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Millions of protesters continued taking to the streets in several Yemeni cities calling for the overthrow of the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

 

Meanwhile, several senior army officers announced they have defected and called for the fall of the regime. This has threatened to break-up the army into warring factions.

 

Yemeni Al-Qaeda-affiliated leader Ayman Al Awlaki broke his silence on the uprisings in the Arab world, claiming that Islamist extremists had gleefully watched the success of protest movements against governments they had long despised. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced Abyan governorate as one Islamic emirate on 22 March March. The announcement came after AQAP militias seized the presidential palace, radio station and an ammunition factory in Abyan.

 

In the Sa'ada region, Houthi-armed militias seized a number of offices and hotels belonging to supporters of the ruling party. Also, armed tribal groups in cooperation with the Houthis took over Sa'ada City and all districts, and handed over command to Sheik Faris Manna'a, an alleged arms dealer. The governor, Taha Abdullah Hajer, has fled to Sana'a.

 

March 16 to 31, 2011

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk


 

 

The most significant factor to have complicated the situation in Yemen was the defection of senior army officers. This has significantly increased the potential of civil war, possibly but not necessarily along the south-north lines. With an agreed transition of power not worked out, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) stand to benefit most. AQAP has a reasonably strong popular tribal base, including with the southern secessionist movement. A civil war will give AQAP a much needed breathing space to operate, not only in Yemen, but throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

 

The longer the situation takes to resolve, the more serious is the risk to the country’s stability and integrity. Although news emerged last week that Saleh has agreed to cede power to his deputy and in coordination with the military and Western powers, this has not materialized yet to the dismay.

 

The most significant event to have led to an overall increase of risk last was the army defections. They appear to have put the country on an irreversible path of widespread civil unrest. The only means for this to be mitigated is a speedy departure of Saleh before clashes within the armed forces ensue.