Rumors are flying that injured Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh may have left Yemen to receive medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, along with several other regime figures injured in the Hashid confederation’s attack on his palace. If this is the case, it is almost certainly the end of his rule. Saudi Arabia is a classic destination for deposed dictators–Tunisia’s ex-President Ben Ali being the latest, Uganda’s Idi Amin being the most (in)famous. Saleh could be using his injuries as an excuse to step down, or he could have been injured so severely in yesterday’s attacks that he genuinely needs treatment.
If Saleh goes to Saudi Arabia for any reason, there’s a significant risk that the al Saud will quietly refuse to let him leave. They have been pushing him towards departure for weeks now, and even delaying his exit for a few days–something perfectly plausible in the inefficient Saudi bureaucracy–could be enough to end his reign. Even without intervention by the Kingdom, Saleh likely could not leave the country and expect it to continue to obey him. Foreign travel is a common setting for coups, as it prevents the leader from communicating easily with his loyalists to defend against his rivals. Given the extreme weakness of Saleh’s regime, his absence might be the excuse that his challengers are looking for.
The Saudis are aware of that, and so it is possible that this is all a Saudi ruse. The initial statements that Saleh was in Saudi Arabia came from an anonymous Saudi official. By starting a rumor that Saleh had left, the Saudis were hoping to touch off a coup. They have now backtracked, with the Saudis saying that they have a helicopter and doctors ready for him should he require treatment. Their trick has apparently failed.
Yemeni officials maintain that Saleh is still in Sanaa. It is likely that this has been nothing but a rumor. However, it could force Saleh to make some sort of public appearance in order to end the gossiping, and if he is severely injured he surely wishes to avoid that.