After months of protest – in which hundreds have been killed – Ali Abdullah Saleh has finally resigned the presidency of Yemen at a signing ceremony in Saudi Arabia.
Saleh – who has been in power for over three decades – signed an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, requiring him to immediately transfer power to his vice president, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi. The Yemeni opposition – the Joint Meeting Parties – will form part of a new unity government. Saleh will keep his title until new elections take place in three months. In return, he will be immune from prosecution – a move likely to infuriate the youth protesters who are demanding Saleh stand trial for his role in the brutal crackdown that followed the protests.
Despite constant army and tribal fighter defections and pressure from the United States, Saleh has backed out of similar deals over the past several months. In this time, Yemen has descended into even greater chaos. An already moribund economy has stalled and the government has lost control of large parts of the county. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the political uncertainty and now controls parts of the South.
Although he has formally resigned his powers, Saleh could still have some influence in the new political order, as his family members remain influential in the military and intelligence services. However, the military is deeply divided. Major General Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar – a former Saleh ally – retains significant support.
While the agreement is unlikely to appease the youth protesters, this deal will at least allow Yemen the opportunity to begin rebuilding the country.
There is scope for the West to engage with the future leaders of Yemen – and, indeed, the U.S. has already begun to. There is much to be done if Yemen is to be prevented from becoming a failed state.
For a full analysis of the political landscape of Yemen after Saleh’s resignation, see Yemen Beyond Saleh: Problems and Prospects for the U.S. and its Allies , my strategic briefing from earlier this year.