Monthly Archives: May 2011

Yemen Update

On Tuesday, the cease-fire in the capital Sanaa broke down. Tribesmen opposed to President Saleh have seized control of a number of government buildings, and residents fear an all-out civil war. Meanwhile demonstrators inTaiz were shot again by government forces, with a number killed. The city of Zinjibar remains in the hands of al Qaeda-linked Islamic militants. See yesterday’s post below for more.

Top of the Stack: Yemen

So Memorial Day weekend is over and we look out over the action-packed world. The usual hotspots are hot, but one stands out right now. In Yemen, violence has escalated dangerously in the past few days, and gotten more complicated.

First of all, there’s an Arab Spring going on in the streets with peaceful protesters demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He keeps agreeing to do so, pushed by his former backer the United States and his neighbors the Gulf kingdoms; then he breaks the agreement. The government forces keep shooting unarmed demonstrators in the streets — at least twenty more this weekend in Taiz, where they burned and bulldozed Freedom Square to end a long-running sit-in.

What makes Yemen different from the other Arab Spring countries is the overlay of other pre-existing armed conflicts.  The North and South of Yemen, which were separate countries a few decades ago, still don’t get along. Tribal conflicts surface in times of disorder. In the capital, Sanaa, armed tribesmen opposed to President Saleh have fought government forces in the street, and although a shaky cease-fire has been declared there, it doesn’t seem to be holding. In the north, a long-standing armed rebellion by the Houthi tribe continues.

On top of it all, a few days ago Islamic militants of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — the ones who tried to send printer-cartridge bombs last year, seized the southern city of Zinjibar, although the government now seems to be regaining control there. In recent years the United States has operated drones to attack Yemeni Al Qaeda militants, with tacit approval from Saleh, but this seems to have stopped with the current unrest.

All this in an extremely poor country, and research shows that poverty makes civil wars more likely.

So that’s Yemen today, the place where al Qaeda, the Arab Spring, and simmering ethnic conflict all converge, though each seemingly moving in its own direction. It’s worth watching how long Saleh hangs on and, if he goes, what happens next. I’m rooting for the unarmed demonstrators, but it’s a difficult situation for them.

Top of the Stack: What to focus on amidst all the noise?

Amidst the noise, chatter, ideology, and silliness that populates the news media and blogosphere, what is happening today that really matters for international relations?  Three to five times a week, I will write a brief post on the news that matters most, and discuss why it matters.