Yemenis packed into Change Square in Sana’a Sunday to celebrate injured President Ali Abdullah Saleh leaving for Saudi Arabia to seek medical care, but his departure still leaves many questions over whether the embattled nation is in the midst of a full political transition.
Watch video from The Associated Press of the celebration:
After being injured in an attack Friday that killed seven guards, Saleh arrived Saturday in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. The New York Times reported:
The Saudis are likely to make sure Mr. Saleh, who has been in power for 33 years, does not return as president, analysts said — a goal they and other regional Arab leaders have tried unsuccessfully to arrange for weeks.
But even though his departure could ease tensions in Sana in the short term, there is no clear plan in place for a lasting political transition. In that vacuum, many fear that Yemen’s opposition factions and youth protesters might begin fighting among themselves, adding to the troubles of tribal violence in the north and secessionist efforts in the south.
The threat of more political disorder puts tremendous pressure on Saudi Arabia, the country’s powerful neighbor and patron, and on the United States, which had counted on Mr. Saleh as an ally against terrorists. The Saudis have seemed unsure about how to handle Yemen in recent months, as they struggled to calm the revolutionary energies across the region. For years, Mr. Saleh had kept the peace in a country riven by tribal jealousies, but the Saudis — prizing stability above all — have grown anxious as his control slipped in the face of protests inspired by the so-called Arab Spring.
President Obama’s top adviser on Yemen, John Brennan, spoke by phone Saturday with Yemeni vice president, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, who news reports said became acting president under the Yemeni Constitution, the Times reported. Also, U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein met Sunday with al-Hadi, and Yemen’s military chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Ali al-Ashwal, to discuss transition plans, The Washington Post reported.
Al Jazeera examines the leadership possibilities in Yemen, including the 60-day window Saleh has to return before elections would be called:
Ian Black writes more about Saudi concerns over Yemen in The Guardian:
Like any country, it worries about instability next door. It faces genuine problems involving al-Qaida, explosives, illegal immigrants and drugs crossing the 1,100 mile-long border – often described as its “soft underbelly”. There was deep shock in 2009 when a Yemeni suicide bomber nearly managed to kill the Saudi counter-terrorism chief in Jeddah. “For the Saudis Yemen is not a foreign policy issue but a security one,” said historian Madawi Al-Rasheed, of King’s College London.
In private, the US, Britain and other western governments have been frustrated. “The Saudis put a lot of money into Yemen but like everyone else they have been puzzled about how to handle it,” said a former diplomat. “It has tried to influence events but didn’t take charge and seemed to lack strategic direction.”
Voice of America took a look back at the many challenges Saleh faced in his 33 years of rule.
If Saleh stays in Saudi Arabia, he would mark the second Arab leader to take refuge there from protests in his home country this year, following President Ben Ali who fled Tunisia in January.
More fighting continued even after Saleh’s departure. The Washington Post reported that security forces “used tanks and live ammunition against gunmen who stormed the presidential palace in the southern city of Taiz on Sunday” and that people in Sana’a reported that government forces continued to shell opposition tribal leaders’ homes.
While many celebrating in Sana’a saw his trip to Saudi Arabia as the end of Saleh’s 33-year rule, Yemeni officials sought to portray his absence as temporary, rather than an abdication of power, the Post reported.