RAY SUAREZ: For more on the turmoil in Yemen, we turn to Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
These two sides have been in conflict all year. Why this sudden upsurge in violence? Why now?
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK, Middle East Program Associate, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace: Well, I think that’s the key question. This has gone on for almost nine months, and it only escalated into serious violence this past weekend.
There have been periodic outbreaks until now. But it wasn’t until this weekend when protesters left the area under the protection of General Ali Mohsen, the defected commander of the 1st Armored Division, that triggered this, this most recent round of fighting.
RAY SUAREZ: So they strayed out of an area where it was understood they could normally have their say?
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: And there’s also been a counteroffensive. They have fought back against the forces that have been firing on them, to some effect.
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: I think we should be clear to distinguish between the opposition fighting back or the defected military fighting back against the regime security agencies, which is what we really have going on.
The protesters are the ones who are getting killed. They’re not doing as much of the fighting.
RAY SUAREZ: For all this — for all this country’s known troubles, has this kind of attack, this level of death been a feature of this conflict over the last nine months.
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: Well, last March, we saw a terrible incident where 52 protesters were killed after Friday prayers. At the end of May, there was a period of pretty intense fighting.
But since the end of May and when President Saleh survived an assassination attempt and went to Saudi Arabia, it had been relatively peaceful. There have been periodic incidents, but nothing of this magnitude. And one of the big concerns is that once violence starts in Yemen, how you de-escalate that. How do you put this back?
And one of the awful things about the situation is that none of the security services or none of the military agencies that are fighting are really geared towards de-escalating conflict.
RAY SUAREZ: If the army opens fire on unarmed civilians, can you assume that that’s been cleared at the top?
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: Well, I think it would be — in an ideal situation, you would like to think that. But the president is out of the country. He’s hundreds of miles away. It’s unclear who is in charge of things. The president’s family — his son, his nephew is in charge. The military and security services are in charge. The vice president has not been exercising the control that many would like to have seen him exercising.
RAY SUAREZ: So, who is running Yemen?
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: It’s the president’s family who is still running Yemen. The remnants of the regime are still within the military and the security services. And those are the ones who are doing this. Now, there’s no incentive to compromise right now. That’s the scary thing.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, no incentive to compromise. As we mentioned in the earlier report, there have been ongoing negotiations about a much talked-about handover of power. Is that not real?
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: I mean, the plan that had been under discussion, the GCC plan, is, for all purposes, dead.
RAY SUAREZ: Gulf Cooperation Council.
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: The idea that the president would step down and there would be a transitional government. And maybe that deal might have had legs six months ago. I don’t think it does anymore. It will probably form the basis for whatever it is that comes next. But in its current arrangement, I can’t see that being viable.
RAY SUAREZ: But hadn’t there been recently encouragement from the E.U., from the United States hoping to nudge the Saleh family along in this very process that you say is now dead?
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: I think they would like to. But I think it’s a matter of — none of the actors — their interests aren’t at — matching up with what we’d like to see, right?
Until we can figure out a way to re-incentivize all the parties to the conflict, not just the regime, but the other power elites in the country that are fighting, until we figure out a way to re-incentivize them to move towards non-violence, that won’t happen.
RAY SUAREZ: Yemen is home to a very dangerous and well-known branch of al-Qaida. Is a more unstable Yemen something much to be feared and worried about here in the United States?
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: Absolutely.
I think that’s what’s really stymied the policy process, not just in Washington, but, you know, with the Western allies and with the Gulf states. The fact that not knowing what is going to come next and very likely greater instability worries a lot of people. You will give greater space for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to plot and plan and mount operations.
RAY SUAREZ: What about the opposition? Is it speaking with one voice? Is there a unified opposition? Or has one of its big weaknesses been that it’s a bunch of different groups, not one?
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: No, exactly.
And it seems the only thing they are really agreed upon is that President Saleh has to go. There’s no agreement for what comes next. And really there’s probably several different layers to what is going on. You have a broad-based popular movement that started this. You have the official opposition, the Joint Meeting Parties and the Islah Party, and a second level of competition.
And then you have this elite rivalry at the top. And all three of these are going on at the same time. All three of them have very different interests in seeing how this works out.
RAY SUAREZ: Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment, thanks for joining us.
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: Thank you.