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Qais Ghanem, MD Headshot

For the Saudis, Saleh Is the Devil They Know!

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SALEH

In my blog about Yemen, published by the Huffington Post dated Sept. 28, I said, "Saleh will offer some real concessions which will stop short of his relinquishing power. Unless, of course, there is sufficient international pressure to force him to leave. I cannot see that happening, at present, although what happens to Gaddafi and Assad during the next few weeks may indeed influence the outcome."

On Thursday Oct. 20, 2011, Gaddafi was killed, as was his son Mutassem, and the other son, Saif-Al-Islam, was captured. On Friday Oct. 21, the Security Council unanimously issued its resolution urging Saleh to sign the GCC deal immediately. Fortunately, neither China nor Russia vetoed the resolution. Thus both factors mentioned in my previous blog have now been met. On the face of it, this should mean that Saleh would now get out of Yemen while he can. But Saleh is not Zein-Al-Abideen Bin Ali of Tunisia, who outsmarted all the other Arab dictators, and ran off with the money within two weeks of the beginning of the Arab Spring.

What, then, are the differences that make his departure so much less likely?

1. Over a period of more than 30 years, he has successfully managed to play one group of Yemenis against the other, without much bloodshed. He managed, through war, to unite North and South Yemen into one entity, which, although welcomed by many, turned out to be another example of domination of the weak by the strong, as happened at one time when Egypt and Syria formed a short-lived union. He therefore must imagine that he can continue to do so for many years to come.

2. Whereas Mubarak came to power from the position of commander of the Egyptian air force, and whereas Bashshar inherited his "throne" from his father, Saleh received elementary education, and started his military career as a mere corporal, later a second lieutenent, and was appointed by his predecessor, former president Al-Ghashmi, military commander of Taiz, at which time he established his power base. Whether the promotion was in gratitute from his predecessor for services rendered is something that needs investigation, along with the assassination of the late president Al-Hamdi. Thus, his rise to president is nothing less than meteoric. He is not likely to want to lose that.

3. Saleh may be shown to have blood on his hands, once the murders of former president Ibrahim Al-Hamdi, his brother Abdulla, and their two French girlfriends or companions are investigated, something that has never been done so far. Who knows where that trail would lead?

4. As previously mentioned, Saleh's sons and nephews command very sensitive positions in the armed and security forces, which might give him the impression of being invincible. He must be under pressure from them not to give up power, for although he might reluctantly do so at his age of 68, they have the whole of their future ahead of them, and they would want to cling to power, by any means possible. That was not the case in Tunisia or Egypt. It was the case in Libya, hence the fierce eight month long battle for freedom, which in my view, would not have succeeded without NATO's significant help.

5. Last but not least, unlike the other countries of the Arab Spring, Yemen has the misfortune of long, common borders with Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, which dreads the establishment of any form of true democracy across that border, especially a country as populous as Yemen. Even in tiny Bahrain, it was the Saudi tanks that suppressed the revolt of the Shiaa majority on that island. For decades now, Saleh has fully cooperated with the Saudi dynasty, including combating any potential threat from al-Qaeda. For the Saud family, the old saying 'The devil you know is better than the one you don't know' is very relevant indeed.

And yet, there is very little doubt that Saleh will eventually fall. But in the process, his exit is likely to be bloody, very bloody.

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