This is the third time that the Gulf Initiative – which has strong international support – regarding the peaceful transition of power in Yemen has been disrupted. This reflects the state of confusion in Yemen more than it does the strength of the Yemeni authority, which is well aware that it is living its final days, whilst the people in the street know that they must prepare for a post-Saleh Yemen.
The latest disruption of the initiative, the day before yesterday, was the most dramatic, as it necessitated the rescue of the GCC Secretary-General and other diplomats by helicopter from the UAE embassy. The agreement had been signed by the ruling party and the opposition, only for President Saleh to return and change his mind, asking for another signing to take place at the presidential palace, this time in the attendance of those he had previously described as bandits and opportunists seeking power, as if the history of gaining power in Yemen is not full of coups and bloodshed.
The reasons that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has given for postponing the signings and his last-minute changes of mind indicates that he is not serious, or that he is using stall tactics in the face of regional and international pressure, waiting for something to happen, most likely the outbreak of civil war and chaos. This is the same scenario that was repeated in several Arab countries that witnessed popular uprisings, and the implicit slogan that has always been raised by the heads of state is: “It’s either me, or chaos and devastation await you”.
In all such cases, the leader that the people want to remove is a prisoner of the conviction that the world will end without him, and that the people love him except for a small group of saboteurs who have played with peoples’ minds, whilst the majority want him to stay. The head of state believes this at a time when all evidence and facts on the ground signal the end of an era, and the page of history turning, so that the country can build its future.
In the case of Yemen, all the evidence over the last five years indicates that the final chapter of this era is being written. There are problems of every kind: a strong protest movement in the south, a Huthi rebellion in the north, as well as the existence of terrorist and extremist organizations in certain areas, particularly the south. In addition to this, the original problems in the country have been exacerbated, and this problem is the failure of the Yemeni government to engage in any real kind of development which would allow the people to feel any difference in their daily lives. Most importantly, the Yemeni people have no conviction in the ability of the ruling regime to provide real solutions to the problems of society.
This was a state of affairs that held all the indication that an explosion was forthcoming, and all that was required was the spark. This spark came following the outbreak of a wave of Arab revolutions, and the success of two countries in toppling their rulers. However in Yemen this situation has dragged on to become practically the longest Arab revolution. The revolution in Yemen also took on another dimension with the division that occurred in the military, between the forces that decided to join the revolution, and those that remained loyal to the governing regime. This is a inherently dangerous situation that the Gulf Initiative is trying to avoid by securing a peaceful transition of power, in return for guarantees that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will not be subject to legal prosecution.
The situation in Yemen is obscure and confusing, especially after the most recent suspension of the Gulf Initiative. The President warns of civil war, saying that the opposition would be responsible for this should it occur. However this is no reason for despair or for diplomatic efforts to cease, because fundamentally speaking the key figures in power, and perhaps even the Yemeni president himself, realize that the curtain is coming down on their era, and whatever obstacles stand in the way, their only option is to leave. Even the option of war would not be so easy to achieve or guarantee, because allegiance [to the president] needs to be based upon strong legitimacy otherwise people will look for legitimacy elsewhere. Therefore we are in the final scene, although we do not know how the curtain will come down, whether this will be smoothly or violently. What is important is that the traditional opposition forces [in Yemen], as well as the non-traditional opposition forces, namely the youth, have a vision for what they will do post-Saleh, and how to overcome the social crises that almost divided the country.