Last month, Yemen's embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was dealt a critical blow when one of his top generals and confidants, Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, defected to the protest movement that has gripped the country since January. Initiated by Yemeni youth and civil society groups, protestors have been joined by formal opposition parties, former regime insiders, southern separatists, and northern Houthi insurgents.
With Muhsin switching sides, Yemen's armed forces have split -- most of the regular army now supports the protesters, while the elite Republican Guard, the Central Security Forces, and security services remain with Saleh. As the two sides face off in the streets of Sana'a, there is an immediate need to avoid civil war and to prevent the country from fracturing into vying areas of control.
Yet, the international community must also plan for what happens after Saleh goes. Yemen's youth and civil society, as well as regional groups that have long complained of marginalization, must have a say in the transitional government. Otherwise, Yemen's entrenched elites may transform a movement for democratic reform into a battle for control that has little to do with genuine reform and more to do with perpetuating existing power structures.
I spoke with April Longley Alley, Crisis Group's Senior Arabian Peninsula Analyst, about the latest developments in Yemen and what should happen to ensure that the protest movement yields genuine change. Listen to our conversation below. For a previous discussion with April on Yemen, click here. Be sure to check out Crisis Group's recent report on Yemen's protests, Yemen between Reform and Revolution.