Amidst the celebrations there is the very real fear that this is far from over. The situation is constantly changing, and different claims are constantly being released. Government spokesmen have talked of Saleh returning in a matter of weeks, if not days. Whilst this may be mere conjecture, there is no denying that the uncertainty has meant that most Yemenis are still afraid of the bogeyman’s return.
There are more reasons to worry that this is not over. Ali Saleh’s son, Ahmed, who leads the elite Republican Guard units, has moved into the Presidential Palace. His cousins, Saleh’s four nephews, are still in the country and in control of their respective military units. One of the protest movement’s central demands is that they lose the positions they currently hold and are tried for crimes committed against the Yemeni people.
The apparent acting-President, Vice-President Abdu-Rabo Mansur Hadi, is a weak figure, chosen deliberately by Saleh so as not to create a rival power base so close to the corridors of power. The opposition movement now want him to officially be declared interim leader, in order to steal the initiative from Saleh and pre-empt any potential return. Hadi is apparently close to the leader of the defected First Armoured Brigade, Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, and the Brigade are guarding his house and the Ministry of Defence, where he is attempting to run the country from.
However, the position of Hadi is not fully known. He does not control any military forces directly, and that means that Ahmed Saleh and the nephews have more power than him. The position of state television remains the same, indicating that the regime is still in tact, even if it has been decapitated. More worrying for the protesters is Hadi’s reported statement that Saleh will return in the next few days. Even if this is not feasible due to Saleh’s apparent condition, it is clear that those who back him are still clinging on, and still maintain some sort of influence over Hadi.
This should not take away from the sense of joy and achievement being felt in Sana’a and the rest of the country. Although there are still sporadic bouts of violence, especially in the second city Taiz, the sound of explosions has been replaced by that of fireworks, and people have been flocking to the protest squares around the country to celebrate. If anything, a large presence in the protest squares would indicate to those still unsure that the regime is done for.
The protesters have also indicated that, although they welcome the departure of Saleh, it is only the first of their demands, and that they will not leave their tent cities until all their demands are met. In the focus on the al-Ahmar – Saleh rivalry many analysts have overlooked the power of the youth movement, which is huge in a country where the average age is 17.
As per usual in Yemen things are being done unusually. This has parallels in the past, although Yemenis celebrate 26 September 1962 as the date of the revolution against the Imam (King), the war between the Republicans and the Royalists did not end until 1970. Just like then, a lot now rests on outside powers and their influence. Saleh is now in Saudi territory. If he were to return to Yemen then there would have to be approval from the upper echelons of the Saudi leadership. Personally, I cannot see this happening, given that they seem to have decided that Saleh’s time is up.
The decisive moments will come in the next few days. If the opposition protest movement can manage to get Hadi on board, and set up a transitional government, then there is a chance that they can neutralise any counter-revolutionary forces, and especially the remaining Saleh family members in Yemen. As ever, it is a case of wait and see.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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