So it seems, after he got injured in a surprise shelling on his palace. The question is, then, what happens next?
Well, first, while the government went to great lengths to note that Mr. Saleh's departure was temporary and that once he got well, he would assume his post back, I am willing to bet that Mr. Saleh has left for good. As a leader in precarious condition, leaving the county usually spells the end of his/her time in office. If leaders want to remain in power, then they ought to stay, giving the illusion that they are still in command and in control of the situation. Therefore, regardless the excuses, once they leave the building, they are gone for good, and what's left is to make-up any safe-facing excuses. That's it.
Not surprisingly, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Mr. Saleh's vice president, immediately called for cease-fire, for Mr. Saleh's departure has emboldened the opposition and demoralized his remaining supporters. The cease-fire offer was immediately accepted, likely because the opposition realized that they were united only in their dislike of Saleh. In reality, they are divided among many clans, each of which have different, sometimes competing, interests.
At the same time, Saleh's son and relatives were backed into a corner, and for them, a cease-fire was not something they welcomed. They looked at Egypt, saw that Mubarak and his family ended up arrested after he resigned, and ostensibly decided that they wanted to avoid his fate. As a result, they launched attacks, trying to show they're still powerful, to bolster up the claim that Saleh will return later, and to get some concessions out of the opposition. It's a desperation move.
So, what's next for Yemen?
Mr. Hadi will keep trying to make peace with the opposition. The problem for Mr. Hadi is that the opposition will want him to rein in Mr. Saleh's loyalists, which is something he can't really do because he has no power over them.
Here, the Saudis and the U.S. should actually jump in to pressure Mr. Saleh to realize that his game is up. At the same time, Mr. Hadi and the opposition should agree to make a clean break from the past. Regardless of how appalling this might sound, the opposition should declare a blanket amnesty on Mr. Saleh's supporters, which might split the loyalists further and set the stage for reconciliation in the future.
Still, we should expect Yemen to remain in turmoil for the next few months, as Mr. Saleh's departure leaves a huge vacuum of power and the clan-based Yemen politics make it difficult to create an effective unity government. We can only hope that a new caretaker government has enough foresight to create an inclusive government so as to avoid the pitfalls of countries like Iraq. Additionally, it would nice if both the US and the Saudis promised to pump in some economic assistance to help stabilize the country. Otherwise, what we have here is a failed state in the making. And given the presence of al-Qaeda on Yemen soil, as well as American interests in the region, this is something I hope Yemen avoids.