By Elizabeth Arrott
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh is in Saudi Arabia for treatment of injuries sustained in a rocket attack Friday, raising further uncertainty in his country, where many are seeking his ouster.
Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Sana’a to celebrate President Saleh’s departure. While many in the crowd decried the violence that culminated in the attack on Mr. Saleh’s compound Friday, some, like this man, felt the country would be better with him gone.
Referring to the recent killing of protesters in the southern city of Taiz, the man, who did not give his name, called Mr. Saleh a murderer who has received his punishment.
How long the president will be out of the country is far from clear. Certainly his injuries are more serious than the “scratches” officials described in the immediate aftermath of the attack. But even if his physical condition improves, Saudi Arabia, which has led a regionally-mediated effort to have him leave power, could be reluctant to let him return to Yemen.
Reports indicate Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi has become acting president, in accordance with Yemen’s constitution. But with rivalries fracturing the country on political, military and tribal lines, there is no consensus that he would be a suitable replacement.
Among the contenders for a leadership position is Hamid Al-Ahmar, a powerful businessman and brother of Sadek al-Ahmar, head of the influential Hashid tribal federation. His clan fought two weeks of street battles with government forces in Sana’a and officials blame the family for the attack on the president’s mosque. The clan says it was not involved.
Political protesters, angered by the violence, issued a statement after Mr. Saleh’s departure calling for a civilian transitional leadership, without those involved in the violence.
That would seem a reference to the Ahmar fighters, as well as government forces who violently suppressed the protest movement in Taiz. While not civilian, several leading military officers who broke with the president in recent weeks have not engaged in any fighting. They have given their moral support to the anti-Saleh movement and have control over an unknown number of troops.
There were reports Sunday that other troops were abandoning their positions in Taiz, as well as in the southern port city of Aden. Security in Yemen is already tenuous, with areas beyond the capital largely in the hands of a variety of forces, including southern secessionists, northern rebels, a strong Islamist movement and the local terror group, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Add to that an influx of Somali refugees from across the Gulf of Aden and some observers are wondering if Yemen faces the same lawless, chaotic fate as Somalia itself.