"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No Party Time in Yemen

Before I get to this, in a post below I asked what we should be calling the people in the street- demonstrators? protestors? revolutionaires?- and Anonymous responded with this, which I find delightful.

My comrades have been calling them the antis and the pros (especially as the pros are being paid for their demonstrating).

That sounds good to me. 

So, then, I want to point you to this article by Nasser Arrabyee, which gives a great outline of what is happening over there- and I think everyone feels we are a day or to away from something very big going down.  It is boiling, now, with martyrs.  A lot, I think, depends on the tribes.  Greg has talked about this- tribes are a lot more important than parties, and it looks like Hamid al-Ahmar, who has been fueding with Saleh, is poised to attempt to take leadership of this.   As Nasser says:

Armed tribesmen loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh were there to protect the pro-government demonstrators and armed tribesmen loyal to Hamid and Hussein Al Al Ahmar were there to protect the anti-Saleh demonstrators, according to eyewitnesses.

This is an old conflict now spilling into the streets.  This is what is most important to keep an eye on.  I think the JMP is going to quickly lose a lot of its relevance, even though overlapping loyalties will give it the illusion of control.   There is a lot more to say about the tribes, and I want to get to that this afternoon, but right now I am at a high school talking about the Middle East.  If anyone reading happens to go to Libertyville High School, feel free to see me 5th period.   I will say that some of the questions I got 1st period were considerably more insightful than things I've seen in the media.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


In an excellent post, Will at the Yemen Peace Project reminds us of the importance of Taizz.

It’s well worth focusing on one point in the above paragraph: Ta‘iz seems to be, at least in terms of popular support, the real center of this new movement for change. This is not surprising when considered in historical context. Ta‘iz has always been the intellectual center of Yemen (especially in the minds of Ta‘izis), and the heart of nearly every progressive or revolutionary movement in modern history. During the twin revolutions of the 1960s, when the South threw off the yoke of British imperialism and northern republicans overthrew a monarchy, Ta‘iz was a base for both movements and the conduit of fighters who flowed from one war to the other. In fact I would argue that if President Saleh were serious about Yemeni unity, he would move the capital to Ta‘iz, but that’s a topic for another post.

This is a great point.  In the west, we tend to focus on the capital (and I include myself firmly in that "we"), but that isn't always how it plays out.  This is something some, though not enough, people have been saying.  We're kind of viewing these things as if they are on screen, with a reverse teleology: of course they are going to work out!  This is happening; it will happen.   And we want to fit it into a neat storyline.  But it most likely isn't going to shake out that way.  Hopefully, the administration will have more patience than I suspect the media will.  The lamestream media!  

Oh, sorry: I forgot that I'm not aspiring to be a seven-year-old. 

Anyway, read Will's whole piece.  It makes a lot of interesting and crucial points. 

Huthi Support, and the South

Greg- who's been on a Kerouak-like tear the last 24 hours, though presumably without the uppers- briefly parses Abd al-Malik al-Huthi's declaration of support for the demonstrations around the country.

Does this mean the Huthis, who have generally been good at following the various cease-fire agreements, suddenly break the latest one in the hopes that the combined pressure of different centers can force Salih's regime to crack? I don't know, but I doubt it.  So what impact, if any, does moral support from the Huthis count for? 

He then says that they are probably waiting to see which way the wind blows (he thinks that there has to be a make or break moment coming soon).   While I think this is probably accurate, and I agree that they aren't likely to break a cease-fire, I don't think they have to for the "combined pressure" front to work.  

This is a boon for the Huthis.  The government cannot have its attention everywhere, and this allows them more time to regroup in case Salih emerges victorious and even more angry than before.  Ideally, for the Huthis, the Salih government is toppled and is replaced by either a weak leader in control of San'a and maybe Taizz, or by nothing at all.  In either case, they get what they want, which is a return to autonomy (some might argue they want a return to the Imamate; others that they'll just let Iran carve out a piece of the country.  Both fun and exciting theories, but probably best left to fantasy-land.) (Edit: the above link is an interesting article; I'm just being needlessly snarky about the Iran connection)

Right now the Huthis don't have to do anything.  The South seems like it is on the verge of exploding- the situation is probably far more tense there than in San'a, and maybe in Taizz.  There is certainly a longer history and worse memories, as well as a relatively more coherent political program.  Between the major cities of the "north" and the Southern Movement, as well as AQAP, who haven't gone away but seem a lot less relevant (for now), there are enough stressors to, if not knock Salih off, at least distract him. 

So, then: the South.  For years this has been the biggest issue, and still is.  It is wrong to say that they are inspired by the Tunisia and Egypt; they have been at this for years.  Where the inspiration might come in is the suddenly visible brass ring of success.  An emboldened opposition and harried Salih might push Yemen to the breaking point, and the dream of seceding could be within reach.  I think right now they are clearly separate from the protests in San'a and Taizz, even if they echo each other, with the calls for democracy and a chance at a decent life.  But for now in the South it is still secession. 

So, then, this is a question.  This is not policy advice or a cocksure guarantee, but a barely-formed thought.  Stipulating that if the south goes, Yemen as a centralized state will no longer be viable (which I agree with), and given that it isn't in US interests for that to happen, do we see an opportunity here?  Would the Southern Movement be placated, or at least temporarily appeased, if Salih was replaced with a promise of democracy?    Is that the only chance to hold the country together?  And, if so, should the US and the West throw their weight behind the demonstrators before it is too late?  Or is that way too big of a gamble?   And even if that is a possible course, do we have the skill or the means to pull it off?  I am in the camp that America can't do everything it wants, both morally and practically- there is a limit to our power and influence.   Even with aid, I am doubtful that we can ease Salih out, but it isn't impossible.  I fear that in this scenario our best way to do so is through the army, whose taking of power, even if it comes with hand-over-the-heart guarantees of just being transitional, won't exactly be met with acceptance in the south.   So what should be the play? 

More updates from the Ground

I just found this blog, which is kind of embarrassing*- An American Southerner in the Imam's Mafraj.   It is run by Jeb Boone, managing editor at the Yemen Times.  The Times, by the way, is decidedly not government-run, or even quasi-regime friendly, like The Observer.

In the current post, Boone talks about what is happening in San'a vs. what the media is reporting, and sees some differences.

