LONDON – Ali Abdullah Saleh is finished as Yemen’s president. Popular democratic protests that started on a small scale in mid-February outside Sanaa University have widened to encompass the whole country. The continuity and strength of the demonstrations clearly indicate that the regime’s days are numbered. Tribal leaders have joined the protesters. Even close allies who belong to Saleh’s own Hashid tribe, such as Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, have abandoned him. Now, even his long-term protector, the United States, seems to be abandoning him.
Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, knows that his time is up. “They are falling like leaves in autumn,” he recently said of the regime’s defectors. Resignations have increased: ambassadors, ministers, significant media figures, and army generals.
It is the last group that is decisive: when senior military and security personnel abandon an authoritarian regime in the face of popular pressure, its days are numbered. Yet Saleh retains the loyalty of the interior ministry, the Republican Guard, and part of the air force. Still, clashes between the army and the Republican Guard are further eroding the regime’s coherence.
Like other dictators in their political death throes – former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, for example – Saleh has warned of the dangers the world would face if he is forced to depart: the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda attacks, Iranian regional hegemony, and the breakup of Yemen.Après moi le déluge seems to be the sole justification he can offer for his continued rule.