In the face of popular protests as well as defections by Yemeni diplomats, government ministers, and military leaders, President Ali Abdullah Saleh yesterday invited the Yemeni youth to participate in a “transparent and open dialogue.” He also announced that he would step down as president by the end of this year, and not—as he had promised earlier—when his term expires in 2013. It is tempting to understand Saleh’s obstinance as detached from reality given the protests and defections. However, a closer examination of these developments might offer a different take on both Saleh and the nature of his regime. Studying the context in which protests and defections are taking place—without undermining the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people—points to a rational calculation and gamble on Saleh’s part as he continues to cling to power.
Of the litany of defections that have occurred, the most important in terms of the structure of Saleh’s regime are those of his former allies and political partners General Ali Muhsin Saleh al-Ahmar (including his military commanders) and Abdul-Majid al-Zindani. Also important is the publically declared opposition of Hamid al-Ahmar--a long time opposition figure--as well as Sadeq al-Ahmar and Hussein al-Ahmar--both of whom, while not part of the official regime structure, were certainly not considered members of the opposition prior to this week. The significance of such defections and declarations can only be appreciated within an understanding of the nature of political and social organization in Yemen.
This article is now featured in Jadaliyya`s edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.