Wednesday, Feb. 16: A few colleagues went to both old and new campuses of Sana’a University today and all of them said there were nothing but pro-government demos. Somehow, we end up with this gem form the AP. They claim that THOUSANDS of policemen blocked THOUSANDS of student protesters from Sana’a University from joining THOUSANDS of OTHER student protesters somewhere else in Sana’a. That’s rich…and impossible. This AP article firmly establishes the Yemeni alternate universe, somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. Maybe in that Yemen the Russian Club has reasonably priced drinks? No, impossible.
Keep in mind that this is only in Sana’a. I can confidently say that demonstrations in Taiz and Aden are quite large and the government is probably trying to contain them more violently. What is actually going on in Taiz is a mystery, I don’t know of any journalists at all working in that city. From the pictures I’ve seen and the things I’ve read earlier in the week, I can confidently say that if a revolution is going to take place in Yemen (its still probably won’t) its going to start in Taiz. By all (credible) accounts, the protests in Sana’a are winding down. There are plans for more protests next week. Look to those demonstrations to see if the grassroots movement is really going to take hold in Sana’a.
Now, in his twitter feed today, he says "Thousands riot in Sana'a. Things have changed in the capital." and that the "largest" demo turned into a "riot/all-out battle with Saleh supporters". 
 So it does look like things are changing, and maybe speeding up.   I don't know if Salih really thinks that repression is the way to go, but it is looking like this.  I know the spin can be that the counter-demonstrations are just a manifestation of the passion the people have for him, but these are always manipulated (which isn't to say he has zero support, of course).  
I would reckon that the lesson Salih took from Egypt is that you can't let these things gain a critical mass; that they have to be broken early.   Sadly, from his perspective, at least, this was the correct lesson.  But the "fighting back" is the interesting thing here.  The demonstrators aren't showing fear, and that could encourage more people to support them.  No matter where you are, there are very few who really root for the favorite.  
As a side note, something I've been struggling with the last couple of weeks is nomenclature.  "Demonstrators" or "protestors" sound weak and awkward.  "Revolutionaries" might be a bit huge, and is annoying to type.  "Revolters" is right out the window.  Anyone have any ideas? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Inside Yemeni Politics

Nasser, as always, has the scoop.   Salih is trying to host a dialogue; the opposition sees it as nothing more than an attempt to circumvent inevitability and justice.

An opposition leader said Monday they refused the President Saleh’s initiative for resuming dialogue.

“We looked at it (Saleh’s initiative) as an attempt to rescue the regime not to rescue the nation,” Said Yasin Saeed Noman, the secretary general of the socialist party, the second largest opposition party after the Islamist party Islah, which leads the coalition.
And I think we are all looking forward to Glenn Beck using this as more proof of an insidious Communist/Jihadist alliance.  If anyone hears of him using Yemen as an example, don't send it to me.  I beg you not to send it to me.  I would spend 11 hours rebutting him in detail, which is a hair-tearingly futile waste of time.

Meanwhile, this paragraph could be pretty ominous.

The tribesmen were the first groups to come to the Presidential Palace. Since Saturday February 12th, 2011, President Saleh has been receiving tribal leaders from the areas around the capital Sana’a, mainly from his tribe, Hashed, the most influential tribe in Yemen.

Now, the Hashid have a lot of political weight, and through their late leader historical ties to Islah, and therefore to the JMP.  But as Greg accurately has reminded us, many times, party loyalty isn't a huge factor in Yemen.   Personal and tribal ties matter a lot more.   And the historical memory of tribesmen loyal to the leader runs marauding their way through a rebellious San'a run deep and fairly recent.   History doesn't always repeat itself, but encourages echoes, and it seems Salih is attempting to solidify himself in the ancient ways.

And the cars, and the bars, my Karman!*

As the violence in Yemen follows its usual pattern- demonstration, regime-oriented counter-demonstration, police violence against one side (guess which one!)-  The Washington Post has a nice little article on Tawkul Karman, the 32-yr-old woman who is emerging, against all odds, as the face and leader of Yemen's Egypt-style revolt against the reign of Ali Abdullah Salih.   It is hard to say if this is a good strategy, as it might further enrage loyalists and edge traditionalists further into Salih's camp, but those are just speculations, and anyway such calculation shouldn't get in the way of inspiration.  If nothing else- and it isn't nothing else- she shows just how different things have gotten in a gobsmackingly short amount of time.

Here's another illustration, a few paragraphs which should be dissected.

Two weeks ago, Karman's brother Tareq approached her. A well-known poet, he personally knew Saleh, and he was carrying a message from him.
This seems strange, but in Yemen this is often how things are done.  Family ties are enormously important, and Salih, like all Yemeni leaders beforehand, uses families and personal connections to send messages and to get things done.
"'You have to control your sister. Anyone who doesn't obey me must be killed,' he told my brother," said Karman. "This is the one threat I take seriously."
This part is a little strange, and seems crude, even for Salih.  Kidnapping or jailing other family members is usually the way to gain leverage.  If this is true- and I am not doubting her- than either Salih is completely losing all patience or else he finds the demonstrators completely beyond the pale, and doesn't think he has to deal with them in the usual way.  Either way, a very troubling sign for those wondering how Salih is going to play things.
In interviews, senior Yemeni officials and members of the ruling party said they were unaware of the allegations. They said Saleh would not make such a threat. But they also made clear that they considered Karman a troublemaker.
"She doesn't respect the president, the government or the law," said Sultan al-Barakani, a senior official in the ruling party. "She says bad things about the president."

This is kind of the nub of it, for me.   It seems like she respects the law, the spirit of what it is supposed to protect if not its oft-hypocritical letter.   But it is interesting what came first in this list and what is at tne end- the President.  See, you were allowed to criticize things, but not Ali Abdullah, directly (while that seems outlandishly backwards, it was actually pretty progressive for the neighborhood, another reason why Yemen is so fascinating).   Saying bad things about the President is shocking to this senior official, and a few weeks ago I might have joined in his shock, despite the threat to my monocles.

But things have changed.  Arab leaders are being laughed at and scorned, openly, by their people.  That barrier, the idea that there is a sacred cow you can't slaughter, has been broken.  To me this is the first step to real democracy.   I think the stunned reaction shows just how quickly things have changed.  And in an irreversible way.  Sure, the wall can be hastily rebuilt, the dam can be plugged, bandaids can be sloppily applied.  But the idea is out there.  Tawkul Karman gets it.  The greying and wearying and wearied bosses don't.

*Admittedly, this reference to Lolita makes no sense, and given Yemen's child bride problem might be distasteful and even Creepy, but it is what popped into my head, and I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I was joking about the art thing, but there are obvious signs that Salih isn't going to stand for unrest, and is willing to employ almost any tactic to quell it.  HRW has the scoop.

I think it is clear he is trying to keep the square clean and peaceful, and hopes that pushing the protests away from the periphery will allow him to keep it off the front pages.  This is narrowing down the strategy of violently quashing dissent outside of the capital but attempting to deal with it peacefully where all the cameras are.  But as the space gets smaller, Salih will get more and more restricted, and that can easily spell disaster.

