Saleh fights back in Yemen

Having signed the GCC's ludicrous "transition agreement" under international pressure, President Saleh shows no sign of relinquishing power in Yemen and the situation continues to deteriorate.

Fighting has been going on for several days now in the city of Ta'izz, south of Sana'a, with Saleh's forces ranged against tribal fighters and anti-government militias. The video above shows shelling of the opposition Islah party's building in the city on Friday.

Saleh's behaviour is entirely in character. It was only to be expected that after placating the international community by signing the agreement he would set about unravelling it – and the battle of Ta'izz is one result of that.

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, clashes broke out again between the Houthi rebels (who are Shia Muslims) and Sunni Salafis. The Houthis, who have fought several major rebellions against the Saleh regime over the last few years, are now seeking their own state, according to a report in the Yemen Times.

In the south, on the other hand, the separatists seem fairly quiet at the moment – though that may simply be because Saleh's forces are preoccupied elsewhere. Whichever way we look at it, though, the country is in serious danger of falling apart and the longer Saleh continues to play his power games the more likely that is to happen.

Even if Saleh is formally relinquishes the presidency in February (as required by the GCC agreement) he will still be in a position to pull the strings unless members of his family are also removed from key positions in the security forces.

Although Saleh has officially transferred his powers to Vice-President Hadi, Hadi is in a weak position, with no support base of his own. If Saleh does have to step down in February and can't get his son into the top position, installing Hadi as a puppet president is his next best option.

There appears to be a plan, or at least some kind of arrangement, that in the coming presidential election Hadi will be the only candidate. This would be illegal, since the constitution says very clearly that there must be at least two candidates.

One way around the constitutional problem would be to let an obscure no-hoper challenge Hadi for the presidency, as happened in 1999 when Saleh won 96.3% of the vote against a member of his own party in Yemen's first "competitive" presidential election.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 4 December 2011