Yemen Catches the Protest Fever

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Protests have spread from Tunisia to Egypt and now Yemen, where people gathered in the street to demand the removal of the country's president today. But while Tunisia's uprising and Egypt's protests have sparked predictions of democratic transitions in the Arab world, the most recent unrest in Yemen may actually "pose a new threat to the stability of the Arab world's most impoverished nation, which has become the focus of increased Western concern about a resurgent al-Qaeda branch, a northern rebellion and a secessionist movement in the south," the Associated Press reports.

Observers of the Arab revolts note the difference between Yemen and the other countries that have joined the protest bandwagon and offer predictions for its future.

  • Instability Poses a Threat  Washington Post blogger Adam Serwer notes that "Yemen is anything but stable, and of the three countries is perhaps least likely to transition to something resembling a peaceful democracy." Yemen is also known to harbor Anwar al-Awlaki, the "most high-profile US target since Osama bin Laden," and common knowledge of the US's use of drone strikes against members of al-Qaeda in Yemen "have provoked popular sympathies for extremists."
  • The Arab World's Eyes are Opening  Ernie Smith at ShortFormBlog  refers to the current movement as "the Arab world's collective realization that they don't have to put up with this ^#(& anymore." In response to today's latest he writes, "Yemen gets in on the mass-revolt bandwagon; good for them."
  • US Must Use Its Influence to Prevent Further Chaos  At the Wonk Room, Matt Duss is impressed by Obama's outward support of the Arab protesters' push for democracy but doesn't think it should stop there. He writes:
It's imperative now that the administration formulate a more robust and strategic response to these events. While I think it's generally correct for the US not to simply inject itself into the demonstrations, it's also worth noting that the US has significant influence, and, given that we've sponsored them for decades, responsibility to pressure these regimes away from violent crackdowns.
  • Successive Regimes Fuel Anger  Simon Tisdall at the Guardian points out that in addition to unemployment, poverty, corruption, high food prices, and authoritarian repression, the people of the Arab world who are protesting right now are also fed up with the governments' style of "dynastic succession" in which non-monarchical leaders pass down their position "to favored sons or other male family members." In Yemen, for example, the public "appears deeply unimpressed" by the president's son who is expected to replace him. But honestly, Tisdall warns, "the way things are going in Yemen, which faces a separatist movement in the south, tribal warfare in the north and Iranian, Saudi al-Qaeda, and US meddling, there may soon be no country left to rule."
  • Yemen a Bigger Risk Than the Others  Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis notes that though it's obvious Tunisia's uprising was the catalyst for the following protests in other Arab countries, "each country has it's own set of problems andits own forces vying for control." Mataconis also notes the risk involved in the Yemen situation is that "instability will lead to the kind of chaos that will allow al Qaeda and similar groups to flourish the way they did in Afghanistan under the Taliban."
  • It Will Only Get Worse for Yemen  In the January/February issue of Foreign Policy, Gregory Johnsen predicts a "coming explosion" of all Yemen's problems. Al Qaeda is building strong roots in the country, the south wants to secede, Shiites are rebelling in the north, and the country's water and oil supply are equally depleting.
Whoever does take power in the capital of Sanaa may find there's not much of Yemen left to rule. The country continues to dissolve into semiautonomous regions amid various rebellions, all of which feed off one another...Instead of imploding, Yemen is going to explode. And when it does, Yemen's problems of today are going to become Saudi Arabia's problems of tomorrow. This is already foreshadowed by Saudi involvement in the northern conflict and al Qaeda strikes from Yemen into the kingdom. By the time Obama and his team cobble together a smarter response, the time for prevention will have passed and their only option will be mopping up the mess.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.