SANAA, Yemen — When Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia on June 5 after suffering severe injuries in a bomb attack on his compound, many in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation breathed a sigh of relief.
Anti-government protesters celebrated what they thought was the end of Saleh's 33-year rule, and hopes were raised that months of uncertainty, scuttled power-transfer negotiations, a worsening economic crisis and increasing violence were coming to an end.
Yet, nearly two months later, Yemen's political crisis appears as intractable as ever, while daily life remains far from returning to normal. While the capital has retained a tenuous calm, clashes between government forces and armed foes continue across the country.
Throughout Yemen, access to basic utilities such as electricity and water remains sporadic, while rising prices and economic instability continue to cripple many, even as Yemenis begin observing the usually festive month of Ramadan this week.
Indeed, there seems to be no way out of the deep uncertainty in a country that's considered crucial to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.
It's been nearly 60 days since Saleh left, and according to some interpretations of the Yemeni Constitution, elections for a new leader are due if the current one is incapacitated that long. But Saleh's powerful relatives retain control of the nation's best-equipped troops, and his allies have rejected arguments that his office is vacant, offering vague assurances of his return.
"The burn injuries of President Saleh do not mean he is incapacitated," Abdo al Janadi, the deputy minister of information, said Monday at a news conference. He reiterated that Vice President Abd-el-Rab Mansour al Hadi remained the acting president, although Hadi is nearly universally dismissed as a weak figure.
Over the weekend Saleh issued a statement from Saudi Arabia, urging his opponents to engage in dialogue and calling for the end of demonstrations against his rule.
It was a rare statement; he's spoken publicly only once since he left the country, addressing the nation by video four weeks ago. While Saleh appeared weak and visibly injured in that video — during which he acknowledged having eight operations for his injuries — he appeared more vibrant days later in footage that was released of him meeting John Brennan, the chief White House counter-terrorism adviser.
Speculation over Saleh's health has only grown since then, especially after he decided to forgo delivering his statement personally Sunday; an anchor on state television read it instead.
In it, Saleh exhorted his opponents to restart talks on a U.S-backed power-transfer deal brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. But Saleh has refused three times to sign the deal, which offers him legal immunity in exchange for his exit from power and calls for elections within 60 days.
Leaders of Yemen's opposition parties, which inked the deal in May, have refused further negotiations until the president signs it.
Other figures in the ruling government have expressed support for a deal but rejected some of this proposal's provisions. Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al Kirbi said recently that the timetable for elections was "unrealistic" and would lead to a power vacuum.