Saturday, January 29, 2011

A region in turmoil: How far will the unrest spread?

Observed by: Mr. Alaa Isam


Population: 23m

GDP: $30.02bn

President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Yemen last week to demand an end to the three-decade rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The poorest country in the Middle East and a largely tribal society, Yemen has more problems than most. It has emerged as a new base for al-Qa’ida militants driven out of their traditional sanctuaries on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Yemen is also battling a secessionist movement in the south, an on-off rebellion in the north, and grinding poverty. Its oil reserves, which make up 70 percent of the government’s revenue, are dwindling and the nation relies on US aid. Nearly half of all Yemenis live below the poverty line and unemployment is at least 35 per cent.

Mr Saleh, whom many analysts accuse of overseeing a corrupt regime that has failed to tackle economic grievances, has reacted to the unrest by backtracking on his plans to seek another term in 2013 and denying accusations that he will try to hand over power to his son.

He has also promised to slash taxes and cap food prices and raise the salaries of civil servants and the military.

Mr Saleh won a seven-year term in Yemen’s first open presidential election, in 2006. Observers said the poll was fair but opposition parties complained of vote rigging. The main challenge to Mr Saleh, analysts say, would likely come if the various opposition groups, particularly the rebels in the south and the north, were to look beyond their own particular grievances to mount a broader political challenge.


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