April 20, 2011

Massive Information Gap in Yemen

Believing the latest reports out of Yemen is difficult to begin with. Based on limited information, U.S. and U.K. officials have resubmitted their initiative under the guise of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to transfer power to Vice President Abd Rabbo Mansoo Hadi. Yemen’s oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) has objected to the 30 day time-line - something the streets cannot be convinced of - and the document’s wording, as if their negotiators wouldn’t catch the difference between “transfer” and “resign.”

Without any further details, U.S. diplomats are supposedly confident of an agreement being reached.

But by refusing to give up any details, the White House and State Department have once more abandoned their initiative in the public sphere, twisting it into an even uglier form than its present state. Such a feeble ploy displays how unwilling Washington remains in letting go of Saleh. As he continues to violently suppress pro-democracy demonstrations and blame the JMP for instigating riots, GCC Foreign ministers failed to reach an agreement with the JMP on Tuesday or Wednesday. The state of negotiations between Saleh, the opposition, GCC and America are nowhere near a resolution.

Even more telling, Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) flipped its criticism into optimism after meeting with GCC ministers; the GPC has blasted the GCC’s initiative as unconstitutional and targeted the JMP in the crossfire. According to GPC Assistant Secretary-General Ahmed Bin Dhagar, who led a delegation in the UAE, dialogue between the two parties was deemed “successful.”

Now add in Saleh’s latest defiance and watch the information vacuum tear apart.

It’s not completely accurate to say that Saleh has given up all pretense of leaving. An April 8th speech made clear that he wasn’t leaving any time soon, but Wednesday’s address appears to have anchored Saleh in a do-or-die mentality. Fearing the fate of Hosni Mubarak long before Egypt’s former president found himself under house arrest, Saleh told his supporters today, "We will continue to resist... undaunted and committed to constitutional legitimacy, while rejecting the plots and coups.”

“We will remain steadfast like the mountains of Eidan, Nuqum and Zafar,” he declared "during his meeting with tens of thousands of women." “We will not be shaken by the wind.”

Yemeni observers are well aware of Saleh’s political and military double-speak, which in itself makes a mockery of the Obama administrations “shift” in policy. The White House then fails to correct his conflicting rhetoric. For Saleh to speak as he has and steadfastly resort to violence in Washington’s silence - and still receive a favorable agreement through the GCC - offers flagrant support for Yemen’s embattled president.

“It’s deplorable that the UN’s press statement won’t reflect the gravity of the situation on the ground,” lamented a Sana’a-based diplomat briefed on the conduct of recent UN meetings. “Especially since the language of United States, the European Union, and the Gulf Co-operation Council is almost identical at this point on the need for an immediate democratic transition.”

The real tragedy is how hard the U.S., E.U. and GCC are pushing a flawed transfer on Yemen’s political opposition, which doesn’t fully represent the youth coalition or general opposition. Meanwhile The Washington Post ran a story on Saleh’s use of the Republican Guard and Special Forces, led by his son Ahmed and trained by U.S. Special Forces. Elsewhere the Yemen Post cites almasdaronline.com in reporting “Saleh and his relatives... have chaos and criminal plans” to target defected General Ali-Mohsen al-Ahmar’s First Armored Division, and clear out protesters from Sana’a during the mayhem.

True or not, these allegations are based in Yemen’s current ground conditions and proliferate amid complete silence from the Obama administration. For comparison, the State Department has addressed Syria’s uprising 17 days since the pivotal outbreak on March 15th, while Yemen has been addressed 18 times since February 2nd. Syria’s output doubles Yemen’s since mid-March.

Saleh’s finale, however, goes beyond even these grievances. Flush with confidence from Washington and the GCC’s de-facto support, and still able to summon counter-demonstrators, Yemen’s president of 32 years has perceived the momentum as tipping back in his favor. Not only does the situation remain stalemated, he’s trying to regress into deeper conflict. Quoted by Saba state media, Saleh resisted all thoughts of resignation with his most disturbing remarks yet: "Those who want power or to gain the seat of power should do it by heading to the ballot box. Change and departure will be through voting under the legal framework of the constitution.”

Such a statement goes beyond a declaration to remain in power until his term expires, in 2013, by implying that Saleh will seek re-election. Yemeni protesters refused to believe his pledge not to run for good reason. U.S. diplomats might hold an ace up their sleeve, but the more likely scenario is that they’re cheating for Yemen’s president.

He does seem to believe he’s winning despite the massive revolution outside his door.

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