Troubles for Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh are mounting, and the U.S. should be weary.
Last Friday, a rocket hit Saleh’s compound during a prayer service, slightly wounding the president and killing four. The attack has been blamed on the Ahmar brothers, who head Yemen’s Hashid tribal group and with whom Saleh has been fighting for two weeks. Following the attack, Saleh was taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment and Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi officially took over as acting president.
While tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets to celebrate Saleh’s leave, it is too soon to tell if his trip to Saudi Arabia will truly usher in the end of his rule. According to acting leader Hadi, the president reacted positively to medical treatment and plans to return home “in a few days.”
Yemenis celebrate upon hearing that President Saleh left Yemen for Saudi Arabia.
But if this does signal Saleh’s end, the United States has much to worry about. Yemen, of course, is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most lethal sect of the al-Qaeda network. Once Saleh leaves, if a strong leader with the population’s backing is not secured, Washington can expect AQAP and Yemen’s tribal leaders to duke it out for control over the country, potentially sparking a civil war.
Moreover, the loss of the Saleh government, which has assisted the U.S. in fighting al-Qaeda, could be disastrous for Washington. In recent weeks Yemen’s counterterrorism forces, including units trained and funded by the U.S., have reportedly been diverted from their pursuit of AQAP militants. In addition, at the end of May, al-Qaeda asserted its power by taking control over the city of Zinjubar, the capital of the southern province of Abyan, declaring it an Islamic Emirate.
Indeed, Yemen’s “Arab Spring” uprising, inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt, has gone from a protest of the people yearning for more freedoms to a bloody battle between Yemen’s government and tribal leaders for control of the country, with AQAP taking advantage of the situation. What happens next is anyone’s guess; the only certainty is that Yemen’s future remains highly uncertain.