More US Training for Yemeni Military

From the AP...

Faced with an increasingly alarming threat from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the U.S. military will begin a new training program with Yemen's counterterrorism unit so it can move against militants believed to be plotting attacks on America from safe havens there.

I think, instinctually, this makes a lot of us nervous.  No one seriously questions Salih's willingness to use our arms and money and training against the people of Yemen.  I understand that CT is our main objective in Yemen, but we also ned to be careful not to let our actions destroy our reputation (further destroy) for another generation.  

However, and I know that this article only talks about elite counter-terrorism troops, one thing Egypt has demonstrated it is that military contacts at many levels can be an excellent counterweight to an entrenched and reality-deprived authoritarian.   Indeed, one could make the case that it is the threat of withholding friendship, in the form of scrilla, that could make an army say "it's time to go."   Its own sense of morality could do so as well, but let's not depend on the kindness of strangers. 

This isn't to say that dumping military aid into Yemen is the best thing to do to hedge against our becoming entangled in Salih's potential death-throes; it could easily backfire.  Odds are, it will.  (And the article's almost comically lonely throwaway paragraph, consisting of one sentence reading "the overall U.S. effort also includes economic and governance assistance" is a perfect illustration of the blinkered nature of our strategy.)   But I also think we shouldn't be so quick to jump the gun and getting nervous about these expanded contacts.  A professional military is more likely to be loyal to the state, and not just to the guy doling out money. 


JMP Barely Riding the Tiger

One of the biggest questions lingering underneath the "Will Yemen go the way of Egypt and Tunisia" umbrella is the role the opposition, namely the Joint Meetings Party, will play.  The JMP (a combination of several parties, notably the Islamic party, Islah, and the Socialists)* organized the original protests a couple of weeks ago, the threat of which forced Salih to make some sizable concessions.    This seemed like a good step for many involved- it looked like it brought Salih some breathing room.

But the overthrowing of Mubarak is his nightmare.  It is one thing to rattle an autocrat; it is another altogether to depose him.   Yemenis who want Salih gone- and this is not all of them, of course, something which needs to be said- see a light in the tunnel.   So then: will the JMP be able to harness this?  It doesn't look like it.  Being a strange amalgamation, they don't have particularly strong leadership.  Greg has some more thoughts on this.  

But if the pattern follows like it did in Egypt, the political parties will at best try to fasten themselves on the back of the protestors.  Right now the demonstrations seem to exist in a political limbo- the JMP is giving their blessing, but it is a reactive one.  This is far more spontaneous.   Read this statement and this update from Arabist.net for a look at how things are spreading.

I think this will very quickly get out of the hands of the JMP, which is something I think Salih is deeply worried about.  When they were the ones organizing things, they represented someone with whom he could deal.  After all, they also had a stake in the system.  If they are bucked, all bets are off, as far as he is concerned.

But, then again, maybe the art fair tactic will change the dynamic.  It's like I have always said: arts and crafts ruin everything.

*As there have been more readers lately, and as I hope there will be more eyes if things heat up, I am going to sometimes explain things that regular readers and other Yemen-watchers know by shorthand.


Hat-tip to Will for this.  

ECRETARIAT CAPITAL, Feb 12 (Saba) – Minister of State and Mayor of the Secretariat Capital Abdul Rahman al Akwa'a opened on Saturday plastic art and handicraft exhibitions in Tahrir Square. 

The exhibitions were organized by the Union of Handicrafts and Small Industries Associations and the offices of the Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Culture, Tourism and Youth and Sports in the city. 

The month-long fairs aim to introduce handicrafts to investors and businessmen within the efforts of promoting Yemeni products on which many Yemeni families depend as living resources. 

Al Akwa'a praised the efforts of organizing such fairs as he stressed encouraging their organization. 

This is absolutely brilliant.  You guys really want to protest?  At the sake of art? And handicrafts?  Who is the real monster?  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

One Very Brief Worry

In Will's piece linked to below he also talks about violence in Aden, which is kind of par for the course, though no less terrible for it.   But there is this brief LATimes blurb about the protests which contains something worrisome.

The protests come after a wave of anti-government rallies spread across Yemen during the past two weeks, inspired by revolts that ousted Tunisia's former president and the uprising in Egypt that threatened President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.

It isn't quite the same.  The Southern Movement has been going on for several years, and was not "inspired" by Tunisia or Egypt.  They may be more motivated or more persuaded of eventual success; I don't know.   I just worry that the media, in the understandable flush of history, will have a hell of a time sussing out the various strands of Yemeni rebellions and revolutions, and the we'll see Peggy Noonan on CNN trying to tell us what Reagan would have done in Abyan and I'll have to turn to the bottle for comfort.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Joy in Yemen Stopped Short

Human Rights Watch today talks of a pro-Egpyt/anti-regime March in San'a being broken up by armed men in army trucks, followed by riot police with water cannons.  Will at Yemen Peace Project  declines to pull his punches.

 The point is, Saleh’s forces have used excessive violence against civilians in the capital. I was confident, a week ago, that something like this was possible, but given everything that’s happened since then, I really thought Saleh had chosen another path. This was not only brutal and appalling, but politically stupid.

This is spot-on. Salih had already offered a handful of concessions, and seemed to be is a decent spot to bide his time. He may have thought that letting these protests, small as they are (around 1000 people), would be a sign of weakness. That was crazy. Letting people protest, now, is a sign of strength, that you recognize things are different. A major miscalculation.

Two, three weeks ago? Probably not. Intimidate and take the piss out of the people. But this seems like it could do little more than inflame even those who are neutral. I'm still not taking money on a Egypt-style revolution toppling Salih (there are a lot of other things that might first), but if he continues to screw up in such a thumbscrewing manner, it isn't impossible.

Though, to be fair- even if there really isn't a call for it- this must be terrifying. He isn't the only leader shaking right now, which, really, is great. Honestly, I have a feeling he is less-nervous than other leaders right now, because he has been dealing with similar things for a long time. But it might be that lack of nerves that is his downfall.

I don't think things are going to happen as quickly in Yemen. We rebel against the idea of a monolithic Arab world when licensed bloviators try to imagine one. The same goes as for something positive. As Greg said the other day, we have to remember that this isn't going to be on our time-table. But something very important happened. The rules changed, a barrier was broken, and "Egypt" became not just a place but an event, a historical moment. I was thinking earlier today that Salih, as canny as he is, would recognize that the game was different, and even reluctantly, would be forced to change. That he would be giving out half-measures in an attempt to avoid a plane ticket or a bullet, and that it would make change happen. But if he is as stubborn and as insulated as Mubarak, he is doomed.

