May 13, 2011
No Peace or Order in GCC Proposal
This isn’t what they had in mind. Although suffocated by the international community, Yemeni protesters knew that Wednesday’s violence couldn’t be avoided and launched a media offensive to capitalize on their plight. Many activists and youth coalitions, including the Coordinating Council for Youth Revolution Change (CCYRC), urged America and the European Union to break their silence and condemn President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s actions.
They also advised U.S. and E.U. officials to pull the plug on a power transfer orchestrated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Wednesday’s violence, which left at least ten protesters dead and hundreds more wounded (possibly over a thousand), did manage to squeak out a response from the tight lipped Obama administration. With protesters increasingly setting their sights on government buildings, thus intensifying clashes with Saleh’s security forces, Mark Toner of the State Department broke his weeks-long silence over Yemen with a special statement. One would think he may have more to say, but then again, U.S. policy has reacted sluggishly since Yemen’s revolution began.
“The United States is deeply concerned by recent violence throughout Yemen, and joins European Union High Representative Ashton in strongly condemning these troubling actions,” Toner said in Thursday’s press statement. “We call on the Yemeni security forces to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from violence, and respect the rights of the Yemeni people to freely and peacefully assemble and express their views.”
Delivered with minimal context, this statement could be written at any time during the last two months; it appears recycled from past statements rather than updated to reflect the current situation. The State Department finally stopped singling out protesters by isolating Yemeni security forces, a tactic previously used to disconnect Saleh’s authority from his own forces. But Toner's statement also alludes to non-violent demonstrations in accordance with past warnings.
First, “peaceful” demonstrations inevitably fail to attract the attention necessary to capitulate Saleh’s regime. Second, protesters often come under unprovoked fire from security forces and regime loyalists; marches have been declared illegal, even those that don’t target government buildings. Saleh has fomented a violence atmosphere that cannot be ignored on the ground. Meanwhile the principles of civil disobedience and low-intensity violence are in full effect, fourth-generation tactics that the U.S. government rejects due to Saleh’s disproportionate response.
The U.S. position essentially demands that protesters not provoke him the day before Friday’s mass rally.
Finally, protesters are escalating their marches because of the looming GCC proposal. Both negotiated and defied by Saleh, the “power transfer” has drifted for weeks and is expected to be revived in the coming week. GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani is due in Sana’a on Saturday to resume talks between the government and oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). However Yemen’s street coalitions remain adamantly opposed to the deal, specifically Saleh’s immunity and a delayed resignation. Nor do they accept a transitional council dominated by Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC).
“The initiative required that power be transferred to Saleh's deputy until presidential elections could be held,” Wasim Alqershi, a member of the people's youth revolution, writes in The Guardian. “We feared that a new regime could emerge from the old – different faces, but the same corruption. We demanded a regime built on a true balance of national forces, with the authority and legitimacy to ensure political and media freedoms, respect for human rights, and an independent judiciary. The Gulf initiative had also stipulated that that the protests should be suspended, but we plan to maintain the sit-ins until the objectives of the revolution have been achieved.”
The streets have consistently objected to the GCC’s terms and, in reality, are the ones being provoked. If Washington withdrew its support as the youth coalitions demand - instead of steamrolling over them - they would have no need to derail the GCC’s proposal. The clause of ending protests also remains a major hang up on Saleh’s end, a term added through the U.S.-Saudi back-channel. Yet the only way of certifying the State Department’s freshness was a reference to May 10th, and the statement’s second half effectively destroyed the U.S. message.
“The United States commends the efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to broker an agreement in support of the Yemeni people. We welcome the May 10 statement by the GCC urging parties in Yemen to sign this agreement. We call on the parties to sign and implement the terms of the agreement now to ensure an orderly, peaceful transition of power. This transition must begin immediately in order for the Yemeni people to realize their aspirations for a brighter and more prosperous future.”
These remarks are worse than generic - they are liable to offend the majority of pro-democracy protesters.
So concerned is the White House that Toner ran through Libya, Bahrain and Syria without addressing Yemen’s violence or its political stalemate. He did, however, come into contact with the GCC when a reporter raised the bloc’s expansion to Jordan and Morocco. Toner remarks that, while the U.S. enjoys good relations with all GCC members, internal matters are for the bloc to decide. The GCC’s expansion is an internal matter, except the juxtaposition of its meddling in Yemen and Bahrain stands outs in the spotlight.
The fact is that U.S. and Saudi officials have manipulated Yemen’s revolution from afar, and largely crafted the GCC’s initiative once Saleh’s regime began to sink for good. Washington and Riyadh are running policy under the bloc’s umbrella to create a superficial impression of neutrality, thus commending the GCC amounts to self-congratulations. On top of providing information on AQAP (when it favors his interests) Saleh and his family possess incriminating evidence of U.S. technology deployed against the Yemeni people, and would immediately rat out Washington. Rather than true allies, it’s as though the mob is protecting one of its own.
Yemeni protesters know exactly what’s going on behind the curtains because they’re easy to see through.
"The position of Gulf and American officials is amoral and irresponsible," said Khaled Anisi, a Yemeni protest leader and human rights activist. "They want a deal that would give him immunity for his crimes. He lies about his intentions to them and continuously slaughters innocent people."
Yemen’s revolutionaries want America to pull a Qatar. Citing “procrastination,” “continued escalation,” and “the loss of wisdom,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani informed al Zayani of Qatar's decision to pull out of the initiative. Saleh will likely use this as a new excuse to stall. Given his chronic duplicity and a lack of input from the popular revolution, implementing the GCC’s proposal will bring neither peace nor order to Yemen. Darkness will continue to reign over its people’s future.
If implemented as soon as the ink dried, Saleh would have worked his way out of the proposal under U.S. and Saudi complicity. All sorts of negative possibilities would come into play. Alqershi warns that the GCC’s initiative “has US support and has become Saleh's last source of legitimacy.” Now the GCC’s proposal is starting to look like a rope dangling from a rescue helicopter, as if Saleh will be snatched off the top of his palace and flown out of reality. In what would only be a partial victory for the revolution, America’s political defeat could conjure images of Vietnam.
“Our young people have decided to escalate civil disobedience until Saleh's regime is overthrown,” Alqershi concludes. “It remains for the international community to realize that the youth will complete their revolution with or without international support.”