Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Yemen: Distracting the opposition | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Over three decades, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled Yemen, not through his money or security apparatus, but most often by the tribal and sectarian balances of his own creation, which he exploited to remain in power. Saleh delivered a hard blow to his opposition when he deviously accepted an offer from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to mediate and end the crisis. In fact, the President got exactly what he wanted, as the bulk of the opposition rushed to reject the GCC initiative, simply because Saleh had accepted it, and thus the opposition seemed divided. This way Saleh bought himself extra time, and portrayed himself to the Gulf states as a man willing to cooperate, whereas the opposition appeared fragmented with their continuous rejection of offers. Saleh portrayed the opposition as a group of chaotic parties pushing Yemen to the brink of a civil war.

Perhaps President Saleh does not want to abandon the presidency no matter what guarantees he is offered, and is he is maneuvering to remain in power. The opposition has fallen into the trap laid by the President, who tried to persuade them to meet with the Gulf mediators. In fact, the greatest concern is not whether Saleh remains in power, but whether Yemen collapses or not.

In order to understand the President’s mentality, and how he is managing this crisis, let me tell you a story about when he interrupted a meeting held at the US embassy in Sana’a. When the Yemeni revolution erupted two months ago, different parties met to discuss mechanisms for reaching a solution to the crisis, in a way that would ensure a peaceful exchange of power with the departure of President Saleh. Without an appointment or invitation, the President suddenly interrupted the meeting and delivered a speech, in which he pledged to step down, provided that his arch rival Major General Ali Mohsen would not assume the presidency. The President hoped that Ali Mohsen and his followers would refuse this condition, so he could portray the Yemeni opposition as divided, in front of the US ambassador. However, Ali Mohsen was quick to promise he would not run for the presidency, and would not assume the post. In the days that followed, Saleh never spoke of this condition again, yet put forth other proposals to justify remaining in power.

Today, the responsibility shouldered by the Yemeni opposition is great, and it should not regard the Egyptian revolution as a model to follow, due to differences in the social structure, and tribal and sectarian balances between Yemen and Egypt. If Saleh was to step down, the Yemeni people would benefit significantly. This may not happen as easily as in Egypt or Tunisia, unless a peaceful solution is achieved under the auspices of significant parties in Yemen and its regional milieu, namely the Gulf region.

These countries have previously received those ousted by power battles in Yemen. For instance in the 1960s, Saudi Arabia hosted the family of ousted Imam al-Badr Hamiduddin, before the Jeddah agreement was signed later on between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemeni rebels. At the end of the secessionist war (between North and South Yemen) in the 1990s, the Sultanate of Oman hosted the defeated leaders from South Yemen; including President al-Beidh and Prime Minister al-Attas. Thus, if Saleh was granted a safe exit it would not be something new to Yemen; but would help to ensure the country does not transform into another Libya.

The Yemeni opposition has rejected the GCC offer because it stipulates that Saleh will have to relinquish rule himself, rather than be forced out. However, this reflects an over-emphasis on the use of vocabulary, without giving consideration to more significant issues such as the safety of Yemen, its people and unity. In fact, the GCC states cannot insult a head of state because they are not a Yemeni party, nor are they in a state of war with Saleh. The Gulf States are simply seeking to provide an exit from power, in a manner and language that Saleh will accept, and this will ensure the self determination of the Yemeni people in the long run.

However, some opposition members are unable to look beyond linguistic formalities, and are unable to recognize the danger. They cannot imagine the confrontations that would emerge in Yemen if Saleh declined to step down, and fortified himself amongst his supporters, as Gaddafi has done, and as is also happening now in Somalia.