March 18, 2011

Washington Approves Saleh’s State of Emergency in Yemen

So Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has finally declared a state of emergency in Yemen. Not many options remained after renewing his assault on protesters in Sana’a, killing over 40 people and wounding hundreds more.

Now protesters have been forcefully ordered inside under the penalty of injury, or worse: "The national security council announces a state of emergency across Yemen, and a curfew is set upon armed people in all Yemeni provinces. And the security forces with the army will take responsibility for stability.”

The statement is the latest attempt to pin the blame on opposition protesters for shooting themselves. Government officials denied that security forces had been involved and promised a full investigation. Not surprisingly, their denial mirrors the position taken by the U.S. government over the last month. Issuing his first comment in over 40 days, President Barack Obama released a one-paragraph statement “strongly” condemning the latest violence, and declaring, “Those responsible for today’s violence must be held accountable.”

Clearly the two parties responsible - Saleh and Washington - aren’t going to hold themselves accountable. And by avoiding Saleh’s state of emergency, the White House has tacitly backed the ongoing crackdown and its potential escalation. Breaking silence only for a moment makes the information wall stand out that much more.

The statements coming out of the White House ring completely hollow after countless attacks on pro-democracy protesters. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued her own brief statement claiming, “I have repeatedly and unreservedly condemned the use of violence against protesters in Sana'a and other cities, and the loss of life.” However Clinton, like Obama, hasn’t addressed Yemen for weeks and made no mention of last week’s collective violence as she traveled Egypt and Tunisia.

Probably because America is responsible for Yemen’s violence on every level.

Supporting an errant policy that further alienates the Yemeni people from Saleh's regime, Washington’s “counter-terrorism” against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is cited as a main factor in aggravating political and tribal tensions. Whether failing to spur Saleh into serious economic reform or suffering on the wrong end of U.S.-trained counter-terrorism units, Saleh and Washington have blurred into the same image. Some tribal networks have been pushed closer to AQAP. Nor does the White House support the protesters’ right to demonstrate in reality, only in theory. Its policy has consistently stated, even after today's crackdown, that the opposition must negotiate under a hail of bullets, and that “street protests don’t solve anything.”

Neither does insincere dialogue with a ruthless dictator.

“It seems like people saw what happened in Bahrain and thought you could do the same here,” said one high-ranking Yemeni official, who said he did not know who was responsible for the outbreak.

That Obama and Clinton continued to hammer away at a non-existent “open and transparent process” offers the latest evidence of Washington’s disconnect and clueless understanding in Yemen. That they keep accusing protesters of inciting violence, or else looking the other way with Saleh, offers a second piece of evidence. While calling for Saleh to uphold his promise to protect them, Clinton said the White House is “seeking to verify reports that this is the result of actions by security forces.”

Their remarks also demonstrate ignorance of fourth-generation warfare.

By calling on the opposition to refrain from low-intensity violence, the White House is trying to stop the disproportionate reaction that oppressive regimes are so susceptible to. Rather than call off Saleh’s violence or threaten to halt U.S. military support, officials have tried to get protesters off the street. But Saleh doesn’t even believe the revolution is real, according to sources near him, and considers it an aberration of society that will eventually go away if he suppresses it long enough.

The White House has acted in a similar fashion.

We’ll have more updates as what should be a bloody night and weekend unfolds. But the overriding conclusion is elementary: If Washington can’t trust Saleh, why on Earth would Yemeni protesters?

[Update: Police continue to crackdown on protest camps, this time in the southern city of Aden. Only one person is responsible for all of these actions.]

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