Until lately, I wouldn't have thought he was. The President of Yemen has to be much, much more in tune with what is going on outside the palace than does the President of Egypt. He has to be more flexible. But Salih has gotten more paranoid and cloistered the last few years. His concessions last week seemed to be a retro move by him. But he has taken a giant leap back.


That's all there is to say.  I'll leave it to Egypt analysts to tell us what happened, and what happens next, but I know I'll never forget watching al-Jazeera on the computer, and the joy in the crowd when they realized what they had won- what they had earned.

Who couldn't be moved?  Who couldn't help but contrast the youth and exuberance and life of the crowd with the gray pallor and ossified phrases of their former leaders, glumly going through the motions, hoping to stop the future.   When I studied at the American University of Cairo, I had a professor of Arab politics- one of the best and most interesting men I have ever had the pleasure of learning from- described Cairo as a "tired and tiring city".   And he was right- the deliberately slow rhythms of the regime lulled the country into a waking sleep.   That was the plan- it wasn't the brutality of Asad or Saddam (though there were elements of it), or the humiliation and dehumanizing tactics of Ceacescu, but a more subtle way of arresting  history.  It provided sleep without the kindness of dreams.

No more.  The Middle East will never be the same.  As this is largely a Yemen blog, I think Salih has to be nervous.  It was one thing to offer concessions and promise peace when contrasted with last week's violence in Egypt.   But now?  Now that it worked?

I still don't think that Salih is going to go, at least because of a democracy movement, but if this last month proved anything, it is that predictions are a suckers' game, intellectual three-card monte.   You can estimate, and gameplan, but predictions are going to leave you slack-jawed, whiplashed by the tumultuous force of people.   Thank you, Egyptians, for reminding us of that.   Thank you for everything.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On what is below

I don't know.  I've been reading Poe, and read this story for the first time last night, and it has been rattling around in my brain all day.  I don't think it is very good.  There is actual analysis, to an extent, inside of the story.  But the analysis is smothered by the fiction, and is paradoxically far too obvious.  Both Poe and Borges tend to do that- create a story and explain things in large chunks of dialogue, so you can take it as an homage, if you want, but they also have an artistry that more than makes up for it, and I do not.  I mean, it clearly is an homage, to both of them, but an awkward and unsuccessful one.  I feel that the analysis is both too clunky and also too shallow.  But, you know, I really wanted to try something new, and there are phrases with which I am not entirely unhappy.   The final paragraph is really the only one that describes how I feel about the present.  I probably won't try it again.

Words With Some Mummies

(Debt and apology to Poe)

With regret, I noticed that there was no rain.  It would have been cinematic- an archaic term- to have it slip irregularly past the flickering neon sign vainly attempting to draw crowds into the Museum of Political Oddities.  It was just as well: there wasn’t actually any neon.  It was a digital light, programmed to give me a bit of atavistic pleasure; the burnouts and flaws were part of the program.  If you didn’t think about that part, it could be nice.    I was aware that the noir era for which I longed was before my time, but was both melancholy and optimistic enough to recognize that the past was as permeable as the uncertain present.  Anyway, no one came here, so no one cared about my silly longings.  

Tonight was a big night, though.  Tonight was what I had been waiting for, in solitude, all these years.  It is early February 2045, a year I picked to pay homage to something no one recognized.   Tonight, they were coming back.  For once I had company.   This did mean something, though after years of comfortable solitude I couldn’t remember exactly what.   I’m in my mid sixties, something that doesn’t mean much to other now, but I ache.   Ignoring the general present means being acutely aware of your own.   I shouldn’t be old, but I am.  Surrounding myself with what I have ensured that.    There were some regrets, but none of them mean much to this tale.    Those regrets may be dead, or may still be young.  With a vague sadness, I realize neither option affects me. 

But!  Getting back to my story, which began only a few hours ago.   The minor size of the crowd was offset by its luminous nature.   There was Professor Wittstart, the historian, one of our true public intellectuals.   He dressed anachronistically, an affectation I resented for being too close to my own.   There was the Honorable Representative L----, he of the fierce convictions, though on which side I couldn’t remember.    Sadly, Marie couldn’t make it, a fact whose pain was heightened by its own surprising strength.   The rest were gray to me.   Five, maybe six. 

Wine was poured; then it began.   There was a crackle of tired bones, and a creak of joints long unaccustomed to use.  Some stretching.  Two pairs of eyes blinked, then quickly sized up the room, as canny as before.  Making sure of what was happening was what these eyes were known for, before.  The slowness surprised me.   After all, while thirty years was a long time to rule, it wasn’t, I would have thought, a particularly long time to be dead. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Arrrgh: A Reasoned Statement on Yemen

New York Republican Peter King is the new chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.  This combines a lot of my favorite things, because the Honorable King is not only a crazy person who is terrified of Muslims, but he is a wild hypocrite who hates Islamic terrorism but has a history of being totally in love with the IRA.   I am Irish (American), and vaguely believe in the cause of one Ireland, but despise the IRA, and, when it comes down to it, don't really care.  History is the nightmare, and all of that.  Anyway, King standing for two things I hate- Islamophobia and the degradation of the Irish- manages to combine with possibly my least favorite thing, the elevation of Anwar al-Awlaki into a Bondian supervillain, in today's committee hearing.

"I actually consider Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with al-Awlaki as a leader within that organisation probably the most significant risk to the US homeland," National Counterterrorism Centre head Michael Leiter told the committee.
(Note: for some reason this is from as Australian news feed, which explains the wildly anti-American spelling of center.)

I am actually pretty happy he said that al-Awlaki is just "a leader", rather than "the leader", although in his prepared statement Leiter only highlighted al-Awlaki when talking about the group, saying:

Anwar al‐Aulaqi, a dual U.S.‐Yemeni citizen and a leader within AQAP, played a significant role in the attempted airliner attack and was designated in July as a specially designated global terrorist under E.O. 13224 by the US Government and the UN’s 1267 al‐Qa’ida and Taliban Sanctions Committee. Al‐Aulaqi’s familiarity with the West and his operational role in AQAP remain key concerns for us.
As anyone who reads this blog, and really anyone who doesn't, knows, this is: crazy.   There are so many more people in AQAP who are a much greater threat than al-Awlaki.  I am pretty glad about the rest of what I have read, and plan to do a semi-live blog tomorrow (I was busy today).  I think it looks like the admin knows that the franchises are increasing in importance.  But whether it is pandering or ignorance, our bloody-minded fixation on the one guy who speaks English might be our biggest stumbling block in establishing a decent and sustainable policy in Yemen.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Salih Gets His Helicopters

Reminding us that there are always smaller stories still going on during big events...

