September 23, 2011

Saleh Returns to Yemen, Readies Counterattack

Yemeni state television has reported that Ali Abdullah Saleh landed in Sana’a on Friday morning. His return sparked immediate gun battles and tipped the capital even further on edge. Mass protests were already organized for Friday and the turnout should reach its apex. The possibility for violence hasn’t risen due to a phantom truce negotiated between the regime and opposition forces loyal to the al-Ahmar brothers and General Ali Mohsen. Dozens of Yemenis have been killed in the last three days of fighting.

However Saleh’s return could boost the conflict to the previous weekend’s level, or beyond.

On top of anti-Saleh protests, demonstrations will presumably zero in on Saudi Arabia for allowing him to return, and on the Obama administration for legitimizing his regime. As Washington isolates Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi met with several U.S. officials in Washington on Thursday. Aside from Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, al-Qirbi also spoke with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who “stressed the adherence of Washington to the implementation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)'s initiative.”

Burns also reaffirmed counter-terrorism support with Saleh’s regime. Western officials are reporting surprise by his return, except this plot was foretold by these meetings.

The U.S. policy in Yemen is both shameful and unsustainable. Once again blood is about to spilled because of external political obstruction. Saleh hasn’t returned to the sign the GCC’s widely unpopular proposal, which the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) now rejects on the grounds of his illegitimacy. Rumors are floating a ruling party meeting and resignation speech "within hours," but he will likely stall any political agreement until a presidential election is held.

Saleh is expected to address his remaining supporters within hours. Deputy Information Minister Abdo Al Janadi immediately outlined the "constitutional" scenario on state TV, and Saleh could cling to power indefinitely until the revolution topples his entire regime. Or his son, Ahmed, could take over. Anyone he appoints will be a puppet by definition.

Janadi has since countered that Yemen's oppositional elements spread the rumor of his resignation.

Few pro-democracy protesters will listen to anything the Obama administration has to say, other than total severance with Saleh’s regime. A full analysis was set to be published on Friday - titled "Holding Ali Abdullah Saleh Accountable" - only to lose its value, so we will update as Yemen's situation demands.

1 comment:

  1. The revolutionary leadership in Yemen is about as timid as they come- and not because of an adverse correlation of forces. They are likely drawing on the historical parallel of Mohamed Siad Barre, and they fear any prolonged violence could slip out of their hands and end up eventually eliminating the influence of all elites.

    The revolutionary leadership cannot capitulate, since they cannot risk prostrating themselves before Saleh´s revenge. It is better to never start a revolution if you are not prepared to go all the way.

    Many in Yemen made a fundamental miscalculation. They thought that the big players would throw Saleh under the bus like Ben Ali and Mubarak, and that a transition could be safely made in the ruling class framework. Now they are caught between the horns of a dilemma: any possibility for a non-violent resolution is long gone and they can´t raise the white flag either. They can delude themselves with more protests, but even patience has its limits.