Bloody days in Sanaa

Barak Barfi writes:

For years, many Yemen observers argued that the dilemmas the country faced — a secession movement in the south, a sectarian rebellion in the north, and a flourishing al Qaeda affiliate — threatened to implode the country. But as I argued shortly after the 2009 Christmas Day bombing, these challenges were unlikely to bring down the regime. Security unrest could never really cripple a land that has experienced political turmoil for a thousand years. Historical instability has rendered Yemenis largely inured to a level of violence that would be considered chaos in most countries.

Widespread societal frustrations, not regional grievances or jihadism, are at the root of the current protests. In a country where 65 percent of the population is under 25, Yemenis are understandably more interested in finding employment and weeding out corruption than in eliminating al Qaeda operatives in remote tribal regions. New cadres of college graduates have protested outside government offices in Ibb demanding jobs. Workers have crippled the port in Hudaydah, calling for the resignation of superiors who grew rich at the public’s expense.

The Yemeni people’s resolve has shaken the regime, and it is beginning to reveal its cracks. Senior provincial officials have quit their posts. Almost two dozen parliamentarians have resigned from the ruling General People’s Congress party. State electric workers have gone on strike in Taiz. Even the military has not been spared. In the northern province of Saada, where a rebellion has flared for the past seven years, soldiers mutinied against their senior commander. The regime is hemorrhaging defections.

But more worrisome for Saleh than these desertions is the ripple effect the unrest is causing among his chief backers — the tribes. For the first time in Saleh’s 32-year rule, most of the tribes in the two largest confederations oppose the president. And even among the clans that have remained loyal, such as Bayt Lahum and Banu Suraym, his support is far from secure. Saleh has been able to win over the chiefs with lavish financial promises and government posts, but the average tribesmen, who rarely benefit from this patronage, have turned against him.

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