A few days ago, Saleh the embattled President of Yemen, was injured when an unknown assailant fired upon the Presidential palace. His injuries required medical treatment and he has departed to Saudi Arabia for the necessary operations to treat his injuries. An entourage of 35 people flew with Saleh to Saudi Arabia.
Since then the people of Yemen have begun to celebrate as if this trip to Saudi Arabia was Saleh’s exit. However, a question needs to be asked here: are these celebrations a little bit premature? In other words are people counting their chickens before they are hatched? A truce was brokered with the rival tribe, but there is still some shelling in Sa’ana and elsewhere.
Pro-democracy protestors in Yemen were celebrating his departure after 33 years in power, but the Arab world’s poorest country still faces turmoil as well as immediate concerns over whether a truce will hold if Saleh tries to return and his relatives and supporters fight back.
The risks ahead were underlined by clashes in the southern city of Taiz, which left at least two dead and four injured. Shelling was also reported in Sana’a.
Saleh was described as recovering following emergency medical treatment in a Riyadh military; he was injured by shrapnel when his palace compound was attacked by tribal rivals.
Yemen’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress, insisted he would be back, but diplomats and analysts expressed doubt, suggesting that Saudi patience with an always fractious and often manipulative neighbour was exhausted.
Saleh has been formally replaced by his deputy, Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, but the constitution allows for the creation of a military council to oversee government business. Diplomats said a key question was the reaction of Saleh’s son Ahmed, commander of the powerful Republican Guard, and his nephews Yayha and Amar, who control other key elements of the security forces. Saleh’s brother commands the Yemeni air force.
Al-Arabiya TV reported that Hadi had already met the US ambassador to Yemen, Michael Feierstein, and was also due to see members of the military and Saleh’s sons. The Saudi-owned channel also described Ahmed Saleh as running the country in his father’s absence in Riyadh.
Reinforcing the point, the official Yemeni news agency, Saba, issued a statement saying that Saleh’s family had not accompanied him to Saudi Arabia – which was seen as a clear warning that his sons would remain in place.
Amidst the jubilation in Sana’a, one good sign was the agreement of the Ahmar family, leaders of the Hashid tribal federation that has been fighting Saleh, to abide by a truce aimed at stopping the street fighting in the capital.
Saleh blamed the Ahmars for the attack on his palace on Friday and ordered government forces to retaliate with an artillery barrage against their homes in the Sana’a neighbourhood of Hasaba.
The Hashid announced their support for the protest movement in March, and Ahmar fighters initially adhered to the movement’s non-violence policy.
Saleh’s departure was foreseen in the accord brokered by the six-nation, Saudi-led Gulf Co-operation Council. It provided a timetable for the president to leave office and to clear the way for new elections within 60 days. He declined to sign the agreement, despite several attempts by Gulf leaders to end to the crisis.
Now in Saudi Arabia, – and perhaps under pressure from his hosts – he may no longer be able to renege on it. “Saleh may be determined to brazen it out but he will find it hard to resist for very long,” predicted one western diplomat.