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December 8, 2011
By James Gundun
An ongoing international crime spree is being committed in Yemen, where casualties mount into the thousands, and millions of pro-democracy protesters have no one to turn to other than themselves. Rather than isolate Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year regime, international actors have pursued cooperation in order to maintain regional influence across the Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa. Beyond its patronage of various tribal figures, Saudi Arabia operates an intelligence apparatus in conjunction with the CIA’s expanding grid. Washington seeks to duplicate Pakistan’s quasi-unilateral network inside Yemen.
Whom does one report to when national and international law has been corrupted?
On Yemen’s political front, the Arab League never checked in as the Saudi-bankrolled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) dipped into a non-member. Saleh’s foreign allies – all five veto-wielding members in the United Nations – then ordered the Security Council to legitimize a “unity government” through resolution 2014. In the middle of these maneuvers sits the Obama administration, a stubborn defender of Saleh’s regime. Roughly two weeks ago, after eight months of stalling, Yemen’s strongman finally yielded to a “power transfer” organized by the GCC and Western capitals. Rejected by youth and civil protesters since its introduction in April, the GCC’s initiative extends Saleh’s rule by 90 days and grants his family immunity from a twisted legacy of human rights abuses.
After signing the GCC’s initiative in Riyadh, an overt symbol of imperialism, Saleh promptly returned to Sana’a as President Barack Obama and UN officials praised his “decision.”
Yemen’s Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) responded, “The people of Yemen, and revolutionary youth, have no illusion about the consequence of the internationally celebrated signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism by President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the Saudi capital last week. The young Yemenis who voluntarily and peacefully took to the streets in pursuit of change and a better life have warned all those engaged in the GCC initiative negotiations that Saleh never keeps his word or honors agreements.”
The GCC’s proposal originally called for Saleh to transfer executive authority to his vice president of 17 years, Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, until an election could be held within three months. This unrealistic time-line has since been superseded by the impending charade of a single-candidate “election” – starring Hadi. Not only does Yemen’s vice president continue to take orders from Saleh, Western and Gulf powers expect him to lead a two-year transitional period and oversee a “unity” military council. Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) has redundantly received a portfolio that includes the Foreign and Defense Ministries; his son, Ahmed, and numerous relatives remain at their security posts.
Although the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) submitted of a list of candidates to oversee a “restructuring” of Saleh’s military command, sources with his GPC immediately pushed back against these recommendations.
Conversely, Washington has decided to “move on” from Saleh because the Pentagon, according to The Wall Street Journal, expanded ties with “a wider range of military commanders who could remain in positions of influence after Mr. Saleh’s exit.” Apparently Ahmed, commander of Saleh’s Republican Guard and a Pentagon liaison, has run out of uses. Trained and equipped by U.S. Special Forces to battle al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), his “counter-terrorism” unit spent the majority of 2011 spearheading a brutal crackdown against Yemen’s peaceful protesters. This ongoing development partly explains why Washington facilitated Saleh’s immunity through the GCC’s initiative.
Meanwhile the youth and civil protesters demonstrating across Yemen’s urban centers continue to vent their disapproval at the JMP. Widely viewed as self-interested “old politics,” the JMP has leveraged the GCC’s initiative to acquire Yemen’s premiership and half of the government’s cabinet. Subsequent outreach with the youth led to negligible cohesion; while some protesters reacted with cautious optimism after Riyadh’s ceremony, many others automatically oppose the JMP’s leadership as counterproductive. The Civic Coalition of Revolutionary Youth (CCYR) explained, “we reject any forces’ attempt to impose the initiative terms on the revolutionary Youth in the squares, and we call these forces to lift its control and monopoly in representation of the revolution and responsibly deal with youth demands.”
The combative weeks following Saleh’s meaningless signature have evaporated any hope lingering over the GCC’s current proposal. Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi recently declared, “Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime has not left Yemen and Saleh will not leave Yemen. He will remain a Yemeni citizen; he has the right to remain and play a political role through the General People’s Congress.”
In addition to the international community’s apathy in Yemen, mainstream media and analysts have generally shut their eyes to Washington’s tailspin. Most reports center around Saleh’s notorious duplicity, defected general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, interplay within the JMP’s Islah party, tribal divisions, the threat of civil war or AQAP. All of these factors deserve healthy doses of attention – particularly because two weighty blocs, the Houthi sect and Southern Movement, weren’t consulted within the GCC’s proposal – but not at the expense of Yemen’s pro-democracy movement. Furthermore, these issues are burying the narrative of international suppression to the point that many Americans subconsciously approve of U.S. policy.
The GCC’s lopsided terms fail to capture the suffocating nature of the international community’s injustice. Contrary to Yemen’s reputation as a terrorist hub, many Yemenis differentiate between the American people and the actions of their government. The country prides itself on being accessible to Westerners and protesters expected Obama to aid their struggle. His ongoing silence turned him into a quasi villain – a puppet of King Abdullah. Yemenis continue to protest under a thick veil of silence, reduced to the sidelines of America’s major speeches and blurred out of international reporting.
The GCC’s Western-backed initiative currently serves foreign powers as designed; far from supporting Yemen’s people, they seek to divide and conquer protesters through half-concessions. Perhaps the best evidence is found in Russia’s endorsement. Touting “the Yemeni model” as an alternative to Western and Arab pressure around Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed out, “All states, including those who have demanded to take some action against Syria, have taken a totally different approach towards Yemen, where negotiations on a peaceful plan proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council have lasted for months.”
Yet Saleh’s long-term prospects are less favorable. The weak-willed Hadi nearly exhausted himself keeping a grip on the country during Saleh’s summer absence, and ultimately lost a power struggle with his son. Forced to operate from his own home as Ahmed ruled from the presidential palace, a constant flow of reports described an exhausted Hadi with limited control Saleh’s personal security forces. On at least one occasion, rumors speculated that Hadi had resigned and was preparing to leave the country. He may not last 90 days as chairman of the GPC and JMP’s “unity” government and Hadi will only survive if he obeys orders from above.
Instead of relieving Yemen’s longstanding tensions, political divisions and general instability will be further compounded by a sham election. The GCC initiative’s likely outcome is continual fighting at the political and military levels, generating a potential collapse. Over 100 people have been killed since the passage of UN resolution 2017, including at least two dozen in Taiz’s recent outbreak of violence. Mohammed Basindwa, the JMP’s nominee for Prime Minster, denounced the government’s assault as “an intentional act to wreck the agreement.” The Obama administration has yet to respond.
Chairing his GPC meeting as usual, Saleh did take time over the weekend to blame Taiz’s bloodshed on the JMP.
Foreign powers will eventually scramble to patch Yemen’s revolution again, once more boosting its downward spiral. This situation, dire from a political and humanitarian viewpoint, also marks an embarrassing episode of U.S. diplomacy. The Obama administration’s (and Europe’s) response displays no evidence of the “smart power” espoused by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yemen’s improvement isn’t guaranteed by removing Saleh from the equation, but the country cannot move forward so long as he remains an ally of America.
- James Gundun is a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst. His blog, The Trench, covers the underreported areas of U.S. foreign policy. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. ollow him on Twitter: @RealistChannel.