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. military has delivered four Bell Helicopter utility aircraft to the Yemeni air force under its 1206 program.
The aircraft were upgraded Huey II helicopters. Spares and associated tools were also delivered.
Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006 established a new program that allows the U.S. Department of Defense to spend up to $200 million of its own appropriations to train and equip foreign militaries to undertake counter-terrorism or stability operations.

A couple of quick thoughts.

1) These are explicitly to help Salih fight AQAP, but any Yemen watcher would probably be willing to bet Salih might have additional ideas for them.   He has never shown a reluctance to use foreign military aid against the Southern Movement or the Houthis.  These might be easier to track, but Salih could very easily be willing to use them against other "enemies of stability".

Will this include protestors?  It isn't impossible, and it is hard to think of anything worse for our image if that happened.

2) It is really hard to stop things.  The article mentions that delivery happened exactly 110 days after a $27 million agreement.  Despite all the upheaval, institutional momentum carried this deal forward without a glitch, in an incredibly hectic and chaotic week in Yemen, where one could have plausibly seen a scenario where the government was toppled.  Someone who knows more about this than I do could weigh in on wether the political side of Yemen is connected to the procurement side, and if this could have been stopped in a heartbeat, but to me this is a good illustration of why policy is so hard to change.  There are a lot of different forces pushing for things, and it isn't easy to turn around- I think the cliche is reversing an aircraft carrier, something I gather is difficult.

With that in mind, it seems even more silly to criticize the administration for not breaking with Mubarak quickly enough, and makes it even more amazing that they actually did, it seems (for now).

3) So what is the wisdom of these arms deals?  Obviously, we want a stable Yemen that is capable of fighting AQAP, and this will help (there is more than helicopters in the deal).  That gets to the heart of the dilemma- you don't want to be supplying actual weapons to an unstable regime that could use those weapons in unpredictable ways, (or pumping weapons into a chaotic countrty) but without them you might not have a partner.   However, and being a dumbass on technical matters, I think the helicopters are a safer bet, as right now, according to the article, there are only six trained pilots in Yemen.  This makes it less likely that they can fall into the wrong hands, to use a really pathetic cliche.

Basically, I think the continuation of arms' deals shows that the admin is still sticking with Salih, and has planned to for a while.  But as I've been saying, they need to have a contingency plan, or all those fancy weapons will, like our hopes for Yemen, be trunkless legs of stone in the desert.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Kind of on cue...

Police open fire in al-Mukalla.

Witnesses say police have opened fire to break up an anti-government protest in Yemen, and security officials say one protester has been critically wounded.
It was not immediately clear whether the police were using live ammunition or rubber bullets.
Hat-tip here to Jane Novak's Twitter feed.  I know, right?  Wherever we might disagree on analysis, she does a great job as an activist for the Yemeni people.

Here's a map of Yemen in case you were wondering where al-Mukalla is.  About 3/5 up the southern coast.  It is in eastern Yemen, but the often-misleading political shorthand there is "the South".

(Not pictured: guns)

Fearing a Crackdown

Will at the Yemen Peace Project, who has been blogging throughout the day, fears a crackdown in cities outside of the capital.

Ta’iz especially is home to strong anti-regime and anti-northern sentiments. New tweets are claiming much larger crowds there than in the capital, perhaps as many as 200,000. If that’s the case, we might still expect a response from security forces.
For that matter, what about demos in the south? In ‘Aden, Abyan, and Hadhramawt, state violence is almost commonplace. I’ll still be surprised if those places avoid a crackdown today.
I think he is right to be leery, especially when it comes to the south.  Salih has shown little tolerance for the Southern Movement, and even if the protests are in union with the ones in the capital, it will be easy for him to dismiss them as people trying to tear apart the state.  The protestors asking for political reforms are something he can deal with; not so those asking to split the Yemen state in two. 
What will be interesting is if he manages to conflate the two, which is something that he surely sees as an option.  If these protests do continue on a weekly basis, or more, and if this happens in conjunction with his cutting deals with opposition politicians (as opposed to regular people), he can paint them as dangerous agents of chaos, and keep the status quo largely unchanged.  
I would also imagine he feels less constrained in the south, as well as in Ta'iz and Ibb.  San'a is a strange enough place for foreign journalists and analysts; these cities with Star Wars' names might as well be on the moon.  Explaining regional dynamics in a country such as Egypt, which everyone knows, has been a bewildering and almost unmade journey.  Salih is probably pretty sure it won't happen in Yemen, so he might feel he has more of a free hand.  

From the Ground in Cairo

Greg- who is currently in Cairo- gives an on-the-ground look at his experiences of the last week or so.  He avoids analysis in favor of personal reporting, which is a solid choice (even though he is a great analyst).  Greg isn't at the center of the action, which is another reason I think this is an important read.   Things are happening throughout the city, radiating from the center, and the experiences of those not involved in the protests can influence things as much as those doing the fighting.


I mentioned below that we need to push Salih down the right path, now that it looks like he is staying.  In a very interesting article for The Hill, Yemen expert (and regular reader of this blog) James King lays out what that means, including this.

Push the Salih government to pursue extensive systemic reform and political sacrifice. Many Yemenis blame the regime’s incompetence, corruption and principle commitment to the interests of a handful of elites for their economic troubles and diminishing political freedoms. Without addressing these grievances, which resonate across Yemeni society, AQAP will remain able to compete for Yemenis’ loyalties. The administration must exhort its ally to devolve power and build a more representative political system. It must pressure Salih to permit free and fair elections, to recommit to a comprehensive national dialogue with friends and foes alike, and to dismantle patronage networks that drain already diminutive national coffers. 

Prioritize Yemen’s socio-economic, structural and environmental problems through increased development and humanitarian aid. The stability of Yemen is directly tied to the resolution or mitigation of these crises. The U.S. must commit more resources to issues of poverty, malnutrition and economic development (in FY2010, it gave just over $90 million in non-security assistance, compared to roughly $175 million in security aid). American policy in Yemen must strike a balance between short-term security and humanitarian assistance, medium-range development aid, and the resolve to achieve long-term political and economic structural durability. 

I don't want to do the disservice of summary- you really should read this.  King does an excellent job of showing what our opportunities are, and what the risks are.  This line, which I really wish I had written, sums it up: "President Salih will not live forever, though the collective memory of Yemenis will. "  


Remember those guys?  This short post is going to be speculative, and based on very little.  But I have to think these democracy movements might also undercut AQAP, who just seem so reactionary and small compared to a genuine drive toward freedom.  In just a matter of weeks they have managed to make huge gains from Salih, while AQAP just makes more enemies.  Who needs a caliphate of the pure when you have rights and the ability to change things?

