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

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

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has 30 years of ex...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Account Manager

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing cloud based I...

Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager - Software & Services

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd remind the rich that with great wealth comes great responsibility

Peter Tatchell
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey, who has its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival  

FAO Jamie Dornan: For a woman, being followed is not 'exciting' — it's humiliating and all too familiar

Mollie Goodfellow
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat