Amidst the “Arab Spring” wave which brought about regime change in four Arab countries and took on its bloodiest form in a fifth – Syria – only one ruler took the opportunity to secure a safe exit from power, namely Ali Abdullah Saleh. Subsequently, he has earned the title of “former president” and has been able to return to his country to participate in the handover ceremony to inaugurate the new, legitimate leader of the country.
The case in each of the five countries is different than the rest; the surrounding circumstances and the power transfer process stem from the reality of local conditions. In the case of Yemen there was the added issue of its geographical proximity [to the Gulf], and hence a prominent regional organization – the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] – stood to be highly affected by a possible state of chaos in Yemen. Fortunately, the GCC was able – in cooperation with the United Nations [UN] – to find a power transfer formula, and hence we saw the former president leave the country before the presidential election and then return afterwards.
This Gulf plan – which also involved a UN special envoy – allowed the latest presidential elections to be conducted early, with the only candidate Abd Rabbuh Mansour al-Hadi winning with a high percentage of the vote. This meant that Yemen could officially move on from the era of Saleh – who had remained in his office as President of North Yemen and then unified Yemen for almost four decades – towards a new political era under the leadership of a new president and government, enjoying popular legitimacy and international recognition.
The transition will not be easy. Yemen faces many challenges ranging from the economy to security problems and Al Qaeda threats that can only prosper in chaos, to the problem of the south that requires political wisdom and patience to deal with the tension there.
As it appears, the main political parties, whether they accepted the GCC initiative or had reservations about it, have all recognized that a new era has arrived and it must be given an opportunity to face all these challenges. This is in order for the transition process to progress, which the presidential elections initiated smoothly.
The former president and his supporters must also accept this reality…the reality that their era has passed and that there is now a new era that they must give adequate space to, and not put obstacles in its way.
Therefore, heated statements such as those made by the former president recently, talking about a revolution of underdevelopment and thuggery, and attacking the government, saying that it does not know the ABCs of politics, do not benefit anyone, not even Saleh himself. Perhaps they are only attempts to pour oil on the fire and re-ignite the situation.
Since a scenario where the former president is not dead, in exile or in prison is an exceptional case in our region, considering the experiences of other global countries that have enjoyed peaceful transfers of power may prove useful. In such countries former presidents have devoted themselves to writing their memoirs or attending social or charity events, or giving lectures, all in a move away from everyday politics or commenting on their successors. In other words, they do not seek to have their time and the time of others, and this is the natural, peaceful circulation of power.
In Yemen, a transfer of power took place between the president and his deputy, and then early political elections were held. However, this cannot be described as a natural, peaceful circulation of power because the change only came after widespread protests of millions in the streets of the capital and other cities, bloody clashes and divisions within the army. Events even reached the extent of an attack or bombing that wounded the former president in his presidential palace, and killed a number of his senior aides. Afterwards there was no solution other than for the president himself to leave.
The former president’s statements talking about backwardness and thuggery may just be his way of venting anger, but with regards to his political party, the General People’s Congress [GPC], this will need the people’s votes at the next parliamentary elections if it wants to be an “important player in the internal equation”, as a party spokesman said. The former president’s statements do not serve his party’s interests, and are only a burden. There must be those in the GPC now who think that the party needs to choose a new leadership, and politics is not about being stubborn or holding personal loyalties.