Of course, AQAP still has an incredibly smart leadership and the flexibility to adapt to new circumstances, and they still remain dangerous.  I am not saying they are collapsing into dust.  But I also think it is silly to pretend that a fallen Salih- under these new circumstances- is automatically a boon for AQAP.  It might help them in the sort-term, but not in the long run.

Which is a main reason why the US can't be satisfied that Salih has made a few moves to maintain the current state of relative stability.  If he renegs, or moves backwards, or really cracks down, that gives another opening to AQAP.  Increased instability will help them in way we've talked about, but it will also give them a propaganda coup.   So the US has to use its leverage so that Salih's words meet actions.  Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is in our strategic interest to do so.

This has to be combined with, as we talked about in the comments, a real outreach to other power centers, specifically the tribes.  Whatever comes after Salih, whether it is in 2013 or a week from Friday, will be weaker.  We now have an opportunity to help stave off collapse, usher in real reform which might fundamentally change Yemen, but also expand our contact with power brokers outside the usual sphere of state relations.   So this is a real opportunity for the states.

I still maintain, though, that is Salih backslides or cracks down we have to be ready to cut him off, and he has to know that we are ready, so that we can push him along, no matter how reluctant he might be.  This is the best way to combat al-Qaeda, both now and in the future.

So...did Salih win?

Tens of thousands of people came out in San'a today to call for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Salih, meeting, symbolically, in Tahrir Square, and- no, that's not exactly right.  They were supposed to, but the square was filled with Salih supporters, so the anti-regime rally was moved to San'a University.   According to reports, both protests dispersed peacefully in the mid-afternoon, one assumes right around the qat time, which is perfectly and wonderfully Yemeni.

I don't really mean to sound flippant; this isn't over.  The opposition plans to march every Thursday until they get what they want, which is a mix of those who wants concessions (which Salih is theoretically giving) and those who want him to step down immediately (which he isn't).  Whether these remain peaceful and relatively respectful depends on a combination of Salih's actions, and whether they at least have the appearance of sincerity, and if the JMP and other political groups can control the protests, or whether they will become a reflection of inchoate but very real dissatisfaction and rage.

(On a personal note, I got kind of giddy at writing "relatively respectful"- this is relative to what might be a new Arab world, where the speeches of leaders can be met with derisive snarls and laughter, rather than a police-enforced somnolent nod and hollow applause.  This might just be a moment, and can easily be reversed, but for now carries a whiplashing excitement.)

But for right now Salih has managed this with the kind of dexterity and stagecraft he is famous for, but which many, myself included, had thought he lost, as his circle closed and he became locked in a paranoid labyrinth largely of his own making.*   He has managed to undercut the protestors by announcing his intentions to reform the system, and coming out against hereditary rule.  The next few weeks are crucial, and we can see how sincere he really is, and that will largely guide what will happen.

What I would imagine he is going to do is find a way to share some spheres of power with the opposition, hoping he can co-opt them and they can in turn dampen the passion of their supporters.  This is what he has always done; this is his way- the Yemeni way- to smooth over differences.  And it might work.  2013 is a long way away though- for those who want change now it could seem like an eternity, and they might not listen to the JMP.  After all, if you have already broken the psychological barrier of listening to the President, who has been in charge for the entire lives of many of the protestors, it will be easy to turn on the weak and divided leaders of the opposition, especially when they can be easily accused of selling out.

So is Salih sincere?  Probably to an extent; it is in his interest not to let the country fall apart, and he has always shown an incredible ideological flexibility to fit his own interests.   Like I said yesterday, he bought himself some breathing room, and isn't really thinking about 2013 yet.  Gun to my head, I'd say he won't run again, but that is based on what is happening at this moment, and that is flexible.  If these movements collapse in on themselves, he might try to change things again.

Of course, and this should have been said all week, even if the status quo reasserts itself to some degree- and nothing will ever be completely the same; you can't erase a taste of freedom- Salih will still have all the problems he has been dealing with beforehand, and which threatened to break apart him and his country.  So, to answer the title of this post- yes.  For now, tentatively, and with a million battles ahead.

Sorry- I've been reading a lot of Borges these last couple of days.  It is impossible not to want to shoehorn "labyrinth" in somewhere.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Everything or Nothing

Sorry for the late post- we've had a HISTORIC BLIZZARD over here, as the local news has been breathlessly repeating.   But, clearly, kind of a big day in Yemen.

President Ali Abdullah Salih, leader of northern Yemen since 1978, leader of a unified Yemen since 1990, has announced that, in the face of mounting protests and a new, vibrant and explosive morning in the Middle East, he will immediately resign the Presidency.  In 2013, when his term is up, I mean.  So, not really immediately.   Salih has also announced that his son will not be the next President, and that he is scrapping new electoral laws that were considered unfair to the opposition parties, including an amendment that would allow him to run again (after 32 years, he's being term-limited out), and is delaying the Parliamentary elections in the spring to allow the opposition to better organize themselves.

So, now there are a couple of questions.  One is: is this sincere?  Is he really planning to only stay for another two years, and then take up golf?  Or is this typical Salih, where he will announce one thing but manipulate the situation for the next couple of years so that he can come back with the acclaim of the people, a reluctant hero for a troubled nation.

I won't pretend to know what is in his heart.  I would imagine that, in typical fashion, he isn't really thinking about 2013- he's thinking about right now.  These steps were absolutely crucial if he wants to hang on- I've been arguing that he needs to make huge concessions, and he made them all (all but the big one, and we'll get to that).   Salih is concerned for the day, and he thinks this will help him win it, or at least survive it.   I am sure that somewhere in the back of his head he thinks there is a way to get to 2013 and beyond, but in between there he'll have about 3700 other crisis to deal with.

But can he survive the day?  That is the big question.  As Nasser reports, this isn't going to stop the protests.

The Yemeni opposition said they would take to the streets tomorrow Thursday despite a declared promise by President Saleh that he would not stand for elections and he would not pass power to his son.
“The President Saleh’s call for dialogue is something and the demonstrations are something else,” said Mohammed Al Mutawakel, the chairman of the supreme council of the collation of the opposition parties.
“The opposition would take to the street tomorrow with the people, and the ruling party should not link the call for dialogue to the demonstrations.”

The opposition is mulling over a response to the initiatives, but I would think they are acceptable. The JMP is part of the system, after all, and they aren't going to want to upset it too much. But as I argued the other day, I don't think the JMP is really leading these marches, even though they are nominally in charge. This is a reflection of the passion in Tunisia and Egypt, and there will be a sizable number of people who will want Salih out right now- not 2013.

