Civil war situation

It is unclear yet whether Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s visit to Saudi Arabia is a face saving exit or simply a trip for medical treatment. Either way, his 32-year-rule is under unprecedented challenge.

The civil war reached his door on Friday when the presidential palace came under shelling by rebels. Saleh, his prime minister and several others are reported to have sustained injuries in that attack. Fighting has witnessed a sharp escalation over the past week.

More than 350 people have been killed since the start of the uprising in January and around a third of these have occurred in the last ten days. What began as mass protests against Saleh’s rule has morphed into a civil war. Alongside a popular uprising that was inspired by mass protests that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, there is an elite power struggle raging in Yemen as well. While the former is largely non-violent and aimed at political reforms that include putting in place a genuine democracy, it has been increasingly marginalised by the violent inter-tribal struggle that has pitted Saleh’s regime against the powerful al-Ahmar family.

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) backed by the US is seeking to broker a solution that will pave the way for Saleh’s exit and provide for the setting up of an interim government. If Saleh is ousted he will be the third leader to be swept from power in the ‘Arab Spring.’

Unfortunately, the GCC’s effort is aimed not at ushering in democracy but at a political transition that will ensure stability ie put in place a regime that is acceptable to the GCC and the US. However, by ignoring the demand for democracy the GCC is empowering the al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. Yemen has been convulsed by civil war twice over the past 41 years costing the economy dearly. If the fighting persists and the already fragile economy collapses, it could trigger an exodus of refugees, destabilising the region.

The flight of foreign nationals from Yemen is growing as the civil war intensifies. The Indian government has advised Indian nationals there to leave. It must begin their evacuation without further delay. Other South Asian countries have their nationals too living in Yemen and India should extend them a helping hand in making a safe exit.

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