Yemen: will Saudis intervene?

Fighting has resumed in the Yemeni capital this morning. 
A report in today's Guardian describes the scenes in Sana'a yesterday and Gregory Johnsen has an excellent analysis of events there over the last few days.

The US has now ordered non-essential diplomatic staff to leave the country and yesterday President Obama urged President Saleh to "move immediately on his commitment to transfer power".

The ability of the US to influence events in Yemen at this stage is rather limited but one Yemen expert suggests it is only a matter of time before Saudi Arabia intervenes. Khaled Fattah, a researcher at St Andrews University said:

"Riyadh will not keep watching for long. They have their own network with tribal leaders in Yemen. The next step will be strong intervention from Riyadh to defuse the tension... They will interfere to [secure a] ceasefire and then the establishment of a council of tribal elders, senior military officers, and representatives of the southern movement.

"The Saudis are very keen to have their hands in the political kitchen of Sana'a. He [President Saleh] has reached the stage when he is unable to defuse the tension domestically and he [is causing more] headaches than before. So I think the Saudis will interfere in the coming few days.

"First there will be a ceasefire between the al-Ahmar family and the Republican guards and central armed forces. Then there will a resumption of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] initiative [for Saleh to stand down]. We are talking about days not weeks... I am simply aware that Riyadh will not tolerate such unrest to escalate."

Meanwhile, on the Armies of Liberation blog, Jane Novak outlines a 12-month programme for Yemen once Saleh leaves:

"The day after Saleh... Yemeni revolutionaries must begin the arduous work of building the civil democratic Yemen of their demands. Once the revolution has succeeded, it must be protected. One way is to disperse power at the local level...

"The re-balancing of power that is required is not among various groups and power players, but between the people and all their institutions. Self-determination on the national level can only be accomplished by empowerment on the local level."

The plan's emphasis on local action and public participation based on equal rights for all is exactly what Yemen will need. However, it is not an idea that will appeal much to Saudi Arabia, and if the Saudis do try to assume control of Yemen's politics the activists are likely have a continuing battle on their hands.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 26 May 2011