Three weeks have elapsed since President Saleh left Yemen for treatment in Saudi Arabia after being badly injured by a bomb explosion in his palace compound. Since then, the situation has been very confused though it's beginning to clear a little.
Despite what Yemeni official may say about his "good" health and his imminent return, there is no real sign that this will happen – now or in the future. Saleh is under considerable pressure to resign, even from some influential figures in his own camp.
One problem is that his family appear to be divided on the question of his resignation. Relatives who travelled with him to Saudi Arabia are urging that he should take the money and run. Back in Yemen, though, his military sons – Ahmed and Khaled – want him to cling on. Ahmed, who controls the Republican Guard, also seems to have a fall-back plan: to take over the presidency himself.
Meanwhile, predictions that all-out civil war would ensue if Saleh left have not come to pass. Indeed, the risk of civil war would be far greater now if Saleh were to return.
The result, for the moment, is a kind of uneasy standoff. Vice-President Hadi has been unable to fully take over the reins, even temporarily – apparently prevented from doing so by Saleh's sons. At the same time neither the official opposition nor the protesting youth movement seems capable of stepping into the vacuum.
However, there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing behind the scenes and it does look as if Yemen is gradually moving towards some kind of transitional arrangement. The shape of that remains to be seen but American preoccupations with al-Qaeda may lead to the inclusion of more elements from the old regime than would be good for Yemen as a whole.
The "al-Qaeda jailbreak" last week underscored Saleh's claim that militants could overrun the country if he steps down – and there are many who believe it was instigated deliberately by Saleh's supporters specifically to scare the United States. Significantly, perhaps, it happened while US envoy Jeffrey Feltman holding meetings in Yemen.
Jane Novak, on the Armies of Liberation blog, has been arguing that the jailbreak was a setup and has posted some evidence pointing in that direction. Among other things, it is said that 12 prisoners considered to be dangerous had been transferred to another prison shortly before the break-out.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 26 June 2011