Writing on the wall for Salih?

A five-sentence news item on the Islah party’s website, under the rather inconsequential headline “MP urges Yemeni president to step down”, says that the opposition member of parliament Hamid al-Ahmar has called on President Salih to hand over power to Vice-President Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi.

This might not be very noteworthy – except that al-Ahmar is no ordinary MP. He’s the son of the late Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar who for years was paramount chief of the Hashid (Yemen's most important tribal grouping, of which Salih’s clan is a junior member) as well as speaker of parliament, leader of the Islah party and a major power broker behind the scenes.

I can’t imagine Hamid al-Ahmar (glowingly profiled here in the Yemen Times) making these remarks on al-Jazeera television simply for the sake of sounding off. 

Talk of national reconciliation in Yemen is not going to lead anywhere unless something happens to break the ice – and Salih’s resignation would be an obvious first step. Salih, in true Arab tradition, is not going to jump and will have to be pushed. Ahmar’s “urging” may be the start of a move to do just that.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press says rebels have captured a strategic army post in Saghein (Saada province) after a 12-hour battle.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 7 August 2009