Yemen dictator Saleh resigns … in Saudi Arabia

posted at 12:05 pm on November 23, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Why not in Saudi Arabia?  Riyadh seems to be pulling strings all over the region, stepping up where it sees a vacuum of leadership from the US.  Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime was living on borrowed time anyway, and this gives the Saudis a chance to play kingmaker in a neighbor with whom they have had numerous issues over the last several decades:

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to sign a U.S.-backed power transfer deal mediated by Gulf Arab states to resolve the impoverished country’s crisis, Yemen’s state television reported.

Saleh has repeatedly promised to sign the Gulf-brokered agreement, only to change his mind every time.

Under the deal, Saleh would step down and transfer power to the vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

“The president … arrived this morning in Riyadh on a visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, following an invitation from the Saudi leadership, to attend the signing of the Gulf initiative and its operational mechanism,” state news agency Saba said.

The site of the signing ceremony is most convenient for Saleh.  In fact, one has to wonder why he’d bother going back to Yemen.  After 30 years of ruling Yemen, the nation has fallen apart, and is now devolving into a warlord/city-state environment.  Al-Qaeda’s closely-aligned affiliate AQAP now controls towns in the south, and throughout the rest of the country, old tribal alliances are coming into conflict with an unmoored military.  A return by Saleh for any significant length of time would risk capture and even more unpleasantness even if the new government honors the agreement signed in Saudi Arabia.

The US has been pushing for Saleh to resign for months, as the Arab Spring swept through Yemen as it did the states of North Africa and even Syria and Bahrain.  That’s mostly just a recognition of reality — Saleh wasn’t going to survive the turmoil, and the US and Saudi Arabia want to retain enough credibility to help get a friendly replacement for Saleh.  Although in the short run the lack of unity may give us more opportunity to strike at AQAP targets, the best long-term solution to fight terrorism in Yemen is a strong, popular government in Sanaa with enthusiastic support from the military.  That is even more important for the Saudi power structure than for us, as it sees the populist democratic movement encircling their nation, and they need to be in front of it rather than let the movement dictate their options to them.

With Saleh out, though, several critical questions remain.  Will his successor, his own vice president, be able to restore central authority in Yemen?  Will the military recognize this transfer of power, or do they have ideas of their own?  Will Sanaa’s writ run outside of its major cities, or will Yemen fall into a state of tribal anarchy along the lines of Waziristan and the other frontier areas of Pakistan, or worse, fall into warlord rule as in Somalia?  Given the critical strategic location of Yemen on two major shipping lanes, it’s a question with great impact for the region and the world.

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So jihad adverted? I don’t think so.

Oil Can on November 23, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Dear leader to take credit in 5….4…..3

cmsinaz on November 23, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Riyadh seems to be pulling strings all over the region, stepping up where it sees a vacuum of leadership from the US.

Is this the explanation of the Obama/Clinton foreign policy in the region?

CrazyGene on November 23, 2011 at 12:11 PM

A power vacuum in Yemen? What could possibly go wrong?

Mike Honcho on November 23, 2011 at 12:11 PM

stepping up where it sees a vacuum of leadership from the US.

US leadership right now sucks just like a vacuum….

ted c on November 23, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Al-Qaeda’s closely-aligned affiliate AQAP now controls towns in the south

And we went to Libya. Why?

WitchDoctor on November 23, 2011 at 12:14 PM

“… stepping up where it sees a vacuum of leadership from the US.”

But Obowma wants his ‘Jobs Bill’ passed…!


Seven Percent Solution on November 23, 2011 at 12:25 PM

Does it really matter who is in charge in Yemen? Let’s face reality- they’re just about out of oil and water, have no real industry or external markets and even have to go elsewhere for their khat supplies. They live off of handouts from other countries. Yemen lags behind the rest of the world in everything-education, industry, health care, government, etc… As far as shitholes go, it makes Bangladesh look good and isn’t much better than its neighbor across the straits in Somalia.

No matter WHO is running that place, it’s a disaster and there isn’t a damn thing we or anyone else can do about it unless we’re willing to level the damn place. So…let the Saudi’s have it and the the rebellion that will follow (which it is already fighting in southern Arabia/northern Yemen) and stop worrying about it.

rotorhead on November 23, 2011 at 12:41 PM

I’m advocating an unilateral, U.S. driven, no fly zone in Yemen, right now. It’s the very least we can do.

a capella on November 23, 2011 at 12:43 PM

rotorhead on November 23, 2011 at 12:41 PM

I think it really doesn’t matter who’s in charge in Sa’naa, because no one has really “been in charge” in Yemen in my lifetime (and I’ve passed the half-century mark).

There was a book titled Yemen; The Forgotten War that described the situation in the country after the British left. It paralleled it to that which existed there before the British came.

In both cases, the “situation” was a civil war that was more like a series of internecine tribal feuds, crossed with radical politics ranging from Islamist to leftist. Plus a goodly number of family feuds being pursued with military-level ordnance up to and including light artillery.

The author’s conclusion was that Yemen would be at war with itself as long as the local culture operated on the “You and Me against those guys down the block” principle.

The book was published in 1971. Nothing much seems to have changed in the intervening four decades.

On the other hand, Yemen, like Somalia and Lebanon before it, may be giving us a look at the eventual destiny of the Arab world. Not the world-wide caliphate the imams of Iran dream of, but a primitive culture, operating at local levels, on the Hatfield-and-McCoy principle.

And one in which whoever can yell “Allah!” the loudest while hosing the area around him with a Kalashnikov gets to be “the boss”.

clear ether


eon on November 23, 2011 at 3:46 PM