April 22, 2011

Saleh and Obama: Partners in Defiance

Voice of America needs to find some people with a better understanding of propaganda. Credible disinformation must be believable in developed societies and difficult to check in undeveloped societies, and VOA’s description of President Ali Abdullah Saleh qualifies as neither. With pro-democracy protesters swelling their numbers down Sitteen Street to counter Saleh’s own demonstrators, they don’t need T.V. or the Internet to know that Saleh refuses to step down after 32 years of ruling Yemen.

Nor was there anything “vague” about his response to the latest proposal from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as dictated by Washington and Riyadh. Dodging a direct offer by welcoming the GCC’s involvement, Saleh then told his remaining supporters in Sana’a, "We stress that we will hold on to the constitutional legitimacy, in loyalty to our people, as we categorically reject the attempted coups on freedom, democracy, and political pluralism.”

Saleh is crystal clear in his intent to remain in power until 2013 - at the least. His ruling General People's Congress (GPC) privately claimed that Saleh did accept the GCC's proposal, but that the party wants him to stay on for another five months as the "honorary" president. Both will take and take without giving. Thus offering Saleh an "initiative" merely serves to prolong his rule, which in the end furthers Washington and GCC’s objective.

In a jarring but predictable defense, Saleh continued to build on his rediscovered justification of constitutional legitimacy, a term used to implicitly reject the GCC’s initiative. Saleh undoubtedly possesses considerable survival skills, but his rhetoric relies on brute force in the same way that he over-extends his personal forces, the Republican Guard and Central Security. There’s nothing special about his black-and-white doublespeak: "We reject toppling democracy and legitimacy, but we welcome the Gulf initiative and we will deal with it positively according to the constitution.”

Saleh also mixed in the usual anti-oppositional slander when condemning the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Yemen’s main political opposition and his negotiating partner in Riyadh. Describing his opponents as "dilapidated and corroded," Saleh warned, "We strongly reject all plots against freedom, democracy and political pluralism. They (the opposition) want to grab power via coups. You have to remain firm before the renegade and cowardly elements. We will confront (their) challenge with challenge."

In his surface world the JMP’s negotiated position with the GCC amounts to a coup. Denial pervades Saleh’s words, whether blaming the JMP for ongoing violence, claiming the opposition’s support is “decreasing day after day in front of the Yemeni people and their strong will,” or denying violence outright. “We will not cause bloodshed,” he promised as Yemeni security forces continue to beat and fire upon pro-democracy protesters.

Saleh is fully aware of his own plot, however, and is simply playing the JMP for as long as possible. Knowing that Yemen’s political opposition lacks popular legitimacy, Saleh refuses to negotiate with any party except the JMP and its offshoots. He then proceeds to scapegoat them whenever the GCC makes a new offer, a pattern that ultimately refuses to negotiate with the entire opposition.

"The Opposition wants to take power using illegal means,” Saleh declared. “You cannot compare Yemen to Egypt. Yemen had fair presidential elections and the people voted for person most fit to rule. I am Yemen's legal president.”

This is the man that the Obama administration has repeatedly urged Yemen’s opposition to engage.

Failing to address Yemen all week, the White House and State Department ended Friday as defiant as Saleh, the silent yin to his clamorous yang. Refusing to offer a single detail on the GCC’s ongoing negotiations, only the occasional encouragement, the Obama administration has managed to duck a lax U.S. media and stay out of Yemen’s public sphere. The feat is remarkable given the dire threats from U.S. counter-terrorism officials, the depth Washington's involvement in GCC negotiations and Saleh’s steadfast insolence.

Except this course of inaction damages both Yemen’s political environment and U.S. interests in the country. Yemeni protesters have already incorporated anti-GCC slogans into their message - the result of Washington’s primitive understanding of fourth-generation warfare.

The White House predictably raced out in front of Syria’s violence today, standard procedures for mass casualties. To be fair Syria’s bloodshed exceeded Yemen’s, but President Barack Obama contradicts his own rhetoric in stating, “The United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Syria and around the world.” Obama hasn't mentioned Yemen in over a month, when he was forced to condemn the brutal March 18th shooting in Sana'a. The White House remains unable to reconcile “universal rights” with its ongoing argument against a ‘one-size-fits-all” approach, and Syria and Yemen highlight this unbridgeable division.

One day after releasing an "offer" that called for an end to the protests - a demand that naturally infuriated protesters - additional information continues to reveal Washington’s true intentions. An unearthed WikiLeaks document from 2005 mentions defected General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar as one of the U.S. government’s greatest fears, a concern that has plugged up efforts to joint-exile Saleh and al-Ahmar. Though this fear is no surprise, Saleh continues to demand al-Ahmar’s ouster even after refusing to resign, hardening al-Ahmar’s own position to remain in the country.

Security forces have arrested dozens of defected soldiers in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile Muhammad Qahtan, the JMP’s spokesman, has maintained his support for the GCC’s initiative despite its unpopularity in the streets. Yemen’s youth coalition and wider opposition regularly denounce the JMP for negotiating an illegitimate agreement with Saleh, and, distrusting both, refuse to leave their urban camps. Acutely aware that Saleh is exploiting the JMP, the group has come under suspicion of fragmenting. JMP chief Yaseen Sa’eed No’man is already rumored to oppose an agreement with the GCC, and now Qahtan appears to be gravitating back to the protesters’ side: “The reason for the delay of Saleh's fall was the ambassadors of the US and UK. They bought him negotiating time and this is hurting the revolution."

Like Saleh, the Obama administration has escaped the glare of such a bright revolution by manipulating fear, both at home and in Yemen. But neither is likely to escape from Yemen itself. Although Saleh appears to believe he’s weathered the storm, U.S. support failed to stave off the revolution and will fail to keep him alive indefinitely. Yemen’s opposition knows what it wants and won’t stop until it sees the country cleansed of Saleh’s entire regime.

“The opposition talks as if they own the street, but we might have to overthrow them too,” warned youth activist Farea al-Muslimi. “If they accept any plan that involves stopping protests before president steps down, they will be betraying our society, and people will lose trust in them.”

1 comment:

  1. President Abdullah has hardly managed to keep al Queda under control during his rule of Yemen- so I don't think his resignation will change much. Yemen is plagued with divisions of tribe and religion, and al Queda thrives in such an environment- it will take years of socio-economic reform to quash them, not President Abdullah.