March 4, 2011

Saleh’s Hypocrisy Only Hastens Falls

One could make a lot of cash shorting Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s teetering president; betting against his gains favors the statistical odds. After directly denouncing President Barack Obama (and Israel) for fomenting uprisings across the Muslim world, and after accepting several opposition proposal to leave office only to reject them, Saleh has pulled his latest U-turn.

The latest 8-point initiative - published on Saleh’s own news site - lacked the key condition of his resignation. Now we know why. Today Tarek al-Shami, a spokesman for the president's ruling General People’s Congress (GPC), said Saleh approved of the opposition plan except for one key detail.

"He would accept the opposition's plan, including the article about a smooth transition of power, but it needs to be implemented at the end of the president's term in 2013."

Being that his resignation trumps all other demands of the popular opposition, Saleh is further entrenching himself in a situation he cannot ultimately escape from. His typically hypocritical behavior has accelerated his fall by unifying a diverse opposition, and Friday’s protest reportedly turned out over several hundred thousand. Saleh loyalists organized a counter-protest attended by about 100,000 people, but these figures suggest a numerical disadvantage that he cannot overcome.

Meanwhile, the government is also denying responsibly for an attack on Houthi protesters in the north, who admittedly came armed. Government sources initially claimed that gunmen fired on a military post in Harf Sufyan, wounding four soldiers, and denied firing on protesters. Their story later switched to self-defense, arguing that they believed the protesters, who had begun pelting the post with rocks. were about to attack it.

Even so, lethal retaliation cannot be excused during such a volatile and largely-nonviolent uprising. Yet with the White House avoiding comment and the U.S. media remaining silent, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley issued new support for Saleh:

QUESTION: Yemen; just wondering if you can update. There continue to be protests there, obviously. If the Salih government falls, what will that mean or will it have any impact on the U.S. pursuit of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and its security interests there?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, there’s a presumption behind your question. The president solidly remains the president of Yemen. He has, in fact, opened up a dialogue with his opposition. There’s some fairly public negotiating going on. But this is exactly the kind of give-and-take that we believe is necessary so that governments can be seen as responding to the will of their people.

QUESTION: P.J., you called -

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry. What?

QUESTION: What about the protestors who were killed in Yemen?

MR. CROWLEY: We are – there have been some fresh reports of protestors killed. The Embassy there is trying to verify those reports. We have been monitoring the clashes between pro-government and anti-government protestors that’s been going on for some time. As we’ve made clear, even as we support dialogue between governments and opposition figures, we want to see these efforts done peacefully and in the pursuit of more responsible and representative government. Violence needs to stop.

U.S. policy continues to enable violence and the very political vacuum that Washington fears.

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