemenis await word on Saleh's condition and signals from the Saudis on whether they will let him return home or insist he sign a Gulf-brokered transition deal he has so far rejected.


Saleh, a political survivor, has defied global calls to step down and survived the defection of top generals, ministers and ambassadors who left the government after troops killed many demonstrators in March. More than 450 people have been killed in the unrest shaking the nation of 23 million since late January.

Saleh has exasperated his former U.S. and Saudi allies, who once saw him as a key counter-terrorism partner, by repeatedly reneging on the transition plan, even though it offered him immunity from prosecution -- something rejected by protesters.

"The (Saudi) kingdom will convince Saleh to agree to the Gulf-brokered exit so the situation can be resolved peacefully and without bloodshed," said Saudi analyst Abdulaziz Kasem.

The possible fall of Saleh, 69, could also give renewed impetus to protest movements around the region.

"The departure of Saleh is a turning point not just for the Yemeni revolution, but is also a huge push for the current changes in the Arab region and the start of the real victory," said Zaki Bani Rusheid, of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood. 

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