Yemen is erupting into mass protests as did Egypt, with protesters chanting “First Mubarak, now Ali”. But Yemen is not Egypt, so the chance of establishing democratic rule there is minimal.

Yemeni anti-government protesters shout

Ali Abdullah SalehSome of the key differences are that Egypt is a nation in which international tourism from around the world, largely British and Americans, is a considerable source of the economy. Yemen is isolated, and not a tourist destination at all, so the people crossing its borders are few and generally limited to other Arabs from the region. Locals are not exposed to democratic ideals as are Egyptians.

Worse, Yemen is one of the key training grounds for Al Qaeda which seeks to overthrow the Saudi government, and other regional regimes for cooperating with Americans in the Gulf and Iraq Wars. An unstable Yemen government could provide a launching point for all sorts of mayhem in the region, and a base for terrorist attacks in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and other locations regionally.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has tried to keep a lid on Al Qaeda within his borders following the attack on the US Cole on October 12, 2000. Though Egyptians disliked Mubarak for theft of their money and a corrupt government, Saleh is hated for cooperating with America and arrests of many Yemenis who were involved with plots, training camps and other Al Qaeda activities within Yemen’s borders.

Map of YemenA government replacing Saleh would doubtlessly have little chance of being democratic or successful for any reasonable duration. Unlike Egypt, a new Yemeni government would face consistent pressure and attack from terrorist forces intent on taking control and turning that key state into a stronghold. Yemen’s position in the Middle East is pivotal, and with help from cooperative Somali pirates, Al Qaeda could literally cut off all shipping through the Red Sea, essentially making the Suez Canal pointless. The price of oil would skyrocket, causing instability world wide, a key aim of Al Qaeda.

The chances of Yemenis selecting a pro-democratic government, particularly one willing to work with the United States in curbing terrorist activities within its borders are remote, if not impossible.

As protesters marched, chanting, to the Presidential Palace today, American strategists must be gravely concerned, as there is very little we can do to effect regime change or protect Saleh. Either way, our hands are tied, and the fate of Saleh is yet to be determined. While he’s already agreed not to run for re-election in 2013, the big question now is whether revolutionaries will force him from office now.