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Yemen on the Edge: A Primer in 8 Must-Reads

Protests continue to rile Yemen, one of the nations in the Middle East rattled by the revolts sweeping the region.

Observers of the region say Yemen has become a haven for the al-Qaeda off-shoot known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — but it is also a quiet U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism. Now its leader of more than three decades is under pressure from demonstrators, diplomats and some of his own generals to step aside.

News reports Monday say security forces opened fire on crowds of Yemenis marching through a southern city, killing at least 12 and wounding dozens, part of a widening crackdown on demonstrators calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

The New York Times points to several YouTube videos from the Yemeni city of Taiz:

The Times also reports that the U.S. may be shifting its position to favor the ouster of President Saleh, who has been an ally to Washington in the region.

In addition to the Times, here’s more reporting and analysis about Yemen:

From the New Yorker: Letter From Yemen: After the Uprising

A Western diplomat in Yemen said, “O.K., fine, Saleh goes. Then what do you do? There is no institutional capacity–in the bureaucracy, in the military, or in any other institutions in this society–to really step in and pick up the pieces and manage a transition.” A failed state in Yemen, coupled with an already anarchic situation in Somalia, could provide Islamist militants with hundreds of miles of unguarded coastline, disrupting the shipping lanes that run from the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean.

From The Washington Post: Yemen’s Future Hinges on Its Two Most Powerful Men

For 32 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar have controlled this poor but strategic Middle East nation, the former as its ubiquitous president and the latter as its invisible yet most influential military leader. Now, they are engaged in a highly personal battle to shape the future of Yemen and their own places in history.

From Al-Jazeera: Who’s Who in Yemen’s Opposition

Yemen’s opposition, indeed its entire political system, is deeply fractured. There are organised opposition parties within the JMP, which brings together, among others, socialists and Islamists. There are tribal elements, like the Ahmar family, fast emerging as Saleh’s main challenger. And there are insurrections in the north and south, both of which have longstanding grievances with Sanaa.

From the Christian Science Monitor: Will Yemen Protests Boost Al-Qaeda?

In regions where rates of poverty and arms intersect at the highest levels, like the restive northern provinces of Al Jawf and Marib and southern regions such as Abyan and Shabwa, AQAP has proven a strong recruiter.

Thus as revolutionary fervor and the prospect of widespread violence increase, many see a growing opportunity for AQAP – with potentially dire consequences.

From Time Magazine: Yemen: The Most Dangerous Domino

Saleh, 68, may simply have waited too long to make a bargain. He “does not have a lot of options left,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen analyst at Princeton University. “The problem is that he believes he can still act and negotiate from a position of strength when in fact the ground has shifted substantially under his feet.”

The NewsHour talked to Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a frequent visitor to Yemen:

Ultimately, I think this will be a negotiated settlement, where you will have Yemen’s power elites working to come to a settlement. It’s obvious that the president cannot stay in power until 2013.

And our own Margaret Warner traveled to Yemen in March 2010, where she interviewed President Saleh:

And for bonus points, take the Christian Science Monitor’s Middle East geography quiz and test your skills.

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