July 17, 2011

Update on Yemen’s Transitional Council

Over the weekend Yemen’s revolutionaries announced a transitional council to undermine the remnants of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime. This news was only lightly covered by the Western and international media for two reasons: U.S. and foreign press has ignored Yemen’s revolution since February, and the new council announced itself without sufficient public buildup.

After speaking with numerous Yemenis on Saturday, the council appeared to lack the broad support necessary to survive Yemen’s turmoil. Declared by Tawakul Karman, Yemen’s leading female activist and a member of the oppositional Islah party, many protesters were caught off guard by the council’s formation. Western and Yemeni reports soon surfaced alleging that some members weren’t expecting Karman’s decision either. Known to act on her own agenda, the opaque manner in which Karman unveiled the council allowed the revolution’s enemies to pile on.

A government spokesman for Saleh’s regime, Abdu al-Janadi, denounced the move for pouring "gas on the fire,” and reaffirmed Saleh as "the legal, democratically elected president, and an alternative will only come though elections, not through an illegal coup." The Obama administration has also rejected the council in private and will likely repeat its support for the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative on Monday.

Trapped between a perceived friend and foe, the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) also rejected the council for circumventing its own political maneuvers (anonymous officials have released conflicting statements). The JMP has negotiated with Saleh’s regime and U.S. officials at great cost to its street credibility; it cannot afford to be frozen out of power. In addition to several civil coalitions, the council also met opposition from the northern Houthi tribe for running the risk of new fighting.

“Declaring a transitional council before the collapse of the regime will only repeat the Libyan experience," the group said, according to The New York Times.

Opinion has improved since the initial shock wore off and the council is working towards announcing a 501-person “national assembly,” which would be tasked with rewriting Yemen's constitution and holding a national election. Many of its representatives do check out, but local participates say the council was formed prematurely and without full consent from the revolutionaries. Ahmed Saif Hashid, head of the Civil Coalition of Youth Revolution (CCYR), clarified, “we never criticize the council or its members, rather we are protesting the way the council was formed.”

In this sense the council is a step forward, a sign of movement to break the stalemate but also a warning of caution to plan ahead and secure formal allegiance. The council holds a dual function of generating political authority inside Yemen and political awareness outside, and crying wolf is a quick way to lose international attention.

For now we await more concrete evidence of a national council, along with the U.S. reaction. The following is an excerpt from Press TV's interview with Mohamed Qubaty, Saleh’s former adviser and head of the foreign affairs committee of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC).
Press TV:You spoke about the devil or a negative entity; which entity are you the most concerned with?

Qubaty: I meant anybody. You see, we know of reports that the United States, at one time, thought that this stalemate would give a chance so that they can use the force, they are using their drones, the question of sovereignty is not there. They have been hitting different parts of the country, and there was no objection from the ruling power there, so there isn't a sovereign government there. I meant any could use the vacuum and use for its own purpose and interest, not the interest of Yemen, whether it could be the United States or any other power in the region, anybody who has got an agenda with this youth.

I meant that at the time the youth were disillusioned, the youth are frustrated. On the BCC yesterday it was speaking about the danger of the Islamists moving within the youth. Yes, I said that if the youth feel they are frustrated, and if they are going to suffer, the world and region will suffer with them.

But let me point out to the important thing, the interim council now has got to be the ruler. The central power is not there, the central government is not there. And we could run into chaos and anarchy there, because there are war lords now who are distributing the public goods, they are distributing fuel and so on.

So, we want this interim council to be the real caller of the shots and the real organizer of power in those areas, that the day to day needs of the people have got to be shown that these people, who are from the council, are going to take care of those with the formation of the new government, with the formation of the new national council for drafting a new constitution. They have got to be obvious, short-term, mid-term and long-term objectives, which the council has got to look for and try to implement as soon as possible.

Press TV: How confident are you that this council will be able to do what you have just said?

Qubaty: Well, I think it was a good starter, because it was formed as I have said, and I have mentioned, its formation was declared by the youths, and it includes most of the sectors of the opposition. I was worried that Houthis were not represented but somehow Abdul-Malik [Badreddin al-Houthi] and his party, the so-called revolutionary forces party, they could represent them. But I think on the ground now, these people could have some confidence to go and help the local council. There are local communities now all the way across the country, and they need to be supported by this interim council, by this transitional council, so that things can be organized, but we have got to move and try and get an area. We have got to show the world that this council is actually ruling, so it has got to delineate and say this is my land, and I am ruling.

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