Could Yemen Be Next?

Cross posted at Interest of the State.

As the downfall of the Gaddafi regime now looks imminent, could Yemen’s government be the next to fall?

Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh has already announced that he will not run again in 2013, which, if not deposed, will have given him 33 years as top dog in Sana’a. As president, Saleh has been a staunch ally with the US in the “War on Terror.” Up until 2008, Yemen did not receive much economic or military aid. When 2009 came around, the story was different. Aid to Yemen increased to $67 million, and in 2010 to $150 million.

The huge uptick in aid was due to the newest threat in America’s “War on Terror”: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In 2009, AQAP affiliate Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad opened fire on a military recruitment center in Little Rock. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed in his attempt to bring down a Christmas Day flight after being allowed to fly despite going through no security thanks to the C.I.A.  And most recently, there was the infamous cargo planes bomb plot that would have detonated bombs midair over Chicago.

AQAP carries out their operations from the mountainous regions of Yemen and draws many of its members from Saudi Arabia, another staunch ally in the “War on Terror.” Just as the official line concerning the perpetual war Afghanistan is that Al Qaeda should never be provided a safe haven in that country again, so the official line will be for propping up Saleh. America, or so we are told, cannot afford to lose Saleh.

However, each and every day it is becoming more probable that Saleh could suffer the same fate of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, and soon enough, Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi. Two of Yemen’s most powerful tribes just announced that it would no longer support Saleh and has sided with the protesters. Hashid tribal chief Sheikh Hussein bin Abdullah al-Ahmar said, “I have announced my resignation from the General People’s Congress in protest at the repression of peaceful demonstrators in Sanaa, Taez and Aden.” Just like Libya, Yemen is a very tribal society. Allegiance is to the tribe first and the government second. As a result of Yemen’s fierce tribal loyalties, this announcement deals a serious blow to the Saleh regime.

What is worse for Saleh is the demographics of Yemen. As this population pyramid shows, Yemen is a very young country.

Yemen also faces high unemployment (official figures stand at around 16%), food insecurity (1 in 3 are food insecure), rising food prices, and a surge in poverty (Yemen is already the poorest country in the Arab world). Unemployment has been many times a catalyst for rioting and protests. However, when it becomes difficult to feed a family, let alone oneself, then revolutionary times are not far away. The situation in Yemen does not seem to be turning better anytime soon. Its economy is third world and illiberal, and its populace is unskilled and uneducated.

Approximately 180,000 marched all over Yemen demand the overthrow the Saleh regime. American weapons have been used to suppress these peaceful pro-democracy protests. America will most likely do everything in its power to keep Saleh in office and influence in Yemen, whether that be continue to sell arms to Saleh or keep providing the country with millions in economic aid.

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