Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Saleh’s Ultimate Weapon: Apres Moi, C’est al Qua’ida!

With exquisite timing, “Yemen’s army repelled an attack…by al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula,” according to Saleh’s regime, as Saleh ran out of all options for maintaining his dictatorship except waving the bloody flag of “terror” in Washington’s face. Why not? It has worked for him so far, and, indeed, might, with a grain of salt, even just possibly be true, but could al Qua'ida be so shortsighted as to pick this moment to make its move, giving Saleh precisely what he wants?

True or not, the “attack” came in the nick of time to bolster the fortunes of a leader who has few friends left outside of Riyadh and some corners of Washington. Needless to say, some in the U.S. mainstream media bought his claim hook, line, and sinker (e.g., CNN).

Meanwhile, as clashes erupt between pro- and anti-Saleh military units, tanks in Yemen’s capital are taking the nearly unprecedented step for an Arab country of protecting (!) the people. The West should note this precedent: government military forces being used not to protect politicians but to protect the people. What is this world coming to…

What it may be coming to is a struggle between military dictators and democrats. After all, the military is still running things in Egypt, the military is increasingly running things in Iran, Israel is transforming itself from a pioneering democracy into a garrison state, Bahrain has turned to its and its neighbors’ militaries to stifle popular aspirations, and Gaddafi is relying on military power to defeat his adversaries. As for Yemen,

What Ali Muhsin is doing is setting himself up for a post-Salih future and further limiting who will have to go.  His statement today - and it is important to note that he didn't say he was joining the protesters, only supporting and protecting them - puts him in position to head the military or military council under the next government. [Gregory Johnsen.]

As with Egypt, the rise of the military to overt political control is the same old gang playing musical chairs. The attack on El Baradei appears to be one example, and the pro-regime bias in the media (something that will shock Americans, I'm sure) may be another. It remains to be seen how much influence the changing socio-political context will have on governmental structures or the behavior of rulers.

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