December 12, 2011

Yemen’s Imperialist Transition: Saleh’s International Puppet Show

Demonstrating their comfort level within Yemen’s political blackout, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime and the international community are making no attempt to hide their complicity. The world’s major powers have sent their emissaries to welcome Yemen’s “new” “unity” government, actively diverting the revolution’s narrative away from Saleh’s murderous regime. Many of his officials remain at their posts due to the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) Western-backed initiative, and his General People’s Congress (GPC) currently maintains a dominate position over the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).

Saleh is due to transfer executive authority to Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, his obedient vice president of 17 years, on December 23rd. Few protesters trust him to do so, but the puppet master would be wise to exit with his strings intact.

The brazenness of Yemen’s foreign interference has yet to reach its limit (this threshold could be unlimited in practical terms). Still acting as Vice President, Hadi chaired his first meeting of the “Military Affairs Committee” on Saturday, another stipulation of the GCC’s initiative. Attempts to reform Yemen’s military command is suffering a confidence crisis due to the fact that Saleh’s family has yet to vacate the top of his security apparatus. Local rumors even have his son Ahmed, commander of the Republican Guard and primary antagonist, staying put until Hadi’s two-year transitional term expires in 2014.

As if to inject confidence - counterproductive thinking, if so - all five permanent members of the UN Security Council sat in on Saturday’s meeting. The Pentagon in particular is hunting for new military connections, in case it loses Saleh’s familial hookup. Ambassadors from the U.S., UK, France, Russia and China also recognized Hadi in a formal political setting.

The busy Hadi, described as Yemen’s vice president throughout foreign media, received other guests as well. Relieved that he doesn’t need to engage Yemen, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby enthusiastically saluted Hadi and Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa. The GCC has applied sufficient counter-revolutionary force to a non-member (evidence of the GCC’s ascendance above the AL), and Hadi would consult with GCC secretary-general Abdul-Latif Al Zayani over the weekend. According to Saba state media, Al Zayani “welcomed the formation of the national conciliation government in a record time as well as setting a date for elections, February 21.”

This propaganda overloads a single sentence. Not only did Saleh take seven months to sign the GCC’s initiative, the GPC and JMP remain mutually distrustful of each other as Hadi prepares for his single-candidate referendum. Chairing an extraordinary session of the GPC, Saleh blamed Yemen’s stalemate and the GCC’s protracted negotiations on the JMP.

“We have signed the initiative and its implementation mechanisms and became part of the coalition government. It is imperative that everyone cooperate. Why did this not happen earlier? It was due to stubbornness, arrogance, and the wrong notion that some people thought they could twist the arms of others.”

From 7,000 miles away, the UN’s Ban Ki-moon made himself the third secretary-general to congratulate Hadi on issuing his decrees (at the order of Saleh). Commending “the political leadership of Vice President Hadi, Prime Minister Basandwa and the cooperation from all sides that enable the timely formation of this Government,” the secretary-general continues to alienate Yemen’s revolutionary ranks by fraternizing with Saleh’s regime and the JMP. The UN’s own news release disseminated propaganda on Yemen’s single-candidate election: “Under the accord, President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to hand over his powers to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi and presidential elections are to be held within the next three months.”

Ban also deployed his envoy, Jamal Benomar, to oversee the GCC’s oversight in Yemen. Five months of negotiations with Saleh’s regime have cast Benomar into an unpopular figure, and the envoy remains disconnected from Yemen’s pro-democracy movement and national actors. After landing in Aden to assess a volatile political situation in the south, Benomar remarked that Yemen’s political process must “include constituencies who were not directly involved in the negotiations that led to the agreement... These include the Houthis, the southern movement and the youth. Serious effort will have to be made to address their grievances.”

Were the GCC and UN serious in their political efforts, they would have included these political forces from the beginning. Instead these blocks were further marginalized by Saleh’s regime, the JMP and involved foreign powers. Local reports also claim that Benomar will attempt to reconcile Saleh and his defected general, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar (highly unpopular with the youth and Houthis). Contrary to removing both unpopular figures from the country, mediation would seek to keep them on the inside.

Benomar’s presence highlights the importance of Saleh’s international coordination: Yemen’s strongman of 33 years still controls the international community’s levers, not Yemen’s protesters. Children needed to forcefully interrupt Benomar’s political meetings to get his attention, and the envoy would brief Saleh on his way out of Sana’a. This sequence transmits the overt message - legitimized by the UN - that Saleh remains “The Boss” in Yemen.

These collective political maneuvers add up to another political victory for the strongman. In contrast to Bashar al-Assad’s refusal to cooperate with a generous proposal from the Arab League, Saleh is “cooperating” with the international community to “restore peace.” International meetings have clear value beyond the political realm; state media broadcasts all of its meetings with foreign ambassadors, wearing them like badges of honor.

Noticeably absent is any overt U.S. praise for Yemen’s “new” government (beyond a VOA editorial). Although William Hague, the UK’s Foreign Minister, issued the standard, “I welcome the formation of the new Government of Yemen under the leadership of Vice-President Hadi,” President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prefer the sidelines. Of course the Obama administration has already approved “Hadi’s government” through the GCC’s initiative.

GCC and UN diplomats are now cleaning up Washington’s dirty work, as usual, while U.S. officials patrol in their best impression of a Special Operative “trainer.”

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