‘Isolated Saleh under pressure to quit’
Interview with Zayd al-Isa, a Middle East expert in London
Democratic protesters in Yemen now seem to be gaining the advantage against a dictator that is losing political and military support. Press TV talks with Zayd al-Isa, a Middle East expert in London on the latest developments in Yemen and about where President Saleh can turn for additional support.
Press TV: How do you see the situation in Yemen? We have Yemeni ambassadors in Europe, the Arab League, the UN and in China all stepping down and calling for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This presumably would leave him more isolated. How much do you think this would pressure Saleh to step down?
Zayd al-Isa: Saleh is becoming increasingly isolated, beleaguered and embattled. Support is waning away from him and he is under unprecedented pressure. The massacre that his forces have perpetrated has piled on the pressure for him to resign and step down. People have hardened their rhetoric ad toughened their language against him. They want him to be ousted and not only that, but to stand trial for crimes committed against unarmed peaceful civilians.
This has followed the massacre by Saudi forces on the people of Bahrain and we can say that Saleh too is following the green light given by the US. Saudi Arabia considers Yemen to be its backyard garden – both Yemen and Bahrain. Americans have given them a license to kill in those two countries.
Saleh’s policy of shooting to kill the protesters has backfired and we are witnessing the backlash from the tribe’s people, which is highly significant because Yemen is a tribal nation. These tribes are now standing against him and most importantly we now see the army, high ranking Generals, pull the rug from under his feet turning against him.
Without warning some of the army’s troops have been ordered on the ground, tanks included, to come to the defense of the innocent people of Yemen.
We have seen support come from the defense minister who has pledged his loyalty and called Saleh a constitutional president. This is all a critical and highly dangerous development that may show divisions within the high ranks of the military, which is something different to what occurred in Egypt, which was stable and united. We also saw a different situation in Tunisia where the army stood firmly against Ben Ali and remained as a stable unit.
The situation in Yemen has deteriorated further with Saleh becoming isolated amid an unprecedented number of diplomats defecting. This highlights the beginning of a new phase where the protesters are gaining the upper hand and the movement is gathering momentum.
This is to the contrary of what Saleh had expected. Protesters have flouted the imposed curfew and numbers have substantially escalated, spreading to all parts of Yemen. Saleh is now in a terrible position and I believe he now has to step down. France has said that the fall of Saleh has become unavoidable. We haven’t heard such noises coming from the US as Saleh is again considered one of the key allies of the US.
I think Saleh depends on three important pillars: the support of the tribes, the support of the US and aid that is allocated to military; and finally the backing and support of the Saudi regime. Saleh has been a loyal and obedient defender of the Saudi Monarchy.
Press TV: Regarding the three pillars of Saleh’s ability to stay in power that you mentioned, President Saleh’s own tribe has called upon him to step down.
Zayd al-Isa: That’s right and support of that tribe is absolutely crucial. Using a policy of divide and conquer he heavily relied on this tribe in the earlier war against the Houthis, which was backed by Saudi Arabia. That tribal support now is waning.
The aid from the US goes to Saleh’s military in order to fight al-Qaeda, which we know the Saudi regime has been a major factor in the supporting and the flourishing of al-Qaeda. Al Qaeda has flourished during those dictatorships and the oppression forced on the people of those countries, in Yemen, and of course in Saudi Arabia, which is the mother of all dictatorships.
Press TV: Let’s talk about the support of Saudi Arabia for Saleh – Do you think there will be Saudi troops deployed to Yemen as they were deployed to Bahrain?
Zayd al-Isa: I wouldn’t call it a deployment of forces. What you have in Bahrain is a clear cut occupation; an outright invasion of a sovereign country.
Yemen though is a huge massive country with a very difficult terrain. And we’ve seen Saudi Arabia actually try to invade Yemen before to impose its own will on the Houthis and to actually commit genocide against them; committing crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against them. They used their superior military ground forces and supremacy in the air – advanced equipment supplied to them by the US.
They picked on the Houthis, a simple militia and now we see them once again taking on a tiny country (Bahrain) which is ruled by a ruthless dictator the so-called king of Bahrain who is no king (by definition). He was never elected and has subjected his people to intolerable discrimination. He has tried to change the makeup of the country by luring thousands of mercenaries giving them citizenship if they commit crimes against his own people.
Saudi now has its trigger happy forces inside Bahrain to quash the revolutionary forces of democracy also and with utter silence from the US. The US has condemned the situation in Bahrain, but has not lifted a finger to help prevent the occupation of Bahrain. We can see through this discussion that what they have done in Bahrain they cannot duplicate in Yemen.
Press TV: We have reports that Houthi fighters are now in control of Yemen’s Northern provinces. This raises a question of – What are the chances of Yemen falling into a civil war?
Zayd al-Isa: The situation is incredibly volatile and there are so many tribes. And what makes it even more dangerous is the division (potential) between the army generals and this could lead to civil war unless the army sits down and unites, that is, a united front against Saleh. He has the loyalty of the Defense Minister, but I do believe that Saleh is running out of allies and supporters; he is relying now on the backing and support of Saudi Arabia. That’s why he has sent his foreign minister to Saudi Arabia to get whole hearted support and the king of Saudi Arabia has emphatically supported the dictators in the region. He gave shelter to Ben Ali to live in his country and he tried to influence Egypt into allowing Mubarak to remain in power and oversee a transition. They have been the bastion of dictatorship.