Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh has become the fourth Middle Eastern leader to be felled by the Arab Spring. Saleh was a long-time U.S. ally and, for all his flaws, managed to hold together a country which has neither significant oil wealth nor national unity. Still, his fall is not a particularly significant loss. The BBC reports:
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has signed a deal under which he will step down. Mr Saleh signed the agreement, brokered by Yemen’s Gulf Arab neighbours, in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Under the deal, he is to transfer his powers to his deputy ahead of an early election and in return will get immunity from prosecution.
Yemen has increasingly become a key area of U.S. concern, as al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula has become one of the network’s most dangerous franchises — the so-called Christmas bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was Nigerian but received training and support in Yemen. Furthermore, the Horn of Africa has become an area of broad geopolitical concern, thanks to Somalia’s perpetual anarchy and the threat of piracy in one of the world’s most important shipping routes.
Saleh’s position was becoming increasingly untenable — he both faced more threats than the average Arab dictator (e.g., secessionists in the south, religious rebels in the north) and lacked the economic base and security apparatus of most of his peer leaders. He had managed to keep the turbulent country together since its 1990 unification, but his occasional attempts at liberalization never went well and, despite millions in U.S. and Saudi military and economic aid, didn’t develop a functional economy or security state.
Thus, his departure probably won’t get, and doesn’t seem to deserve, the negative reaction of foreign-policy realists to the fall of Hosni Mubarak, a key Arab ally on Israel. Saleh was an ally, but not a particularly competent or reliable one. Unfortunately, even if we won’t miss him, the situation in Yemen is going to be particularly troublesome, since the country’s uniquely partite nature mean the usual concerns about the rise of Islamists, instability as a haven for terrorism, etc., will probably be magnified.