Change in Yemen

A New Kind of Tribe

New York Times

The Opinion Pages

There may have been a time when Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, could have maneuvered a more graceful departure from the office he has held for three decades. But he has lost his legitimacy and should go as quickly as possible. Continued instability is not good for Yemen or for the United States-led fight against Al Qaeda.

For nearly two months, Mr. Saleh weathered increasing pressure from youth-led demonstrations demanding his resignation and a more accountable and democratic system. The tide turned on March 18. At least 50 protesters were killed, apparently by snipers loyal to the regime.

Since then, a surprising number of high-level government officials, including military commanders and ambassadors, as well as tribal leaders, have joined the opposition. The most significant: Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, who this week directed his troops to protect the antigovernment demonstrators.

Protesters, so far, have rejected Mr. Saleh’s attempted concessions. They have little reason to trust him: He has long promised reforms and never delivered. Even now, he is sending mixed messages. On Thursday, he vowed to defend himself by “all possible means.” On Friday, he said he was ready to yield power but only if he could hand it over to what he termed “safe hands.”

Still, there is talk of a deal. In Yemen’s complex tribal culture, President Saleh, a survivor, may survive again. The Obama administration, using quiet diplomacy, at first tried to persuade him to respond peacefully and credibly to popular demands. Now with Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s patron, it should press him even harder to accept a quick and peaceful transfer of power to a caretaker government that broadly reflects Yemeni society. It would lay the ground for elections.

Yemen is a shaky state. It is running out of water and oil, and 43 percent of its people are impoverished. It is battling separatists in the south, insurgents in the north and — with Washington’s frequent participation — one of Al Qaeda’s strongest affiliates. A brutal civil war or a prolonged power vacuum will only make a bad situation even worse.

A version of this editorial appeared in print on March 26, 2011, on page A22 of the New York edition.
Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: