May 14, 2011

Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Vow: I’ll Be Back

As expected Abdul-Latif al-Zayani, Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), arrived in Sana’a on Saturday to “continue consultations with all Yemeni parties.” Whether “all parties” includes the street coalitions protesting GCC interference remains to be seen, but the prospects don’t look good. “GCC chief again in Sana’a to defuse Yemen crisis,” Saba state media reported, conveniently leaving out the fact that President Ali Abdullah denied him two Saturdays ago.

al-Zayani, who had come to ink Saleh’s signature on the GCC’s power transfer, left the capital visibly annoyed. With Saleh still refusing to budge and the street coalitions continuing to demonstrate against the GCC, al-Zayani will go through the same motions before leaving empty-handed.

Soon the Obama administration will demonstrate whether it has finally realized the gravity of Yemen’s revolution. Statements won’t be forthcoming, given the White House’s disconnect, however the slightest sign of support for Saleh can be interpreted in the negative. This support can be measured in silence or another seal approval for the GCC’s decayed proposal. Yemen’s situation has gradated into enough black and white that the administration should already see clearly.

There is no gray - supporting Saleh and the streets equally is impossible.

Fresh off Friday’s condemnation of his only negotiating partner, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Saleh launched another volley on Saturday during an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz. He’s been careful to keep one finger extended to the JMP, as the coalition of political parties has proven useful in stalling for time. Since the streets largely disassociate themselves from the coalition and oppose the GCC’s proposal, Saleh has also manipulated the JMP to foment distrust within the revolution.

“We emphasized repeatedly that we are ready to sign the agreement by the General People's Congress and its allies, and the JMP and its partners, as a political document between the parties and political organizations, not legal, and we will ratify it as President of the Republic, and after obtaining the necessary clarifications about the terms of the agreement so as not to turn into such an agreement itself to a deeper crisis, rather than a way to resolve the crisis.”

In blaming the JMP for all of Yemen’s violence (and labeling them bandits, saboteurs, drug dealers), Saleh has tried to peel the youth off of their own revolution. Such statements are highly offensive to the millions demanding the end of his rule in full consciousness. Although the pro-democracy movement remains connected to many figures within the JMP umbrella, most pro-democracy protesters are nearly as hostile to the JMP’s overall decision-making as Saleh’s.

“The JMP provoked this crisis,” Saleh told Okaz, “and took some young people a bridge to achieve their goals and ambitions in jumping on the power after that unable to do so through elections, as the youth who are currently in some arenas sit mostly young people of these parties, and the rest are hostage to these parties.”

This impression couldn’t be further from reality; the youth jumped on the revolution first, and had to pull the JMP and Yemen’s tribes into the fold over time. WikiLeaks have revealed plots by Hamid al-Ahmar, a leading Hashid tribesman, to stir up a revolution, however a young and impoverished Yemen was already ripe for an uprising. On the defensive throughout his interview, Saleh reinforces his delusions by claiming, “What is currently happening in Yemen is a part of the wave in the region within what so-called the creative anarchy or the new Middle East, and the opposition joint meeting parties (JMPs) imitate what occurred in Tunisia and Egypt.”

"We have dealt with this contrived crisis and its repercussions for over three months and a half with wisdom and patience,” Saleh declares, “and we have made efforts and still to spare the country from sliding into the abyss of discord and bloodshed.”

In the two weeks since Osama bin Laden’s death, U.S. officials have waxed poetically of how the Arab Spring has washed away al-Qaeda’s narrative. Yet the Obama administration continues to support a dictator who believes these revolutions are “creative anarchy,” two months after Saleh accused Obama himself of manufacturing unrest. He also ruled out “internationalization” of Yemen’s revolution, while simultaneously urging U.S. and E.U “witnesses” to “sit at the negotiating table to resolve the crisis.” These diplomats, along with Saudi officials, authored most of the GCC’s proposal and included Saleh’s immunity clause.

Advocating Yemenis’ right to protest has also fallen on deaf ears. Although U.S. statements encouraging the GCC’s proposal are careful to support freedom of speech and expression, these claims are largely hollow. In order to sweeten what is already a decadent offer, another clause was inserted to dispel protesters from the streets. Saleh spoke repeatedly about implementing the GCC’s proposal in full, saying, "We look at the Gulf initiative as an indivisible integrated system.”

Saleh added that the deal requires further negotiation, and that “there are some clauses in it that are obscure and ambiguous.” When asked to specify these items, Yemen’s embattled president responded, “For example with regard to the item on the end to political tension and security, what creates the atmosphere for a peaceful transition and smooth power, as well as end the sit-ins, marches and blockades of roads and storming government buildings, and end the insurgency that has occurred in some military units, and exit of some of the elements causing the crisis for a temporary period; until we airspace before the Government of National Reconciliation to accomplish its tasks within the time period specified.”

Basically, he’ll sign when the revolution goes home. With the White House still refusing to cut Saleh’s life-line, U.S. policy is sitting in the back seat of a drunk driver.

Beyond heaping blame on the JMP, refusing responsibility for Yemen’s crisis or violence, and denying the Arab Spring outright, Saleh didn’t mince words when outlining his future plans. He denounced the JMP for “aspiring to gain access to power through a coup on democracy” rather than “the ballot box,” a phrase used to reinforce his current term. Many protesters believe Saleh intends to remain in power until 2013 and don’t trust a snap election under his ruling party’s authority, as stipulated by the GCC’s proposal.

Many expect him to corrupt an election now or in the future.

It gets even worse too. Saleh has previously insinuated that, if forced from office, he will continue leading the General People’s Congress (GPC) as Yemen’s opposition. This runs contrary to the GCC’s proposal, which calls for his exile in exchange for immunity. With Washington and Riyadh still pushing the GCC’s power transfer, Saleh now tells Okaz that he plans to “bring down the government again” if forced out.

What a practical and pragmatic strategy to end Yemen’s instability. As the pro-democracy movement has tried to warn the world, Saleh is the country's real source of chaos.

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