President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen was to sign a Gulf Cooperation Council-sponsored agreement to indicate his commitment to stepping down from the presidency in 30 days on Sunday. However, he broke his word and in the past few days violence and tensions in Yemen have escalated significantly.
Battles have broken out over the country’s Interior Ministry. Gregory Johnsen (and others who have been reporting on Yemen) reported the Ministry was shelled by tribal forces and on fire.
Mareb Press reported renewed clashes between security forces and Hashid tribesmen. Heavy artillery was used.
Tom Finn, a reporter in Yemen writing for The Guardian, reported in Hasaba the Saba office was hit twice by missiles. The area turned into a war zone with the street deserted and machine gun and mortar fire going off.
Finn also writes, in his latest article, explains “fierce gun battles” broke out when security forces were met with “guards from the country’s most powerful tribal federation whose leader is backing protesters’ demands for an end” Saleh’s 33-year rule.
Missiles attacked the al-Ahmar house and the mediation committee. This is likely because the Ministry of Defense in Yemen contends the “al-Ahmar sons and their gang” no longer are constructively participating in mediation efforts and are now participating in violence against “government installations and citizens’ homes.”
Fears of civil war are escalating. Concern about what the impact on the protest movement will be if war breaks out is growing too.
Yemenis tweeting report electricity being shut down in areas of Yemen and then hours later report it coming back on. But, electricity is lost again hours later.
Atiaf Alwazir, a Yemeni activist and researcher who became a citizen journalist when the Yemeni Revolution began (@WomanfromYemen on Twitter), shares the emotions she is experiencing right now:
Sitting here waiting for things to get worse is causing me excruciating pain. I don't know if I should write, tweet, pray or just sit here silently watching the screen while tears fall down my face.
I am not being dramatic, but i'm also not naive. The political/realistic part of me has been assessing the situation for quite sometime. Friends have warned of this, and analysts as well. I concluded that violent clashes are highly likely (view previous posts, specifically the one on 100 days after the Revolution). But the dreamer part of me hoped that the peaceful revolution would prevail. Political scientists never predicted and could have never believed that a peaceful movement could happen in Yemen, but it did. It did because we dared to dream, and we dared to hope and believe that something positive could happen.
Citizens of Yemen especially those in the protest movement are concerned that talk of civil war might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Sheikh al-Shaif has apparently helped to broker a “ceasefire” after mediation.
Al-Shaif is the leader of the Bakil tribal confederation, who appears in a January 2010 cable released by WikiLeaks, which cites him as someone who has been a “constant contact between members of Parliament acting as intermediaries on the Houthis' behalf and the president.” Saleh’s regime has been at war with Houthis for some time now and Saleh has tried to use US military aid for the “war on terror” to fuel his sectarian war against the Houthis.
The tribal leader also appears in a May 2009 cable telling then-Ambassador Stephen A. Seche, “Who caused the southern call for independence? Saleh.” He placed the blame for unrest in south Yemen “squarely on the doorstep” of Saleh.
Recent developments have forced the US, which has had ongoing counterterrorism operations in the country, to recalibrate its support for Yemen. While in recent days Obama celebrated the Yemeni protest movement in his Middle East speech, which touched on the Arab Spring, the State Department still has a fairly irresolute position on Yemen.
From the latest press briefing:
QUESTION: Anything new (inaudible) in Yemen? Have you decided --
MR. TONER: Well, obviously we continue to watch the situation closely, Michel. The Secretary was quite clear in her remarks in London yesterday and in her statement issued on Sunday, May 22nd, that really, there’s an opportunity in front of President Saleh and he needs to seize that opportunity. And we continue to support the efforts led by the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and we call on President Saleh to – again, to step-up to do what he’s committed to do and sign the agreement.
QUESTION: The Washington Post reported this morning that the U.S. and other countries were considering withdrawing some aid to Yemen as a result of President Saleh’s refusal to step down, or to sign the deal, at least. Can you say anything about that? Is that under consideration and --
MR. TONER: Well, Kirit --
QUESTION: -- how much are we talking about?
MR. TONER: Sure. I mean, I don’t want to get into specifics yet, but I think I said yesterday that there’s a number of options in front of us as the situation continues to fester, and we’re looking at all options. But what’s important, really, now is that President Saleh has an agreement in front of him. He needs to sign it and put Yemen on a positive path so that they can resolve the current situation.
QUESTION: The GCC, it says they were walking away from that deal, it’s no longer on the table. Is it your understanding that it is still on the table?
MR. TONER: Our understanding is that it remains on the table. That he just needs to sign it.
But, President Saleh has refused to sign. The US knows the situation is deteriorating fast. That is why reporters in Yemen noted US officials including the ambassador are now fleeing the country.
Quite simply, the US, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council have failed to convince the autocratic despot Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
Western powers already intervened for "humanitarian" reasons in Libya. What will happen next? Will there be reason to fear Saleh could massacre thousands of people? He has already been killing people with his security forces.
Will there be a building of support for humanitarian intervention? And will this be another development, like civil war, that the protest movement hopes does not happen?
*To stay up to date on the latest from Yemen, check out these resources, which include journalists tweeting from Yemen.