Tue 1 Feb 2011
(CNN) — “Yemen is not Tunisia.” These were the words that President Ali Abdullah Saleh spoke to his people on television last Sunday.
As street protests erupt in Yemen’s capital, it is not surprising that an Arab leader who has held power since a bloodless coup in 1978 would dismiss calls for his ouster.
But he was correct.
Although his regime has been accused of corruption, Saleh is no Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, nor even Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Instead of using an iron fist, he has maintained power by cleverly playing off rivalries among tribal, religious and political divisions.
When he became president of North Yemen, he allied himself with Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who headed the most powerful tribal alliance in the North. After negotiating the unification of Yemen’s North with the socialist South in 1990, Saleh fostered a climate of grass-roots democratization before outmaneuvering the socialists for total control of the country.
Power is shared in Yemen largely because of the continuing local importance of tribal affiliation. This is not always understood. A major conflict near Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, for example, has been wrongly characterized as an Islamist rebellion. Like most political conflict in the region, the battle has religious overtones, but it is mainly over tribal autonomy…
I was interviewed this morning for the program Worldview of WBEZ in
Chicago and this interview aired today but is archived on the website.
Daniel Martin Varisco
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