Ali Abdallah Saleh has been in power in Yemen for 32 years, but how much longer can he hang on? A military man, the Yemeni President is increasingly isolated in the face of growing protests. He has made a series of concessions to the opposition while pursuing a violent crackdown on demonstrators.
He famously observed that ruling Yemen was “like dancing on the heads of snakes”, and despite having promised to step down in 2013, he has threatened to wage civil war in the country rather than leave power any sooner.
The history of Yemen is marked by divisions. The 1962 coup in which Saleh took part resulted in a civil war which lasted until 1970. During the same period, a rebellion was sparked against the British who controlled the strategically important port of Aden. The UK relinquished the territory in 1967 and subsequently a republic was established in the south of the country, with strong leanings towards Soviet Russia.
Saleh was named President of the north of Yemen in 1978 and president of the whole reunited country in 1990. He put down an insurrection in the south of the country in 1994. He managed to get tribal and religious leaders on board by offering them seats in the government and distributing subsidies.
In 1999, he won a landslide victory in the first ever presidential elections, with 77% of the vote, and repeated the same feat in 2006, to win a term which in theory will run until 2013.
He perhaps did not see the domino effect of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions coming. The population of Yemen, 23 million, suffers 35 percent unemployment, rising to 50 percent among young people. Their oil has all but run out, the country is short of water and other resources, and the people have had enough of President Ali Abdallah Saleh.