Lara Sukhtian, AFP
Last updated: 14 October, 2011

UN’s Yemen move won’t stem violence

A proposed UN resolution on Yemen calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign that fails to threaten sanctions is unlikely to stem the tide of violence engulfing the country, analysts say.

After 33 years at the helm, Saleh is refusing to step down after months of deadly protests unless his arch rivals, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, who are currently battling his troops in Sanaa, also step aside.

Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a former staunch Saleh ally who defected in March to back anti-regime protesters, claims he has no political ambitions, despite his military takeover of parts of the capital.

Sheikh Sadeq, who does not hold an official position, heads the country’s most powerful tribe, while his brother Hamid, a billionaire businessman, is a leading Islamic opposition figure.

One problem, analysts argue, is that the only political settlement on the table, a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, calls for Saleh’s resignation but fails to address the roles of his rivals in a future Yemeni government.

“This is a major gap in the agreement,” said International Crisis Group’s (ICG’s) April Alley, adding that though a UN resolution could act as an important signal to the political elite, “it has no real leverage.”

Domestic considerations play more heavily into Saleh’s calculations than international resolutions, she said.

“Saleh is not going to leave office, remove his sons and nephews from positions of power, and allow (Ali) Mohsen and Sheikh Sadeq to step in and play a prominent role in a future government,” said Alley, the think-tank’s senior Yemen analyst.

“That’s Saleh’s red line,” she said.

The proposed Security Council resolution calls for implementation of the GCC initiative and an immediate end to violence by both sides, but analysts say a resolution without a threat of action will do little to change the status quo.

“It’s time for the international community to be much more forceful … but I don’t have any illusions that they’re going to convince Saleh to step down,” senior Brookings Middle East fellow Bruce Riedel told AfP.

Without a political resolution that is acceptable to all the rival political groups in Yemen, the military option may be the only one left.

“That’s not only the biggest risk, it is an increasingly likely outcome. Saleh has demonstrated that he won’t listen to calls for his departure… He’s leading his country into the abyss,” Riedel said highlighting the regional implications of the escalating violence in Yemen.

“Civil wars have a habit of bleeding over borders into neighbouring countries, and Saudi Arabia could see both refugee flows and cross-border violence,” warned Riedel.

The Yemeni government, meanwhile, has urged the Security Council to avoid a resolution targeting the embattled president, calling on it instead to back a political solution.

Protesters demanding the ouster of Saleh are hoping to see decisive action by the Security Council.

According to a letter from Yemen’s youth movement to the United Nations earlier this month at least 861 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded since mass protests against Saleh erupted in late January.

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists remain camped out in the capital, empowered by the Nobel Peace Prize win of Tawakkul Karman, a fellow protester.

However, with the deadly street clashes between rival fighters and the intermittent but harsh government crackdowns on demonstrators, peaceful calls for democracy are at risk of being overshadowed.

“Their voices are being drowned out by canon fire,” said Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni analyst, adding that what started off as a peaceful popular revolt was turning into a conflict between two opposing arms of the regime.

Yemen, a desperately poor nation, is home to more than half the population of the Arabian Peninsula and sits on its southwestern corner, sharing a massive land border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter.

It is also the home-base of Al-Qaeda’s most active global branch and where the United States is heavily invested in a battle to wipe out the group.

Al-Qaeda has benefited from the chaos that has ensued since widespread anti-government demonstrations began in January calling for Saleh’s resignation, and since May, they have taken control of several cities in the southern province of Abyan.