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The National Interest: Saleh Falls

February 21, 2011

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Ibrahim Sharqieh speculates about Yemen as revolutions sweep the Middle East.

As the revolutionary spirit sweeps beyond Tunisia and Egypt to other Arab countries in the Mideast and Gulf, many wonder which country will be next to fall in the Arab world. We have already seen clamors for reform in Syria and Jordan; protests have spread throughout Khartoum. But the strongest candidate for the next upheaval is Yemen. With 35% unemployment and a paltry $2,600 in GDP per capita, Yemen ranks as the Arab world's most destitute country.

The unemployment rate and other economic indicators suggest that Yemen is near its breaking point. The people are clamoring for substantive policy reforms. They are demanding that the government engage in meaningful dialogue with opposition groups that will ultimately lead to open political participation and free and fair elections. But appearances are often misleading—especially in the Middle East.

Not everything about Yemen portends revolution. The complex mosaic of Yemeni politics (which has led to decades of instability and economic woes) disperses anger across a range of responsible groups: from the Houthi rebels in the north, and the separatist movement in the south to the looming specter of Al-Qaeda. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, where protestors concentrate their rage towards the government only, the Yemeni people scatter their anger, leaving anti-government sentiment weaker. The Yemeni government has even benefited from sectarian conflicts, arguing that the alternative to the central government in Sana'a is civil war and widespread violence. The 60 million firearms spread amongst Yemini citizens—or one for every three people—certainly support the government's argument. Many Yemenis do, in fact, fear that an uprising striving for democracy would produce chaos instead.

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