By Judith Spiegel


Sanaa, Yemen

Yemen's political crisis is getting deeper, the economy is collapsing and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating. A new round of fighting erupted 10 days ago, bringing the country to the brink of civil war. The surprise return of President Ali Abdullah Saleh does not seem to bring any relief.

Last week alone, around 100 protesters were killed in fights between anti-government protesters and government troops. Hundreds of protesters were wounded. One of the wounded is Moatasem Assabri, 24. After another round of shooting, he was brought to a makeshift hospital in a mosque near the protesters' camp.

"We decided to march towards the palace, we needed to do something to revive our revolution," he said. As happened before, when the demonstrators left their ramshackle tent camp near Sana'a University, government troops hit them hard.

Since the beginning of Yemen's uprising, demonstrators were shot at in Sana'a and other cities such as Taiz and Aden. Medic Abdolrahman Almahlabi told The Media Line, "Then, they used Kalashnikovs; this time it was RPGs and heavy guns. I will show you a man whose face was blown away."

The weapons used are not the only difference between previous clashes and the recent violence. It is now no longer only between the demonstrators and the government troops. Defected army general Ali Mohsin Al-Ahmar and his First Armored Division have joined the battle. Mohsin protected the demonstrators but did not join fights before. Now he has.

Heavy artillery and gunfire was exchanged between his army base and the army bases of the Republican Guards, led by Ahmed Ali Saleh, the son of the president. These battles take place near densely populated areas, forcing people to flee their houses or stay inside and hope for the best.

Not all the protesters are happy with Mohsin's interference. They mistrust his motives. "Do you believe that he joined us because 50 people were killed in March?" one of the protesters asks. "Come on, the man killed thousands of people in the civil war of 1994 and in the recent Sa'ada wars."

They think Ali Mohsin joined their side because he feared that if the regime fell, he would go with it. So he decided to join the winning side in time. Another reason could be revenge on Saleh and his son, who allegedly betrayed him in a struggle for presidential succession.

And then there is Sadeq Al-Ahmar (no relation to Gen. Ali Mohsin Al-Ahmar). Sadeq is the leader of the Hashid, a powerful tribal federation. He is also the brother of Hamid Al-Ahmar, a rich businessman and prominent member of the Islah party, Yemen's strongest opposition party.

The Al-Ahmar brothers are long time rivals of Saleh and his family. Like Ali Mohsin, they joined the anti-government protesters. In May, the Al-Ahmars were involved in heavy urban fights with government troops. A Saudi-brokered cease fire held for three months, but violence has flared up recently.

The protesters are not always happy with the support of the Al-Ahmars, either. Some of them believe that they are being used for political motives. Hamid Al-Ahmar is rumored to want to become the next president. He said to the Washington Post in August, "If they would nominate me, and they think I am the right person, yes, why not?"

Ali Mohsin and Hamid Al-Ahmar are not the candidates the protesters are looking for. To them, both the general and the businessman are from the old Saleh school. They are too much part of the old system and it is the old system they want to get rid of.

For more than three months they thought that at least the pivot of the system, President Saleh, was indeed gone. He left for Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after an attack on his life in June, and was thought never to come back. He returned unexpectedly on Friday, surprising friend and foe.

His supporters were exhilarated. Fireworks and bullets filled the skies of Sana'a. Dr. Belqis Al-Hadrani, director of the Yemeni Center for Studies and Research, thinks that Saleh's return will bring the country back to its feet. "He will go back to the negotiation table. The demonstrators must come to their senses, they should stop following some of their fellow demonstrators who are on the path of the Muslim Brotherhood," told The Media Line.

Saleh supporters, among them many women, believe that if Saleh resigns, this would pave the way for more influence of hard line Muslim fundamentalists. Especially the women fear that they would lose their rights to drive a car, to leave the house, to work.

In his televised speech on Sept. 25, Saleh fed that fear by accusing the opposition of conspiring with illegal groups such as Al-Qaeda. He also promised to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in the country once a peace deal is reached between his government and the opposition, under the supervision of the Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal.

His speech was met with skepticism by demonstrators and political analysts alike. Most of them think Saleh is just buying time, as he has been doing for months. Meanwhile, he waits for the anti-government camp to disintegrate and get internally divided. His tactics seem to work.


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World - Saleh Return Deepens Crisis In Yemen | Global Viewpoint