Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar
When Ahmar suddenly announced his support for the protest movement that has been shaking the impoverished Gulf country in recent weeks, Yemenis and political analysts alike concluded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ouster was only a matter of when, not if. "Officers in the military, who are an important part of the community and defenders of the people, I declare, on their behalf, our peaceful support of the youth revolution," the brigadier general said, announcing his defection. But Ahmar, a relative and a former close ally of Saleh, is no white knight in shining armor. As commander of Yemen's northwest military district, Ahmar has been the tip of the spear in Saleh's brutal fight against Shiite rebels and has at times used radical jihadists as a proxy force. He's also accused of involvement in a variety of criminal activities. Still, his defection has been followed by dozens of other top regime figures. "Ali Muhsin is by far the most powerful figure in the military and his announcement opened the floodgates," writes Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University.