As we arrived at the airport in Yemen early this morning, two camouflaged Yemeni fighter jets were taking off on a parallel runway, a reminder that this is a country in constant conflict.
There is a secessionist movement in the south, tribal wars in the north, and a deadly al Qaeda presence that the Obama Administration believes poses one of the greatest threats against the U.S. homeland. It is where, in 2009, the failed Christmas Day bomber , Umar Abdulmutallab, received training and where potentially deadly toner cartridge bombs were loaded onto cargo planes headed for the U.S. in October of last year.
Sana'a is a stunningly beautiful city and one of my favorites to visit. But Yemen is the Arab world's poorest nation where half of its 23 million people live below the poverty line, which means they earn less than $2 a day. Unemployment hovers around 40%, and the country is running out of oil and water.
Yet despite conditions far more desperate than in Egypt, the protests that have erupted here over the past several weeks have been largely peaceful and brief. That may well be because the country's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled here for 32 years, learned very important lessons from watching the drama play out with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.
President Saleh did not wait for the protests to get violent or for the crowds to swell. He almost immediately told the opposition groups that he would not run for re-election in 2013, nor would his son. In addition he made promises to help with economic woes.
It is unclear whether the measures will last. Some of the opposition groups have promised to continue their weekly protests until Saleh steps down. The U.S. is watching closely. Saleh, like Mubarak has been an ally in the war on terror, and received millions of dollars in aid for his efforts.
There may be another reason that the protests have not turned violent. This city has changed since I visited it a year ago. It is nearly ringed by police who regularly check cars for weapons at various checkpoints. The checkpoints are meant to help keep out suicide bombers, but it also makes it very difficult for protesters to arm themselves with anything more than banners.