April 15, 2011

Saleh Shows No Sign of Quitting

The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Yemen’s main political opposition group, has assumed enormous risk by negotiating with President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Half of this risk stems from its divergence with the street demands for an immediate resignation. With much of Yemen’s opposition unwilling to trust Saleh after 32 years of mind-games, the revolution’s popular core operates under zero-tolerance for his (and the JMP’s) time-line and familial immunity.

The JMP’s personal risk is completed by the fact that Saleh, regularly alternating between demonization and encouragement, is liable to turn on the group at any moment for his own gain.

In his latest address to the nation, Yemen’s embattled president blamed JMP “bandits” for “sabotaging” oil-pipelines and other government facilities. Although oil infrastructure is increasingly targeted by oppositional and rogue elements, Saleh’s remarks attempt to dump Yemen’s economic crisis on the pro-democracy movement, as if it began after the revolution. Saleh also repeated his usual criticism of damaging Yemen’s unity.

Elsewhere, as pro-democracy rallies hit Yemen's cities, government officials accused defected General Ali-Mohsen al-Ahmar of orchestrating a conspiracy to destabilize the country. While his personal Armored unit has clashed with government forces as it defends protesters, the general left Saleh’s side fairly deep into the revolution.

Yemen's uprising is a pure expression of its people.

Guarding its claim that the Obama administration has decided to move on from Saleh, The New York Times noted that he “appeared less defiant” in focusing on the masses. Yemen has seen bloodier days, but Saleh’s speech bears no evidence of a man ready to transfer power peacefully. Denouncing his opponents as a minority while hailing his own supporters as the “silent majority,” Saleh declared that “masses come to these squares to say yes to the constitutional legitimacy, yes to freedom and democracy, yes to Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of this nation.”

"Millions of demonstrators came today to this square to say yes to the constitutional legitimacy and yes to Ali Abdullah Saleh as the president of this nation, which can be regarded as a public referendum and a clear message to the international community and local opposition.”

With that said, Saleh extended his usual hand to the JMP, the only part of the opposition he’s willing to negotiate with. Because the JMP is viewed as an illegitimate authority for the revolution as a whole, and because it’s willing to play his politics, Saleh has found the JMP useful in stalling for time and splintering the opposition. Labeling JMP leaders as “fibbers” and “owners of vulnerable souls,” Saleh declares, "Millions of Yemeni people say yes to freedom, security and stability... they say no to blocking roads, killing innocents and cutting the supplies of oil and gas, we hold the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) responsible. We ask the opposition to stop lying to the people.”

He then adds, “we renew our call for the opposition Joint Meeting Parties to engage in dialogue.”

The JMP has, until further notice, accepted the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative that would transfer power to Abduraboo Mansur Hadi, Saleh’s vice president of 17 years. The agreement also stipulates immunity for Saleh’s extensive family, and fails to provide a time-table for the transition. Yet the JMP went so far as to claim it will convince the streets of supporting this plan. Many popular opposition groups believe the GCC document opens a loophole for Saleh to remain in power through the transition, and have rejected the GCC’s overtures until a concrete ultimatum is in place.

With Saleh scapegoating the JMP again and reaffirming his constitutionally legitimacy, the JMP will be hard-pressed to keep its hand open. Saleh appears set for a true showdown with the popular opposition, which has announced a two-week deadline for him to resign.

As the GCC is increasingly perceived as the Saudi-American hand that it is, US-backing also increases in its fraudulence. These negotiations started under Washington and Riyadh’s rules, not the Yemeni opposition’s. Pervasive reports of them "finally" moving against Saleh run into a favorable deal for him and his own public defiance. Thus the White House is simply abetting his stall tactics. By continually refusing to comment - particularly during moments when Saleh reasserts his rule - the Obama administration remains positioned in his shadow.

As tall as Saleh tries to stand, his shadow will eventually fade.

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