By Arab News
The numbers of civilians killed in Yemen have not yet reached the horrific proportions of Qaddafi’s massacres but with more mass protests expected today across the country and President Ali Abdullah Saleh refusing to leave office, further bloodshed appears inevitable. There is no sign of a way out of the impasse there, only hardening of attitudes on both sides. Like Libya, Yemen is sliding into civil war.
In Libya, there is an obvious answer: Qaddafi must go. There is no easy answer for Yemen. Many will regard Saleh’s boast that without him there will be chaos as a desperate but hollow attempt to justify clinging onto power. But without a strong government, Yemen could be another Somalia. All the same dangerous ingredients for an explosive failed state are there.
The Houthis have been fighting for a return of a Zaydi state in the north. Southern separatists want the restoration of South Yemen with Aden as its capital, and within the south there are those who want a separate state in Hadramout. There is tribalism. There is also Gen. Ali Mohsin Saleh who while technically part of the army command until his “defection” to the opposition this week has long been an independent warlord with his own battalions and his own presidential ambitions.
Last but not least, there is Al-Qaeda. Until now, it has been used as a tool by all and sundry to attack each other and also as a bargaining chip by the government to frighten the US into paying it large sums of money — as a bulwark against it. At the moment it operates by permission of those who provide it with protection. But in a power vacuum it would have a role on its own.
It does not take much intelligence to realize that without a strong hand at the center, Yemen is more than likely to blast itself apart, with disastrous consequences for the entire region, in particular for Saudi Arabia. There might possibly be an unrecognized but stable government in South Yemen, mirroring that of the unrecognized state of Somaliland on the other side of the Gulf of Aden. But the rest of the country would be in infectious turmoil.
Al-Qaeda would be able to operate as and where it wants and would try to use the advantage to launch attacks both within the enfeebled Yemen and elsewhere within the peninsula. There would also be a serious risk of piracy extending into the Red Sea, with Yemeni port there being drawn into the scourge. And there would probably be a flood of Yemeni refugees in their tens of thousands trying to find a safe haven on the Saudi side of the border.
That does not mean that the President Saleh must stay. Indeed, it is clear that his continued presence only adds to Yemen’s instability. There will not be peace while he remains. But were he to go and not be replaced by a strong central government in Sanaa, it would be a disaster — for Yemen, for Saudi security, for the region. That cannot be ignored.