Thousands of unarmed Yemeni protesters backed by soldiers of the renegade 1st Armored Division stormed a base of the elite Republican Guards loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday. In retaliation, military forces throughout the capital of Sanaa fired on defenseless demonstrators using snipers stationed on rooftops, anti-aircraft guns, rocket propelled grenades, and mortars. Fighting in Yemen’s capital has peaked over the last three days during which more than 60 people have been killed and 1,000 wounded, including four children and eighteen minors.
Despite casualties, the capture of the Republican Guards’ base represents a victory for Yemen’s demonstrators and will likely refuel feelings of hope. For many protesters, it marks what could be the beginning of the collapse of Saleh’s 33-year regime. President Saleh, wounded from an attack in June, has been recuperating in Saudi Arabia since then, repeatedly refusing to relinquish power by backing out of multiple negotiated agreements.
Yemen is the Arab world’s poorest country and, making matters worse, is also home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. According to Saeed Ali Obaid Al-Jamhi, an expert on Islamic militants in the region, “Al Qaeda as an entity grows, feeds and becomes stronger in places with little stability.”
Indeed, Washington fears that al-Qaeda will be able to extend its sphere of influence into the African Horn with Saleh’s fall or continued absence and, in doing so, further increase threats to U.S. national security. Once again, thus far, an “Arab Spring” uprising has produced violence, instability, and chaos.