This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 29/05/2011
I am, of course, talking about President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his tribe, the "Hashid" tribe, which is the largest tribe in Yemen. Saleh turned against his own tribe, harming and bombarding it. Indeed, the Yemeni President has turned against all [Yemeni] tribes, not just the Hashid tribe. Those observing the situation in Yemen must be aware that one of the main pillars of governance in Yemen is tribal alliances; however Saleh has hammered the final nail in the coffin of such alliances, which also represents the final nail in the coffin of his own rule.
Saleh's objective was not to open a battlefront with the Hashid tribe, but with the unexpected government escalation in this confrontation, Saleh is attempting to divert the public's attention away from the "revolution of the youth", as he is still bewildered as to the best way of dealing with this. Moreover, dragging the tribes into a conflict with the regime, particularly after some tribal gunmen occupied government facilities and ministries, gives the outside world the image that there is a confrontation taking place between the state and a group of outlaws. This is the pretext that will enable Saleh to divert attention away from the Yemeni revolution, as well as frighten the region and the entire world with regards to a possible civil war, one whose spark has already been lit.
Saleh is well-aware of the fact that he is facing his final scene in the film of his 33-year reign. He knows that his time in power is effectively at an end, and so the only option left for him is to confront his people in this manner, in the hope of winning one final round which will allow him to hang onto power for a few more days. Saleh now finds himself in a desperate situation, with his back against the wall, and is therefore unconcerned about the consequences of this mad scheme. Who said that Arab president's are concerned for the welfare of their people? For here we see Saleh igniting a civil war just to preserve his seat of power, whilst [Syrian president] Bashar al-Assad continues to suppress his people, even if this means the deaths of more than a thousand of his own people. As for the master of brutalizing one's own people, this is Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, who continues to destroy his country and its unity. Indeed Libya is already effectively divided, whilst thousands of Libyans have been killed.
The Yemeni regime has entered the final most dangerous juncture by initiating direct conflict with the tribes. The tribal forces have been supportive of the revolution of the youth, but they never been directly targeted the government, which is what is happening now. Since the outbreak of this peaceful revolution, the people of Yemen should be given credit for not taking up arms against the regime, and this is despite all of the regime's provocations and deliberate attempts to incite the protestors to violence. As for the latest escalation, Saleh has succeeded in provoking the al-Ahmar family, and its supports within the Hashid tribe, to take up arms against the regime. Saleh then wasted no time in attacking the residence of Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, utilizing missiles and fighter jets. Can you imagine that? A head of state ordering an attack on the residence of a tribal chief? This is indeed what happens in Arab Republics, and particularly in Yemen.
The Yemeni president's removal from power has been written by Saleh's own insistence on remaining in power, slamming shut the only remaining window through which he could have saved his country, namely the Gulf initiative. Thanks to Saleh, this initiative was suspended and withdrawn. The Gulf mediators were besieged [by pro-Saleh gunmen] in the UAE embassy, before being rescued by helicopter, although Saleh later issued an apology to the UAE president for this. Leaders of the Joint Meetings Party and members of the mediation commission were also subject to attack whilst convening at the al-Ahmar residence. Yemenis have described such behaviour as being a "black shame"; is Saleh aware of the punishment for committing a "black shame" in Yemen? He must be, for he is a member of the Hashid tribe, and is fully aware of the punishment for attacking tribal chiefs whilst they are acting as mediators.