June 19, 2011

No Stopping Yemen’s Counter-Revolution

No voice of reason, no matter how loud or how credible, can stop the bulldozer that is U.S. foreign policy in Yemen. Not when future chaos is viewed as a reason to continue a destructive response to its revolution. Add Washington to the list of actors - embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, his son Ahmad, rogue General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) - actively destabilizing the country for their own gain.

Sunday bore all of the bad news that Yemenis have grown numb to under U.S. hegemony.

According to Hakim Almasmari, editor-in-chief of The Yemen Post, Vice President President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi finds himself under more pressure than he’s ever faced during his 17-year term. Writing for The National, Almasmari described a recent series of meetings between “acting president” Hadi, US ambassador Gerald Feierstein and EU ambassador Michele Chervonet d'Urso, along with Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials. Yemen’s popular coalitions have given Hadi an unspecified deadline to form a transitional council free of Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC).

Now the West and Saudi Arabia (through the GCC) have supposedly given Hadi their own two-week deadline - to form a “joint transitional council” between the GPC and Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). The “30-60” plan, which appears in effect even though it isn’t, grants the GPC 50% of a transitional government to the JMP’s 40%. Neither enjoy that degree of representation in Yemen’s streets.

In London, Yasin Saeed Noman also met with Saleh’s adviser and GPC secretary-general, Abdul Karim Al-Eryani, to discuss a joint transitional council. Noman, rotating president of the JMP and head of the Yemeni Socialist Party, is considered a future presidential candidate.

Suffocating domestic and foreign pressure has left the youth movement scrambling to crystallize a temporary political structure. Given Yemen’s stunted political growth, a product of Saleh’s regime, such a task is difficult enough without foreign interference. But if they lack the power to impose their will on Yemen’s political system, they might be sufficiently organized to resist the GCC’s proposal. A key dilemma is that Washington and Riyadh want to jam the political system in order to take advantage of Yemen’s vacuum, so a stalemate plays into their hands. Conversely, they don’t have to suffer through Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Despite putting on a nice face for the West, the “neutral” Hadi is saying all the wrong things and appears of no real use, much to Washington’s displeasure. The Obama administration seems to have hoped that he would hand over power immediately, entrusting the GCC’s proposal to keep power within the GPC. Although Hadi has met the JMP and various protesters at his residence, their dialogue has centered around, “banditry and road closures that led to acute shortages of fuel and cooking gas as well as sabotage are unacceptable and violate laws and morals," in Hadi’s own words.

He refuses to discuss a political transition until Saleh returns.

Just about everything is wrong with these meetings, starting with the fact that over two weeks have passed since Saleh “transferred” power to Hadi. The GCC allocated 30 days for this transition, a term automatically opposed by the revolution, yet this time is still elapsing inside the power vacuum. Months could pass if Saleh were to actually return, and if not his family’s personal power struggle will keep the country gridlocked. Saleh’s son Ahmed occupies the presidential palace instead of Hadi, who remains unable to control the GPC, and while he reportedly favors going ahead with a transitional council, he’s currently losing to Saleh’s loyalist faction.

Yemen’s revolutionaries oppose both outcomes, as the GCC’s proposal grants no direct power to the revolution. Many protesters also believe that food and fuel shortages were manufactured by the regime, similar to the security crisis. And “bandits” happens to be Saleh’s slang for the JMP and protesters, not al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Hadi says he’s working to return Yemen’s situation to “normal.”

Pro-democracy protesters don’t want to go back to what was considered normal.

It’s also impossible to ignore Hadi’s meetings with Yemen’s Russian and Chinese ambassadors; Moscow and Beijing has stood firmly on Saleh’s side throughout the nearly six-month revolution. True to form, Hadi “valued highly the friendly stances of Russia and China on Yemen and its unity, security and stability.”

As Yemen’s political situation continue to sink in a morass of domestic and foreign interference, one can forecast a steady stream of drones over the summer. On Sunday the 18th strike hit near Jaar in Abyan governorate, missing its target while injuring six civilians. This astonishing frequency is matched by silence in the U.S. media, which normally jumps on the latest Pakistani strike. Only two attacks in Yemen have been recorded, the missed shot on cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and the killing of mid-level commander Abu Ali al Harithi.

U.S. airstrikes during 2009 and 2010 killed and injured more civilians than militants, and the latest drone campaign is trending in the same direction. The Yemen Post reports, “Most of the attacks in Abyan have resulted in injuring wrong targets this month.”

So goes America’s counter-revolution in al-Qaeda’s “most dangerous” safe haven. An odd plan to win the peace, but that doesn’t appear to be Washington's plan at all.

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