February 7, 2012

Yemen’s Rumor Machine Outputs Disturbing Threats

As inherent elements of human interaction, hearsay, speculation and rumor-mongering are unavoidable byproducts of national and international politics. Developing any sort of ranking is complicated by the universality of gossip. However Yemen’s political scene is held to a high standard by Yemenis and non-Yemenis alike, and the internal/external coverage of its revolution challenges all observers to separate truth from fiction.

Ali Abdullah Saleh’s six-week odyssey from Sana’a to New York City (he first declared his intent to travel in late December) is a recent example. Saleh would emerge, as rumored, from Central Park’s Ritz Carlton on Sunday. He is scheduled to return to Sana’a before February 21st, when the international community will stage an election to promote his long-time vice president and newly-anointed Field Marshall, Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi.

Two other disturbing rumors that surfaced over the last three days also deserve greater attention than they received. The first traces to a local NewYemen interview with Hassan Zaid, secretary-general of the oppositional al-Haq party. Zaid’s Shia-oriented group forms one of many cogs in the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Yemen’s established but unpopular political opposition. Hoping to squeeze Saleh’s family out of power and fill his void, JMP leaders cooperated with the regime and involved foreign powers (U.S. and Saudi Arabia) by signing a power-sharing agreement known as the Gulf-Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative.

The deal is considered a success by Saleh, the JMP, Washington and Riyadh, rendering it highly unpopular in Yemen’s streets and outlying governorates.

Taking into consideration the deep-rooted international interests at stake, Zaid’s claim that certain powers threatened the JMP to sign or face “liquidation” still appears unrealistic. Saudi tanks are frequently “spotted” encroaching from the north, movement that has yet to develop on the ground. Zaid would compare the situation to Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Bahrain, a reaction infused by his personal involvement with the northern Houthi’s “national project.” The Houthis have waged an asymmetric conflict against Saleh’s regime for the last eight years, dragging Saudi and U.S. forces into the battle against their autonomous movement, and this conflict continues to intensify through Saudi (Salafi) proxies. Conversely, the suppression of Yemen’s capital proposes an unlikely escalation in warfare that would ultimately fuel the revolution.

The U.S. and international response to Yemen’s revolution has been consistently hostile from the beginning, but Zaid’s claim is exploring the limits of speculation.

The JMP also hedges its political stance through double-talk, and Zaid’s comments imply that the JMP “had no choice” except to sign the GCC’s unpopular initiative. After predicting that “some factions of the Shi'ite movement” will perceive February 21st’s “election” as "negative" - the Houthis express unilateral resistance to the GCC’s deal - he believed that Hadi “will gain legitimacy” through the internationally-approved transition. Hadi, the consensus candidate of Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) and the JMP, launched his victory lap on Tuesday, declaring, "This election represents the best way out of the political crisis that could have turned into a civil war.”

His rhetoric emulates the international community’s false choice between sharing power and civil war, between security and democracy. This platform is literally anti-revolutionary - the revolution cannot be allowed to occur at all. Some Yemeni protesters have resigned themselves to moving the revolution forward through this process.

Many others continue to protest its imposed terms and debate the consequences of a boycott.

The hearsay of an anonymous Yemeni official, on the other hand, must be taken at face value until further notice. This minister claims that Washington “will not tolerate” attempts to “upset” Hadi’s selection, an assertion with mountains of evidence to provide confirmation. Whether the official takes orders from the GPC or JMP isn’t reported under the condition of anonymity, but he told Reuters after meeting with U.S. officials, "The American administration told representatives of (both sides within the unity government) that... the U.N. Security Council will strongly confront any attempts to keep Hadi from being elected as the country's president.”

Given that Western and Gulf forces did drop the GCC’s power-sharing initiative onto Yemen’s revolutionaries, this rumor has already graduated to truth-hood.
Many sources and factors indicated that the JMP knew it would jeopardize its international influence by opposing the GCC’s deal. This pressure reduced any incentive to reject favorable terms for the bloc.

Add the fact that Reuters has connected to Saleh’s circle, and no reason exists to doubt its reporting in this particular case. Washington and Riyadh need Hadi too much to allow another candidate emerge from within the JMP (such as Islah heavyweight Hamid al-Ahmar) or off Yemen’s streets. They arranged this transition from the beginning, first proposing Hadi’s ascendance in April, in order to maintain political hegemony and keep their military channels online. The UN is now going through the “trouble” of staging a one-man election, when millions of dollars is a bargain to pull Yemen’s levers. If Hadi were upset by some fluke, the international community is liable to intervene and restore the status quo.

The depths of the UNSC’s duplicity is revealed in its latest statement, what amounts to a silent proclamation of Hadi’s “rule.”
“We the Ambassadors of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the European Union (EU), wish to reiterate to the people of Yemen our full commitment to the political transition process taking place on the basis of the November 2011 GCC Agreement and in the framework of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2014 (2011). The 21 February Interim Presidential Elections are an important step. We call upon all the political parties, military authorities, tribal and regional leaders, youth and non-governmental civil society actors to work together to ensure that the elections are as inclusive as possible and take place without violence and in a constructive spirit of cooperation.
International pressure on the JMP is real, just as it crushes Yemen’s persistent revolutionaries. A more urgent question is gauging the degree that foreign actors are willing to interfere.

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