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AQAP has reportedly taken over a town in Abyan province and declared an “Islamic Emirate.” Most observers scoff at the idea of an independent al-Qaeda emirate, but the AQAP move demonstrates that the chaos roiling the streets and provinces of Yemen is benefiting the terrorists as Saleh’s control of the country continues to shrink to Sanaa and a few other urban centers.
In addition to AQAP in the north, there is another insurgency in the formerly independent south. Separatists there have also taken advantage of the chaos to push into areas formerly controlled by the central government. It would appear that the longer the political crisis goes on in Sanaa, the more advantageous the situation will be for AQAP and the Iranian backed Houthi rebellion in the north, and the separatists in the south.
What has the Obama administration done about the situation? As in Egypt, they have abandoned a long-time ally, while pushing for “reforms.” On April 5, the White House released a statement condemning the violence in Yemen and calling on President Saleh to step down. Privately, they were hoping that Saleh could broker a deal that would have him remain in power in some capacity. Richard Fontaine of Foreign Policy Magazine believes that a “best case scenario” would see a situation where “Yemeni politics could reach a more stable footing and, through a new openness, undermine the appeal of extremism.” Fontaine also hopes that “Washington might pursue a broad relationship that extends beyond security cooperation and aid to active support of a budding democracy.” Out of this relationship might be forged a new counterterrorism dynamic based on a more stable foundation than the mercurial Saleh.
But the collapse of the GCC agreement makes that scenario a remote possibility. Hundreds of thousands of protestors were in the street on Sunday calling for Saleh’s immediate departure. Meanwhile, the GCC announced that it would conduct no more negotiations; the two sides must accept the agreed framework.
Saleh may not have a choice in a few days. The army is far from loyal and the possibility of civil war grows by the hour. A Sanaa-based political analyst, Abdel Ghani, believes “If this is the end, then Yemen is facing a major crisis. After all these negotiations we’ve exhausted all of our potential mediators. If we don’t have a solution now, then violence will be the next logical step.”
And only Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will be the beneficiary.
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