Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar are working on an agreement to simultaneously resign within days to make way for a civilian-led transitional government, per the demands of anti-government protesters, The Wall Street Journal is reporting.
Ahmar, widely viewed as the country's second most powerful public figure, threw his support behind protesters earlier this week after a bloody crackdown on the opposition, prompting a slew of high-profile defections and a dangerous split in military loyalties . Only yesterday, Saleh declared that he would step down at the end of 2011, even as he assumed emergency powers to, as he put it, ward off impending civil war.
According to the Journal, Saleh and Ahmar hope to hammer out a detailed plan for a transitional governing council by Saturday, at which point they would step down. But Saturday may not come soon enough. Protesters have called for national demonstrations after Friday prayers, including a potential march to the presidential palace in the capital, Sanaa, that could end violently.
But if Saleh and Ahmar go, who will step into the power vacuum they leave behind? The Yemeni government, after all, confronts not only a pro-democracy uprising but also tribal divisions, a secessionist movement in the south, Shiite opposition in the north, and al Qaeda cells in tribal regions.
As the Journal explains, "Mr. Saleh and Gen. Ahmar, who hail from the same tribe, have controlled Yemen for the last 32 years, steering it out of a civil war, the threat of domestic armed insurgents and al Qaeda networks." The U.S. and Saudi Arabia long viewed Saleh as a "bulwark," the Journal adds, but "have watched with alarm in recent years as Yemen, under Mr. Saleh, has evolved into a failed state."