But I think he took some of the wind out of their sails, which of course was his intention all along. It will be much easier for him to make the case that he was elected, he has the right and the obligation to finish out his term, and that these are agitators. He gave legitimate opposition groups everything they wanted, so why are these troublemakers asking more?

Will it work? I answer this with my analyst cap, and as someone who has spent a long time thinking about it: I don't have the first goddamn clue. It is impossible to tell what is going to happen. I do think that there will be people agitating for his departure, but unless it gets really big I don't think Salih will crack down- in a strange way, he bought himself a lot of space in which he can simply ignore their demands. This might have been a masterstroke, or we might one day look back at it as the desperate moves of an end-of-his-days tyrant. I'll try to blog frequently tomorrow- should be a hell of a day, and we can just hope it doesn't resemble what we're seeing in Cairo right now.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

JMP OK with Salih- for now

Nasser has an article at his site on how the JMP isn't asking Salih to step down if he offers meaningful reforms.
“The opposition has not arrived its final stage, and it is still demanding serious and genuine reforms,” said Mohammed Al Mutawakel, chairman of the supreme council of the Joint Meeting Parties, the coalition of the main opposition parties.
“When people become hopeless of genuine reforms, then demands for removal of the regime will be used like Egypt and Tunisia.” 

This kind of gets to James' points in the comment section below- I don't think that the JMP is going to be able to hold a grip on events for very long.  They are negotiating within a certain framework, and I have a feeling that most people in the streets on Thursday want a whole new framework.

Of course, if they are able to really force Salih into making legitimate concessions and immediate reforms, they might be able to tamp down the protestors, and perhaps even paint them as radicals way outside the mainstream.   Salih is going to have to do something huge if he wants to avoid his own Cairo.   But the problem is one of trust- a lot of the people against him won't believe a pledge not to run again, or not to maneuver his spoiled and detested son into office.  And nor, frankly, should they.  Salih has played the "I'm stepping down" card before, to his advantage.  And 2013 is a long, long time from now.

So, if tomorrow after a series of meetings they announce that there will be real reform, it comes down to people being willing to place their faith in the good offices of the JMP.  And I don't see that happening.  The psychological wall between ruler and ruled has been broken in the Middle East.  You might see a crackdown, but that will just be a bloody bandaid.  I don't really think people are going to be satisfied with minor alterations to the status quo.  

Quick Reactions to Mubarak's Speech

Looters.  Arsonists.  Will maintain security.  Political forces manipulating protestors.   Will stay until the elections.  Protecting his dignity.

Really, I don't know if Mubarak could have given a speech less likely to spark the crowd.  Maybe he could have said Gamal was now the President, or called the protestors Israeli agents might have done more, but it was still a pretty big thumb in the eye to the broad cross-section of Egyptians on the streets.

I understand his endgame, and get it to an extent- he doesn't want to die in Saudi Arabia and be remembered in history as just another tyrant.  I even feel bad for him, in a small way.  But I don't think he has that option anymore.  That's the price of power- you can't hang onto it forever, and if you do, there's a good chance you'll end up at the end of a rope or in lonely, bitter exile.

So, yeah: this isn't over, by a long shot.  I guess I didn't really think he'd go on TV an announce that he was leaving, but there was that slight spark of hope that we were about to see something amazing.  We still are- since when do crowds mock their tyrants in public, as al-Jazeera just asked.   It seems that he has done nothing more except to inflame the crowds even further.  So I guess we're still waiting.

I wonder if Salih watched it and said "yeah, that's a good strategy- position myself as the weary leader who has always tried to do what is best, and is now tired but still dignified, and firm in staying."  If so, he's wrong.  Hopefully the message he got is: ballgame.

CNAS on Yemen

At Abu Muquwama, Andrew Exum asked CNAS intern Dana Stuster for some thoughts on Yemen, with good results (he was also nice enough to mention this blog).  The whole thing is worth a read, but I am going to past a paragraph that I both agree and disagree with.

To begin with, Yemen is not on the cusp of a revolution. It’s easy to get caught up in the heady events in Tunisia and Egypt, but Yemen just does not have the socio-economic preconditions for the types of revolts seen in the past two weeks. Even if something were to take hold, the opposition movement in Yemen is incredibly fragmented. It’s unclear just what the mix of ideologies has been in the protests in Yemen these last few weeks, but even if the movement could depose Salih, there’s no clear outcome. If anything follows, it will begin with a motley assortment of groups jockeying for influence – a volatile cocktail of religious and political factions. In all likelihood, though, they won’t get that far.

I completely agree that Yemen doesn't have the same "socio-economic preconditions" of Tunisia and even Egypt- at least the positive preconditions.  It is way advanced at poverty.  And so the conclusion, that we won't have a liberal revolution is very likely.  Or, more precisely, the liberal part will only be part of the revolution. 

To me, Yemen is not on the cusp of a revolution because it is already in one- several, actually.  The Southern Movement is clearly one, and I consider both the Houthi movement and even AQAP to be revolutions as well.  I have no idea if this is outside the norm, but I haven't heard it phrased that way.  I think all three movements are essentially revolutions against the idea of a unified, centrally-controlled state. They are not tied in any real sense- see the AQAP declaration of war against the Houthis, which I really need to address in its own post, because it is pretty mind-blowing- but they have the same emotional underpinning, which is that this particular moment in political history is temporary.  As Stuster says at the end of his post, "The tribes are a constant in Yemen; the government, after a 30-some year hiatus, is about to be a lot less so."  

This is why I think the movement which has been brewing all month, and which might really explode into force on Thursday, is so interesting: it is not the same kind of rebellion.  It seems to want a state, just a decent honest one in which people are given a chance to actually live their lives without oppression or the crushing chains of poverty.   It is most similar to the Southern Movement, which is also largely secular and liberal, but it isn't trying to tear the country apart. 

This is why I think we need to be behind it.  President Salih has very few friends left, and while he might be able to stay in power, it will be even more degraded and illusory than before.  And since our biggest fear is a collapsed Yemen, it is important to throw our weight behind the one thing that might keep it from implosion.  Stuster is absolutely right that on the streets there will be a hodge-podge of movements without a center, but there does need to be a push to find one, even a symbolic one that can kind of hold things together.  I am not under the illusion that a replacement for Salih will fix everything, because in some ways he is just the frontman for a system that goes against Yemeni history.   I've said before that we do need to devolve the center, because it is an uncomfortable graft on older forms of rule.  But a new leader, even a transitional one, might be able to ease tensions with the north and the south (unless it is Brig. General Ali Mushin al-Ahmar, who is seen by all competing groups as having blood-stained hands).  

