US media, which filters everything through US interests, has been writing a variation on the story that Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster in Yemen would cause national security problems. That may be true, but the possibilities it describes are already on display throughout the Arab world. Libya, where we did attack, could become a haven for terrorists in a chaotic post-Gadhafi aftermath; we know almost nothing about the rebels we’re supporting. And Bahrain is already a proxy battle between the Saudis and the Iranians, so any hope of avoiding that is done. As for the idea that a civil war could erupt without Saleh, well, again, we’re seeing that elsewhere, and given the lack of credibility for Saleh and the number of generals who have switched sides in Yemen, and the active separatist movement in the south that was around before the uprising, I’d say that’s the current state of affairs. Heck, I remember maps with “North Yemen” and “South Yemen,” the two countries only came together in 1994.
But this is all a moot point if Saudi Arabia abandons Yemen and forces a quick solution.
Saudi Arabia would like to see a quick and smooth transition of power in Yemen, where Mr Saleh has been clinging to power in spite of weeks of protests and the dramatic narrowing of his support base, say analysts close to the government in Riyadh. And the kingdom is now concerned that the situation could devolve into a Libyan scenario in which Mr Saleh uses his presidential guards against the people and the army, transforming a revolt against the regime into a civil war.
“For Saudi Arabia, the end results for any mediation will be to guarantee stability and a smooth transition of power,’’ says Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi analyst. “The kingdom will not fight for Saleh … We have very bad experiences with him. The man’s survival makes no difference.”
If the Saudis had an interest in protecting Saleh’s rule, they would probably do what they did in Bahrain and come to his aid. But they are not likely to interfere in this case. I’ve heard the same scare talk that the Yemen uprising has been stage-managed by Iran, similar to talk about Bahrain, but the Saudis wouldn’t be so quick to abandon Saleh if that were the case.
Riyadh has propped up Saleh in the past, even after he supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. But they have also kept close contacts with the Yemeni military. I imagine their preferred outcome is a military coup.
If Saleh has lost his key ally, he’s probably gone in a matter of days, although the new government in Sanaa has approved a state of emergency, so maybe he can hold out longer. But none of this guarantees a democratic transformation responsive to the people in the streets.