Since that day, Saleh’s hold over Yemen has been crumbling. Now, his forces are fighting one of Yemen’s most prestigious tribal confederations in a gang-style street war in the capital, which has been shaken by artillery barrages and pitched battles for more than 10 days.
Saleh, learning from centuries of Ottoman failures, knew from the outset of his reign that any attempt to subjugate the tribes would end in disaster. After all, it was Yemen’s most beloved and powerful tribal figure, the late Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who led the parliamentary vote that made Saleh president of the Yemen Arab Republic in 1978.
From that day, he made allies of northern Yemen's two most powerful tribal confederations, the Hashid confederation of which his own Sanhan tribe is a part, and the Bakil confederation.
Saleh has not held onto power solely through brute force and terror but through the patronage of tribal leaders – giving them money and political positions in exchange for loyalty.
But Saleh's hold over the tribes has completely disintegrated since the youth uprising began. Sheikh Hamid-al-Ahmar – an opposition politician, millionaire businessman, and son of Abdullah al-Ahmar – immediately expressed his support for the revolution and joined those calling for an end to Saleh’s rule.