November 19, 2011

Saleh Safeguards Power Through Military Council

Ali Abdullah Saleh picked the wrong day to announce a military transfer, if any day can be worse than another. Saturdays in Yemen usually bring a propaganda run to counter the weekend’s revolutionary demonstrations, and today is no exception. Speaking during an inspection of his Republican Guards, a private security outfit trained by U.S. Special Forces and commanded by his son Ahmed, Saleh alluded to a military handover in the event of his resignation.

"Yes, we support change against all corrupted political forces and we at the presidential office are ready to make sacrifices for the country,” he declared, “but you (Republican Guards) will stay on even if we step down, because your are the power, you are the safety valve of the homeland.”

Hours earlier Egyptian police poured into Tahrir Square to evict protesters from their camps, killing a 23-year old and wounding at least 676 people. The clashes culminated Friday’s protest against Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), an elitist group of men primarily concerned with their own interests. Despised Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi reigns as Egypt’s de facto pharaoh, and the council is busy expanding ties with Washington and the Saudi-bankrolled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Abusing the remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s tyrannical power, the SCAF has perpetuated the country’s emergency law and recently grabbed at the power to rewrite Egypt's constitution. Human rights groups estimate that the SCAF has detained over 12,000 individuals since Mubarak's fall.

Most are subjected to military tribunals despite committing no crime.

Alaa Abdel-Fattah is one of the suffering. Arrested on October 30th for “inciting” violence against Christians, Abdel-Fattah’s 15-day detention was recently renewed for another 15 days, an indefinite process organized by the SCAF. Awareness campaigns have failed to secure his release and few Western capitals have joined his cause. Although President Barack Obama urged the SCAF to end Egypt’s emergency law and military trials for civilians, his administration continues to defend the SCAF’s “good intentions” and has kept quiet on Abdel-Fattah’s imprisonment.

In a recent letter smuggled to the outside world, the well-known blogger grieved for missing the birth of his son and described Egypt’s horrid prison conditions.

“I am writing this note with a deep sense of shame,” reads a blog entry dated November 5th. “I have just been moved from Ist’naf (appeal) prison, at my request and insistence, because I simply couldn’t withstand the difficult conditions there: because of the darkness, the filth , the roaming cockroaches, crawling over my body night and day; because there was no courtyard, no sunshine and, again, the darkness.”

Abdel-Fattah accuses the SCAF of selecting Egypt’s best and brightest as punitive examples, the opposite vision of the revolutionary movement. Back in Tahrir, prominent activist Malek Mostafa lost his right eye from a torrent of rubber bullets fired by riot police. According to Ghada Shahbender, a member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, "They were shooting rubber bullets directly at the heads… I heard an officer ordering his soldiers to aim for the head."

Above the din of battle, protesters could be heard chanting "The people want to topple the regime” and “Down with the Marshal.”

Needless to say, few revolutionaries across the region would put any faith in a military council. Such a maneuver is overtly hostile to pro-democracy movements seeking total regime change, and Egyptians’ ongoing struggle serves as a precautionary tale. Unfortunately Saleh’s propaganda is deathly real - he always planned to cede power to his son, just like Mubarak and Gaddafi’s schemes. As the head of Saleh’s crackdown against peaceful protesters, Ahmed is also extremely dangerous and possibly more stubborn than his father. Leaving him in power would sink Yemen deeper into the abyss.

Saleh added a warning to oppositional forces: "We tell them that's enough ... Our response will be harsh and decisive.”

These statements are generally attributed as threats of civil war. While armed oppositional elements have aggravated Yemen’s revolution, Saleh’s forces regularly attempt to provoke them in order to scapegoat the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and defected general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

The secondary concern over a military council is just as lethal. Rather than condemn this destructive maneuver, the international community has sanctioned Egypt’s aborted contingency in Yemen by passing power to Saleh’s vice president, Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi. According to the GCC’s initiative, a false power transfer orchestrated by Washington and Riyadh, Saleh’s family would receive immunity for their crimes and remain in charge of the military (with the pliable Hadi serving as a figurehead). The entire setup was then legalized by the UN Security Council’s unanimously passing of resolution 2014.

If Western or Gulf officials refute Saleh’s language, they do so disingenuously.

U.S.-Saudi policy has unified in Egypt and Yemen, two central targets of the counter-revolutionary network, by approving regime alteration through military “councils.” Neither capital is willing to allow local populations to decide their own future, and dictators such as Saleh and Tantawi will continue abusing the West’s double-standard until it collapses.

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