May 22, 2011

Conspiracies Eat Away at Yemen’s Reality

Some good may have come out of the ruckus in Sana’a after all. After supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh besieged the UAE Embassy, trapping U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein and GCC diplomats before their rescue, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) released a statement in response to the melee.

With Saleh again refusing to sign its U.S. and Saudi-authored “power transfer,” the GCC has “decided to suspend the initiative because of a lack of the suitable conditions that had been agreed upon.”

Yemen’s revolutionaries want nothing to do with the proposal, which would postpone Saleh’s resignation, offer him safe passage out of the country, and turn the transition over to his ruling General People’s Congress (GPC). Although the GCC has suspended negotiations in previous weeks due to Saleh’s intransigence - and may well jumpstart them in the future - there’s a higher possibility that it will stay dead this time. The downside is that, barring Saleh’s behavior, Yemeni protesters were helpless to stop the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) from signing away their revolution.

This leaves them no choice except to escalate their campaign against Saleh’s regime, an outcome that Yemen’s embattled president is probably hoping for. Anything excuse will do to justify his suppression of the revolution.

As Saleh’s backtracking was widely expected by his opponents and many outside observers, not much time need be spent on Sunday’s scrum. Only on the surface does a besieged embassy and helicopter rescue appear shocking. Of more consequence, in our view, is the complicity of these events. Although a conspiracy may remain just that, anomalies have distorted Yemen’s reality to the point that every action warrants skepticism.

Saleh and Washington had already fostered a shadowy environment by the time Yemen’s revolution exploded; several conspiracies turned to reality, including a secret deal on U.S. drones. The Obama administration’s persistent silence has further enlarged Yemen’s information vacuum through a low information and duplicity. Washington supposedly “shifted” against Saleh two months ago, however this propaganda has merely covered his stall tactics.

Everything between Washington and Sana’a feels manufactured - their public pleasantries, AQAP’s threat, the specter of civil war, and finally U.S. warnings to quit. So why not stage a besieged embassy?

Start with the fact that Saleh premeditated his plan to derail Sunday’s signing ceremony. Loyalists of the regime began to block key roads in Sana’a before dawn, a clear sign that something was about to go down. By this time Saleh had already denounced the GCC’s proposal as a “foreign coup,” implying that America triggered unrest in the Middle East to cover its economic crisis. He also spoke on government TV to announce he would not sign the GCC’s initiative unless the JMP came to the presidential palace.

He used this opportunity to accuse the JMP of running away from the agreement, and that it would be held responsible for any bloodshed.

Fast forward 24 hours later and Saleh has since fled to GCC leaders, again accusing Western powers of “creative chaos” and the JMP of refusing to sign “within the framework of transparency and openness.” He also “renewed his readiness to sign the initiative in light of the opposition’s attendance to the presidential palace as well as media’s presence.” Saleh knows that the JMP refuses to sign on his turf, fearing a complete loss of credibility in the streets. He hopes to provoke a violent backlash in order to justify his next crackdown.

While Saleh has consistently backtracked on the GCC’s proposal, he reliably fulfills the bulk of his threats.

With Saleh visibly prepared to obstruct the deal, either through multiple political objections or overt violence in the streets, U.S. and GCC diplomats arrived to corral his signature once and for all. However it is extremely difficult to believe that, after the last 24 hours (let alone the past four months), they truly expected him to sign. Perhaps they went to see what would happen and hoped for the best.

Is it coincidence, though, that they ended up in the presidential palace - the same location that Saleh tried to bait the JMP into?

Given Washington’s persistent support for Saleh, direct complicity in his latest scheme appears plausible. The Obama administration expects Saleh to resist its warnings. The White House can call as many times as it likes - seven, according to leaks from Sunday’s meeting between Saleh and the GPC - and apply enormous “pressure.” This way the U.S. government appears to be pressuring Saleh to quit, when in fact this artificial duress is extending his rule.

Although Saleh warns of American conspiracies, he seems to have tied up Washington in his own plot. Jane Novak just published an unconfirmed report from Mareb Press that sheds further light on these shadows. During meetings with the GPC, Saleh told his party officials that the White House had made seven calls on Saturday night.

"I would have signed the initiative and did not want to be a stumbling block before the international community,” he explained of his refusal to compromise the GPC.

Saleh added that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is “with us,” but that some of Al Saud family is carrying out “U.S. policy in Yemen.” He further claimed that “what is happening is a conspiracy by the Americans.” Although these leaks are just that, Saleh has issued similar comments in public and no reason exists to disbelieve his private venom. Thus for Washington to trust him suggests a high degree of naivety, or else complicity.

U.S. officials have yet to respond to today's events.

With the JMP suffering a traumatic loss of credibility and the streets increasingly losing hope in Obama, his administration continues to justify a failed policy with Saleh’s “friendship.” Even if these coincidences aren’t connected by a higher plot, abandoning Yemen’s public sphere in favor of “private diplomacy” is a fatally flawed decision.. Instead of promoting transparency during GCC negotiations and engaging the youth coalitions, the White House and State Department have stoked an environment prone to conspiracy.

Saleh and Washington still prefer darkness rather than the light of Yemen’s revolution.

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