On the surface it’s hard to fault the media, U.S. and international, for chewing on Ali Abdullah Saleh’s latest rhetoric. News is news, whether in the past, present or future, and media executives cannot ignore Saleh’s announcement to resign “in the coming days.” To varying degrees of credit, most (if not all) reports come with the caveat that Saleh has repeatedly promised to resign in public, only to resist in private. Much of their narrative is even trending in this direction.
At the same time, coverage of Saleh’s speech reveals everything wrong with Yemen’s international media coverage. Relatively ignored in favor of Egypt, Libya and Syria, both American and foreign news agencies have underreported and misreported on Yemen’s revolution since it began in January. Now they’re busy honoring the woman who got herself arrested and inspired early protesters, while still reporting the minimum on Yemen’s uprising. Some, though hardly all, of the revolutionaries problems stem from a lack of Western awareness and understanding, and biting on Saleh’s many false promises to resign doesn’t help their situation.
His announcement should come as no surprise; although Saleh took credit for Tawakkol Karman’s Nobel Prize, he surely doesn’t want her picture on the front pages. Now she’s been replaced with his own face, with front page spreads and major headlines crafted for the sinister purpose of confusing the ignorant. Saleh spoke specifically because he knew he could provoke a reaction abroad. Foreign media record his previous behavior, but each time the headlines read something to the effect that “Saleh agrees to give up power.” So far the White House hasn’t issued a response - and why would anyone inside go near today’s trap?
“The Yemeni people are used to his lies,” said Mohammed al-Sabri, spokesman for the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties’ (JMP) Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue. “He has often promised things and never lived up to them. This is turning into a rerun for a soap opera.”
For now his words don’t require a reaction beyond another warning. Yemeni protesters and oppositional leaders are cautioning that Saleh spoke not to themselves - power was out in major cities - but to Western and Gulf states, China and Russia. Denial became his truth vehicle, drawing on his nephew’s recent declaration that he “never wanted power,” a claim indicating that he does, in fact, want power. He also denied that his extended family was ruling the country, when his son, nephew, half-brothers and cousins command his security units. Political opponents were slandered, as usual; Saleh rejects the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative as a coup by the JMP, but is only willing to negotiate with the bloc he accuses of “misleading” the youth movement. While the GCC initiative was left out of the equation by name, its ghostly presence haunted Saleh’s address.
Government officials later clarified that he would relinquish power once elections are held, “within the context of a political settlement” backed by all permanent members of the UN Security Council. Abdo Al Janadi, Yemen's deputy minister of information, told Al Jazeera that Saleh, “has accepted the GCC initiative; which states for his resignation and early elections... Saleh’s statement mean he will remain in office until the mechanism for the implementation of the initiative is agreed on." Janadi actually admitted, “The word 'few days' means days or weeks until the negotiating parties reach an agreement.”
Or months: "He is ready to leave power in days yes, but whether this happens in the coming days or months will depend on the success of negotiations for a deal."
Saleh has no plans to leave power in the immediate or mid-term future, and his cheap rhetoric isn’t worth reacting to any further than that. Even if he does cede power before an election is held - sources within the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) claim his health is waning - Vice President Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi or another puppet will assume “executive” control as he lingers in the background. Riyadh is supposedly increasing its pressure to deliver this outcome. JMP figures may get their slice of power and political conflicts in the north and south will stay unresolved, scuttling any possibility of genuine regime change and effective reforms.
Saleh's lies run so deep that he returned from Saudi Arabia "with an olive branch to make peace with the Yemeni people," when the preceding and following days were stained by heavy bloodshed. That is Saleh’s version of a “constitutional” transition - war on Yemen’s revolutionaries.
“We do not believe this man,” Karman told Al Jazeera, vowing to peacefully escalate demonstrations across the country. “If he wants to step down, he would.”