Yemen Goes From Worse to Worse

While our attention is understandably focused on Libya, let us not forget that the rest of the Middle East is also horrible.  Yemen delivered a reminder today, as “top generals, ambassadors and some tribes threw their support behind anti-government protesters on Monday in a major blow to [President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s] 32 year-long rule,” according to a Reuters report.  President Saleh wants the world to know he is “holding out,” but he appears to be doing so in an undisclosed location, possibly a Best Western in Illinois.

Does it seem to you as if these Middle Eastern dictators have really disappointing third and fourth decades?  When they’re young and full of vinegar, everything hums along just fine.  Swiss bank accounts rack up stolen millions, peasants are kicked around, and al-Qaeda pays its rent on time.  Once they hit that third-decade slump, things fall apart so quickly.

The Yemeni situation is ugly because Saleh, for all his flaws, has been helpful against the significant al-Qaeda presence in his country.  Yemen still manages to cough up the odd UPS parcel bomb, but if the government falls, the last fragile restraints against them will be removed.

The defense minister says the army will defend Saleh against “any coup against democracy.”  This sounds like a grim joke – who are the dissidents, to disregard 32 years of electoral triumph? – but Yemen is the kind of place where a “democratic revolution” might lead to one very unfortunate election, producing a government that has no interest in cooperating with the War on Terror… or holding further elections.

Tanks are rolling in the streets of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.  It turns out that one of those “top generals” who turned against the government today, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, also has some tanks.  Sanaa has a population of roughly two million people.  A tank battle in such a densely populated city might just push Libya out of the headlines.

Saleh’s attempt to cling to power already has a body count.  The UK Guardian quotes the former head of the ruling party as saying “the regime is crumbling… there is very little support left for the president now.”  There are rumors Saleh is looking for an exit, and negotiating with the military to hand off power to a provisional government.  We probably won’t like what replaces him.