May 11, 2011

Yemeni Protesters Declare “Day of Marching”

Either Yemen’s pro-democracy movement is staging its own bluff to counter President Ali Abdullah’s stall tactics, or else protesters in Sana’a are dead serious about marching on the presidential palace. As the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Western officials continue to debate the future of Yemen’s revolution, a joint statement between the street coalitions and opposition umbrella, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), has marked next Tuesday as “The Day of Marching.”

''President Saleh is benefiting from the passing of time in order to deplete the youth revolution,'' the statement said. "By escalating our reactions against him we can achieve the victory to our revolution.”

Contrary to the GCC’s proposal, the youth demands that Saleh resign immediately and be held accountable for his crimes against the Yemeni people, both past and present. The youth coalitions also claim that “the Saudi and US stance wanted to weaken their revolution in favor of President Saleh.” As for the JMP’s position, leaving the GCC negotiations for good would shift Yemen’s political scales to the breaking point.

Saleh’s end will accelerate without the GCC’s flotation device.

Leaders within Yemen’s street movement have raised the threat of a march before, only to recede after testing the waters. This is one of their final moves, if not the last option they have, and playing it too early would be costly. Yet rejecting the threat completely would be narrow-minded; a proactive approach is clearly needed. That leaves one week for Washington and Riyadh to pull Saleh from Yemen’s wreckage (or back away from him).

If protesters do march on the palace they are certain to meet resistance from the Republican Guard. A massacre could ensue, destroying any remaining hope of a peaceful transition. The security vacuum would continue to grow as AQAP declares its intent to escalate jihad against America.

Less likely but more shocking to Yemen’s system and the international community, the opposition could break through and displace Saleh from his palace. He would then find himself out of office, sequestered and awaiting trial. Although Saleh distances himself from U.S. military support due to high anti-Americanism - support that he used on the Houthis and Southern Movement rather than AQAP - he’s likely to turn on Washington once caught.

Such a dramatic end would also jeopardize U.S. relations with the new government.

The Pentagon and CIA pulled off a meticulously practiced raid on Osama bin Laden, the most daring in SEAL history so they say. The Obama administration’s brief but definitive history indicates that it cannot duplicate a similar political feat in Yemen. That cannot stop the White House from trying to do the right thing at the last moment: severing Saleh’s life-line and fully backing what has been a largely non-violent revolution.

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