"Yemen is not like Tunisia," Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in a televised debate with the opposition on January 24th. Saleh may have a point, according to Dana Stuster of the Center for a New American Security. Despite Yemen's instability, it lacks the preconditions for a revolt similar to the ones in Egypt and Tunisia. A more likely end to the regime may come from 78 year-old Saleh's decision to not run in the 2013 elections.
Yemen's opposition movement is "incredibly fragmented," Stuster writes. Few of the "motley assortment of groups jockeying for influence" seem prepared to come together on a coherent vision for Yemen. The nation is "a volatile cocktail of religious and political factions," which include Sunni and Shiite, rural tribes and urban elites, and movements seeking autonomy or independence from the government.
The army is loyal to Saleh, who recently raised salaries as "a hedge against disloyalty and an investment in the future stability of his regime."
Yemen also doesn't have the same socio-economic conditions that sparked Egyptian and Tunisian revolts. Yemen is a universally poor country with little wealth to distribute and few economic opportunities, should the government collapse. Egyptian anger was sparked by the placing of growing public industries in the hands of local supporters of the regime. Tunisians expressed frustration with the widespread corruption that disrupted economic growth in their largely Western-oriented country.
Yemeni opposition forces do seem to share a common, unfriendly attitude to the U.S. government and its counterterrorism measures. Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, the commander of the Yemen armed forces, "has hinted that he won't tolerate Ahmed [President Saleh's son] becoming president" and "may run, or he might just cross the Rubicon and take the government." He also "financed jihadis as well, arranging the travel for Yemenis to go to Afghanistan (first to fight the Soviets, then the Americans) and Iraq." Hamid al Ahmar, the Islah party candidate, leads a political organization that is Wahhabi in orientation and close to Sheikh Abdul Majid al Zindani, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
"None of the candidates to succeed Salih seem conciliatory to U.S. interests, and it will not be enough to hope that Yemen's coming resource crisis will force the prospective Islah Party government or al Ahmar military regime into a dialogue, Stuster writes. "The United States needs to start making friends now, especially outside of [the capital] Sanaa, with local and tribal leaders. The tribes are a constant in Yemen; the government, after a 30-some year hiatus, is about to be a lot less so."