Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Grant him immunity | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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There is no universal means of change that can be applied to all societies; each country has its own circumstances and complexities. The true genius of political forces that deal with the moment of change lies in their understanding of local complexities and their ability to create policies that can deal with them, in order to emerge from the shackles of the past, rendering the bygone era as history, and advancing towards the future with the least possible losses.

Last year the spark of change began in Tunisia and moved quickly on to Egypt, where [in both cases] the head of the regime fell quickly, and in a semi-peaceful manner. The Egyptian and Tunisian masses provided the impetus for the events that followed in Yemen, Libya and Syria. The perception was that the scenario could be repeated in the same way, but events took on a different course in these countries. Libya entered into a bloody conflict that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, and the head of the regime ended up being killed in the manner that we all saw. Meanwhile, Yemen entered a different path resembling a bloody bargain, where the regime was outwardly displaying political flexibility on the one hand, yet using excessive violence on the other. External initiatives to resolve the situation, most prominently the Gulf initiative, reached an almost dead end, suggesting that Yemen could take on a more bloody and violent course, more dangerous to the region as a whole. As for Syria, conflict continues unabated between the regime and its own people.

In the cases of Yemen and Syria, there are some parallels that make the question of change and the handover of institutions from the state to the street, as happened in Tunisia and Egypt, more difficult. Most importantly there is the dominance of one family over the keys to the security services and the military, which is controlled by their relatives, meaning some military units are more familial than professional. In Yemen there is another dimension that is different to Syria; tribal loyalties, where some tribes, so far it seems, are still loyal to the President.

Therefore the protests and demonstrations in Yemen have remained throughout the long months in a continuous process of attack and retreat, punctuated by severe bloody confrontations with the regime’s forces without a final conclusion. Then the Gulf initiative, supported by the United Nations and Western countries, entered the scene to try to find a way out, under a formula whereby President Saleh would be immune from prosecution as long as he transferred power to his deputy. However, reality suggests that he still has the keys to governance and his forces in his hands, thus hindering the process of a smooth transfer of power.

This week, the road map developed within the framework of the Gulf initiative has entered a crucial stage of discussions taking place in parliament, regarding the law that grants Ali Abdullah Saleh immunity from prosecution, with the aim to facilitate his final exit from the scene and for him to become history after that.

We can understand the reasons behind the floundering establishment of the law, already approved by the Yemeni government before the parliament. The Yemeni masses have a strong desire to prosecute the President and bring him to trial because of what has happened and those who have died. Politicians and parties in parliament are aware that immunity, even if it is not satisfactory to some, means they can exit from the crisis and avoid being drawn into something that resembles a tribal and civil war. However, the members of parliament are also aware that the street can turn its anger towards them as well.

The Yemeni opposition politicians have done well to talk publicly about their support for the immunity law, given that this reduces the sense of damage or concession in avoiding a civil war. The role of the politician in such circumstances is to talk according to what his conscience dictates, rather than merely provoke emotions or say what he thinks will be popular.

Building for the future is more important than the desire for revenge. As for holding those responsible to account, this will happen in one way or another, because immunity will not exempt Ali Abdullah Saleh from his rightful place in history, and history’s perception of his era. True accountability would be to take advantage of what has happened and prevent a reoccurrence of the circumstances that led to such a situation in the first place, through legislation and laws that will establish a new system.