The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Aborted revolution in Yemen? / Middle East & North Africa - Feared general regarded as kingmaker:

There are no obvious candidates for the next president and a transition of power is likely to favour the heavyweights who have made the pre-emptive strike against him. One way or another, Hamid al-Ahmar, Mr Zindani and Gen Ahmar will wield considerable influence over whatever happens next.
For the US, which fears attacks by militants trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen and has millions of dollars invested in a counter-terrorism programme with the security services under Mr Saleh’s control, his possible resignation as president could be tricky.
Although Hamid al-Ahmar is said to have good relations with Saudi Arabia, both Mr Zindani and Gen Ahmar are linked with the Sunni fundamentalist Salafist movement in Yemen, and Mr Zindani is a veteran of the Afghan jihad.

On that last line — there is no contradiction between good relations with Salafists and good relations with Saudi Arabia, quite on the contrary. Doesn't look as if these developments in Yemen are leading up to anything like a real revolution, it's just another coup. A revolution pretty much anywhere in the Arab world has to be in some ways against Saudi Arabia and its regional hegemony. Hope at least something good for Yemenis will come out of it.

Also, from Greg Johnsen:


First, many Yemenis are worries about Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, he is a member of the president's Sanhan tribe, and has been a big backer of the president for years. Although more recently cracks have appeared in the inner-circle, which I alluded to in this piece for Foreign Policy last year.

There was also the news last year, that President Salih tried to have him knocked off by giving Saudi pilots bombing coordinates, which were supposed to be the location of a Huthi encampment but turned out to be Ali Muhsin's headquarters in Sa'dah.

That, of course, didn't sit well with the general, and Salih's explanation that is was all a mistake made in the fog of war didn't pass muster.

Some Yemenis on twitter are already suggesting that this is calculated move by Salih, who is using Ali Muhsin as some sort of a trojan horse, designed to split the protesters.

Two things on that. 1. This speaks to mindset of politics in Yemen and how Salih has conducted himself for 32 years and 2. there is some accuracy to this given how Ali Muhsin, in much the same way as Salih, has stolen land and been involved in criminal undertakings and has also been conducting the war against the Huthis who are also calling for the overthrow of the regime.

But in spite of all of that, I don't think this was a move orchestrated by Salih in that it will, in the end, hurt him much more than it will divide his enemies.

What Ali Muhsin is doing is setting himself up for a post-Salih future and further limiting who will have to go. His statement today - and it is important to note that he didn't say he was joining the protesters, only supporting and protecting them - puts him in position to head the military or military council under the next government. This is something a number of prominent Yemenis were waiting for. Not because they liked Ali Muhsin, they don't. But because he commands so much loyalty within the army.

Now, it will only be Salih his sons and nephews that have to go, or at least that is what Ali Muhsin is attempting to insure. The rest of the Sanhan clan in the military and intelligence command structure will, if Ali Muhsin's move is successful, be able to maintain their lucrative positions in a post-Salih Yemen.

Also, Brian Whitaker (who is quite the Yemen expert):

The foreign minister also made a hasty trip to Saudi Arabia, carrying a letter from Salih.

It is unclear at present whether Salih is still seeking to cling on or trying to negotiate a dignified departure with an orderly transition. Either way, the Saudis seem to be heavily involved behind the scenes and perhaps acting partly on behalf of the United States.

This may be the reason why Salih is not gone already: there are hints that the Saudis may want him to stay, while the US – if not actually wanting to keep him in power – is worried about the future without him. There are still those in the US who regard Salih as an important ally against al-Qaeda, not fully appreciating that he is a very tricky customer, as the WikiLeaks documents demonstrated (here and here).