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Who will lead Yemen now?

June 6, 2011


Yemen‘s main political opposition accepted a transfer of power to the country’s vice president after President Ali Abdullah Saleh traveled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment following an attack on his compound Friday. But it’s unclear who will replace President Saleh more permanently if he doesn’t return, and whether Vice President Abdul Rabu Mansoor Hadi will be accepted by the other groups vying for Saleh’s ouster.

Saleh was injured Friday when opposition tribesmen shelled the presidential compound, targeting a mosque during Friday prayers. Saleh’s forces and Yemeni tribesmen, who have engaged in pitched battles for nearly two weeks in the capital, continued fighting this weekend, the Washington Post reports, despite a truce brokered by Saudi Arabia.

The capital erupted in fireworks after his departure, which some saw as permanent, given his injuries and increasingly weak political position. But the government rebuffed the political opposition’s call for the establishment of a temporary coalition government, saying that Saleh was still Yemen’s president and would return to the country soon. In the interim, Vice President Abd al-Rabo Mansur al-Hadi was named as acting president.

US ally Saudi Arabia is expected to block Saleh from returning to Yemen (with US support), the Washington Post reports, but neither the US nor Saudi Arabia likely has an answer for how to ensure a peaceful transition to a new government that will satisfy the secular youth-protest movement’s demands for change, command respect from powerful tribes, and be capable of reining in Islamist militants, including an Al Qaeda franchise active in the south.

An editorial from the Daily Star in Lebanon, a country that has long served as a proxy battleground for regional powers, stated, “the complexity of Yemen’s political dynamic almost makes Lebanon seem straightforward.” Saleh took much of his family to Saudi Arabia with him, but a son and nephew who command some of the most elite security forces remain in Yemen. Those who were allies in the fight to remove Saleh from power will have competing interests as they build a new government. Fighting could continue as a power struggle emerges.

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