US response to Yemen protests

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Washington is walking a fine line when it comes to the responding to the anti-government protests in Yemen, says Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Haykel speaks with anchor Marco Werman.

Bernard Haykel: You have a kind of doomsday scenario in Yemen that is looming and the people are very, very frustrated indeed.

Werman:: Bernard Haykel is a Yemen expert and a professor of near eastern studies at Princeton University. He says Yemen's government is fragile. But he says unlike Tunisia's now toppled regime, Yemen's leaders are likely to use brutal force to prevent an overthrow.

Haykel: The President in Yemen I think is willing to use much greater force against the people should these demonstrations become bigger and more threatening. Also you have a regional neighbor in Saudi Arabia who I think would give the President a lot of money to calm things down.

Werman:: Mm.

Haykel: And he would continue to play the game of divide and rule as he has done for the last 30 plus years. So I, I don't see an immediate toppling of the regime in Yemen. And that raises the other question which is let's say the regime does topple, what comes after?

Werman:: Right, what does come after in Yemen if anything?

Haykel: Chaos, absolute chaos. Yeah.

Werman:: You think that's inevitable?

Haykel: Yes because there are no institutions that can, unlike in, in Tunisia where the, the Army seems to have kept together and refused to shoot on the crowds, in Yemen the Army's very weak and you have a Praetorian Guard that I think would be willing to shoot. And you would probably have, if , if you don't have chaos in Yemen you would have another individual, an Army man just like the existing President now, who would come to power and just simply replicate the system.

Werman:: Now radicals have used Yemen as a base for launching attacks on the U.S., and the radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki is thought to be hiding in Yemen after planning some of those attacks. What are the likely consequences of this instability in Yemen for U.S. policy?

Haykel: Well the Al-Qaida presence of course takes advantage of the weak central government in Yemen and the fact that Yemen is a very divided tribal country that's very large and where the writ of the central government doesn't dominate. So you do have an Al-Qaida presence there and I suspect that Al-Qaida would thrive if Yemen were to become even weaker. Although I don't think they would necessarily like it to become like Somalia because in total chaos Al-Qaida can't function either. They still also need the light switches to come on and they need some order to function.

Having said that I'm of the view that the relationship between President Saleh and his government and Al-Qaida is not one of full antagonism. I think that there have been times in the past when the President has used Al-Qaida against his domestic enemies, and he's now using the threat of Al-Qaida to basically get more money out of the Saudi's and out of the Americans.

Werman:: So what line do you think Washington should take?

Haykel: I don't think the American government knows what to do in Yemen frankly. Because it finds itself in a catch 22 situation where it doesn't like the President and the way he rules and knows that it's, he's part, he's largely the problem that keeps the country so badly managed, but on the other hand can't think of an alternative to him. And it's the same problem that the Saudi's have with Yemen.

Werman:: So bottom line here Bernard Haykel, do you think President Saleh of Yemen is going to try and appease the protestors with concessions or try and shut them up through force?

Haykel: His modus operandi is basically to say yes, yes, yes, I'll do whatever you want for you. I won't seek another two or three terms as President. He'll make all the right noises, and he will probably shake down the Saudis for much more money so that he can keep subsidies up, raise salaries. Do all kinds of cosmetic economic policies that will immediately alleviate some of the problems that especially the Army people have, and the people who are employed in government which is a large section of the Yemeni population. But, you know, all of these are just like putting a band-aid of a gashing wound, you know? And he doesn't have the solutions and is unwilling to, I think, adopt the solutions that are necessary for solving Yemen's long term problems. And namely to, to leave. To leave power because he's really the problem.

Werman:: Bernard Haykel, professor of near eastern studies at Princeton University, thanks very much for your time.

Haykel: Thank you.

Werman:: The wave of unrest sweeping through the Arab world has strong online components. Never before have we had such immediate access to the front lines of protest around the world. From live tweets from protestors in Tunisia, to compelling video from the streets of Cairo, you can follow along. Get a glimpse of the upheaval in Egypt right now at theworld.org. And while you're there be sure to add your comments and thoughts.