Patrick Cockburn: Saleh has followed the Mubarak route to alienating his people

There is always potential for violence in Yemen – the state is weak and one in five people pledge their allegiance to their tribe

Share
Related Topics

It looks as if Yemen will be the third country in the Arab world after Tunisia and Egypt to see a change of regime. President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen is visibly failing to cling on to power after 32 years in office.

Military commanders are defecting and sending their tanks to protect protesters in the streets of the capital, Sana'a. The massacre of demonstrators last Friday, in which 52 died and 250 were wounded, has not intimidated the opposition, and led to many senior officials defecting from the government.

As military units take different sides there is the possibility of civil war, though the Yemeni elite has long experience of defusing armed confrontations. President Saleh and his family could fight it out, and have placed tanks to protect the presidential palace, but the odds against them are stacking up. The "Friday Massacre" by pro-government snipers ended dialogue between the opposition and the state for several days, but this has been resumed and may lead to the President stepping down and being replaced, as in Egypt, by a military council. This would prepare for elections.

There is always the potential for violence because the 24 million Yemenis own an estimated 60 million weapons. The state is weak and at least a fifth of the population give their primary allegiance to their tribe. President Saleh has been reliant on boosting the power of the tribes over those of the state while creating a patronage system whereby all jobs are distributed according to political loyalty. The middle class is small compared to Tunisia and Egypt, and the proportion of university-educated graduates is low. The government has based its power on the tribes, while the opposition appears to be less dependent on tribal allegiances.

President Saleh's errors since demonstrations started in Yemen in early February are very similar to President Mubarak's. He offered change and said he would not run again for the presidency, but refused to step down. The regime used thugs to intimidate its opponents, and made the unlikely claim that it was the young demonstrators who were doing the shooting. It tried to get control of the local and foreign press. This culminated in the massacre last Friday that has probably ensured that President Saleh will go in the short rather than the long term.

President Saleh already faced a rebellion by the Houthi rebels in the north, secessionists in the south and al-Qa'ida cells. But the threat from the latter was exaggerated and manipulated by the government in order to extract aid and arms from the US.

Though the Yemeni government is autocratic and corrupt, it was never a police state to the same extent as Syria, Egypt or Tunisia. Government institutions have been weak, and their main failing has been failure to enforce the law and to provide security.

The economy suffers from high unemployment that has never improved sufficiently since the expulsion of Yemeni labourers from Saudi Arabia in 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. The country's limited oil reserves are also being depleted.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn