Attack on Saleh may be a sign of further unrest

June 4, 2011 2:00 pm0 commentsViews:

Ali Abdullah Saleh’s grasp on power has grown ever more precarious with the attack on the Presidential Palace, and his own apparent injury.

The attack, at around 3pm, sent shockwaves around the already strife-torn capital Sana’a. There are a reported 7 dead, and many top officials, including the Prime Minister, are said to be injured.

There are many different interpretations of what happened in Yemen on Friday, and what the results will be. The variety of outcomes are indicative of Yemen’s unpredictable nature.

Although the chief of Hashid, Sadiq al-Ahmar, denied that his tribal forces were behind the attack, the consensus around Sana’a is that they were responsible. If this is true, then it is clear that Hashid, the strongest tribal confederation in Yemen, is sending a message to Saleh; you will not attack us and expect to remain safe.

Yemeni government officials immediately denied claims that Saleh had been killed in the attack, although their own claims that he was only lightly injured may also be fanciful; the announced presidential press conference did not transpire, and the Yemeni people were only given an audio address by Saleh, one where his speech was heavy and not in his usual boisterous style.

If Saleh emerges largely unscathed, then this maybe the start of a severe crackdown on the protest movement, partly out of revenge, and partly out of the opportunity given to use the attack as a pretext. This would be catastrophic for a people already reeling from a huge upsurge in violence over the last week or so. Sana’a has seen downtown districts turned into warzones, and Taiz’s huge protest camp was attacked by the government, resulting in over 50 dead, and the camp completely bulldozed.

If he is severely injured then it may lead to a power struggle involving his son, Ahmed Ali, and the al-Ahmar’s, a scenario that the revolutionaries of Yemen have not peacefully protested for four months for. Memories of the 1994 Civil War are still fresh in many Yemeni’s minds.

An interesting scenario would be Saleh being forced to leave the country in order to treat his injuries. The severe mismanagement of the country means that Yemeni hospitals are not equipped to deal with some serious cases. If Saleh were to leave the country to seek treatment it would be hard to envisage him returning and resuming his Presidency, and would provide perfect cover for the international community to fully support a new government in the country. This is probably the best case scenario.

One interesting point to note is that this attack appears to show a severe security breach in the Presidential defences. The area surrounding the Presidential Palace is severely guarded, and all the roads surrounding it, including some of Sana’a’s major arteries, are completely closed and blocked with heavy machinery. Despite all of this an attack which appears to have injured Saleh and several of his top brass was carried out. Saleh and his men will have to seriously reconsider their defences, and the strength of the enemy that they are facing.

Abubakr Al-Shamahi

Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East