A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yemen: Suspicion of Gen. Muhsin's Motives

At first glance, yesterday's announcement by powerful Yemeni General ‘Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar that he was breaking with President Salih and pledging that hs troops would protect the protesters looked like it might be the coup de grace for Salih, as it still very well may prove to be. But a lot of veteran Yemen-watchers are highly suspicious of General Muhsin's motives. Sometimes called the second most powerful man in the country, he may well be maneuvering to make sure he lands on the winning side in a post-Salih Yemen, but not necessarily by supporting the protesters. The Arabist collects some of the commentary. including posts by Greg Johnsen and Brian Whitaker. Clearly, Muhsin's move isn't good news for Salih, but it may not be good news for the protesters either, since Muhsin may be trying to protect the interests of the Sanhan tribe beyond Salih's own immediate entourage (the sons and nephews who are still loyal), as well as assure the survival of the Army leadership. It sounds as if those seeking real change in Yemen might be well-advised to steer clear of their newest "ally."

Another interesting point is Whitaker's suggestion that Saudi Arabia may either be trying to keep Salih in power or broker a soft landing when he departs, in order to prevent the emergence of a more radical regime to their south. While the US has urged peaceful change, its reliance on Salih as an ally against al-Qa‘ida has kept it from openly urging him to leave. I'm no Yemen expert, but this is seeming more and more like a fin du regime week there.

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