I realize this is all somewhat incoherent, but that is because the situation is so volatile and unpredictable and shifting.  Basically, I think that this movement has a chance at holding the country together, even in a very fragile way, and I don't think Salih has that ability anymore.  The chances of success are small, but the chances of success in Yemen have always been small, even non-existent.  February 3rd gives us- and more importantly, Yemenis- a crack.  

Anyway, read the whole piece I linked to.  Even if- especially if- I disagree with a few things, it is well worth the read.  

(NOTE: Edited so pronouns reflect actual gender of author.  I always guess wrong.  Sorry, Dana)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Suleiman The Something

I just got off the phone with my friend in Cairo, who says that things on the streets are still very rough, and that his neighborhood watch group has formed a checkpoint to inspect the trunks of cars going through.   This is a scene that is not unique to his area, either, as citizens are filling the vacuum of the police (who might be better in their absence than presence).  

His sense- and this is someone I trust implicitly as an analyst and a friend- is that if Mubarak goes away and turns things over to the new Veep Omar Suleiman, with Constitutionally-mandated promises to have elections in 60 days, the protestors will be appeased (assuming he keeps his promise).  My sense was that Suleiman is too tied to to present to even be a transition to the future, but I am coming around.  This isn't all about Mubarak, but he is the main symbol.

I think in some ways this would be the best option, and is probably the one that the administration is pushing (and my friend says they better be pushing something, soon, without Mubarak, as opinion is turning against America).   Suleiman is old and might not want to win an election, and probably couldn't, either, without the game being rigged.  And a rigged game would start this all up again.   I think it might be troubling for Mohamed elBaradei to take over as transitional president and have to run an election campaign.  I think he is personally honest, but those dual roles in a time of crisis management might be too much to handle.  If he is just a transition figure, that hurts future politics, and if he is running for office, it hurts the present.

So overall, at least abstractly, Suleiman might be the best option.  But things aren't abstract, and I don't want to speculate too much on Egypt.  Third World Goes Forth has a post on Suleiman today, where he is called "...Hosni Mubarak’s right hand man: head of intelligence service, runner of secret prisons, compiler of blacklists, torturer-in-chief (although I’m not sure he ever got his own hands dirty; the first rule of succesful tyranny, at all levels, is that the really bad shit must always be delegated)."

So I turn the questions over thataway- 1) Would Suleiman be a decent transition figure that could at least calm the protestors, or are they so jazzed up at the power of freedom that they want to wipe away the old guard entirely, and 2) Would Suleiman be willing to be that intermediary?   I honestly don't know, and would love to hear the analysis of others. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Salih's Options

Tastefully-named regular comment contributor oneilluiuc, who may or may not be closely related to your blogger (hint: may) asks this, regarding my "time for Mubarak to go" post:

oneilluiuc said...
Wow. Bold assessment. But reading your next post, you DON'T want the same thing in Yemen (yet?). I know the situations are different, but can you see a situation where you feel the same about Salih?
I am not sure I'm there yet, but am very close.  As I said below, Salih is obviously watching Egypt very closely, and the government of Yemen is firmly behind Mubarak right now, for easily-divinable reasons.  Sure, they talk about stability and constitutions and other shaded lies, but in truth they are terrified of what is happening.  Tunisia was one thing; the heart of the Arab world is an entirely different matter.  They see these movements as a dread contagion that threatens everything they have worked for.  

But right now Salih has an opportunity to change Yemen for the better.  On Thursday he can either crack down and attempt to crush the protests, or he can use the time between then and now to offer legitimate concessions, including a pledge to not run again and to open up the process.  I know that is dreamy, since he has done so before, and there isn't much chance that people will believe him.   But the way I see it he has three options. 

1) Crack down.  This might work in the short term, but as has been observed, this genie is not going back in the bottle.   Any softly-held illusion of consensual government will be rent.  This matters everywhere, but in Yemen, with its history and traditions of negotiations and mediations, it is vitally important.  His circle will shrink, and there will be blood in the water.  He will be even more weakened, and it will just be a matter of time before another movement sweeps him away, or an ambitious general, promising to restore democracy, will greet him with a plane ticket or a bullet. 

2) Find a middle ground.  Cling to power by letting it go, with no chance at re-election.  Expand the government to include opposition leaders.  Concede on JMP demands for the parliamentary elections; bend over backwards to ensure that they are relatively free.   This way he can go out on what can be spun on his own terms, and bequeath to the country a legacy of democracy, something no Arab leader has been able to do.   Of course, the power structure around him will be resistant to this.  The pie in Yemen is shrinking, so there is less will to share it.    This is one of the most dangerous situations in the world- an entrenched and fat power structure growing thinner and being forced to divide the bounty into more and smaller slices.   But I think Salih can still control events, especially if he maneuvers himself to be behind- not leading, but following- the "will of the masses".  

3) This isn't really an option, but a possibility.  Be toppled by events spinning rapidly out of his control.  The question is: is this a good thing or a bad thing?   A Washington Examiner article looks at this question through the prism of AQAP.  Both experts they talk to, Bruce Reidel and AJG buddy Chris Boucek seem to agree that a toppled government would aid AQAP, and I also agree with that.  But it seems to me that Boucek has it correct when he talks about the need to "look beyond the al Qaeda presence in Yemen and focus on the 'bigger issues' of economic reform, corruption and malcontent among the civilian population in the Arab world."

As I've argued, stopping this generation of al-Qaeda is important, but focusing only on them ensures their successors.  It is a paradox, but if we want to have a long-term victory against violent extremism we sort of have to ignore them for this historical moment.   If we want to win in Yemen, we absolutely cannot be on the wrong side of history.   We can't fear his being toppled so much that we see Option 1 as a healthy outcome.  If a democratic revolution is suppressed, is there any question of who will get stronger?  Is it that surprising the Brotherhood is the strongest opposition group in Egypt? 

So, to answer your question, oneill: We're not quite there yet, but we have to be close.  We have to be willing to dump Salih if pulls a Mubarak.  I think encouraging option 2 is our safest move in the short and long-term, but that also doesn't come with any guarantees.  I do worry about what will happen in his absence, but we have to be willing to sacrifice the short-term. 

This is only political, and really only deals with the north.  Needless to say, this is shortsighted.  To talk about the future, you have to talk about the Southern Movement, the Houthi Rebellion, AQAP, the poverty, water, oil, and everything else.  I don't think though that anyone wanted to read a 25,000 word piece on a Sunday, and, also, I don't know what I think about all of this yet.  We'll be working on that throughout the week, leading up to Thursday.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear the thoughts of readers on all of this.