Yemen: Protesters Reject Compromise as Saleh Clings to Power

Article Summary
Recent estimates claim that the national wealth stolen by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh could amount to US $70 billion. Meanwhile, Saleh is doing everything he can to delay his departure from power, benefiting from the leverage of regime loyalists who are still present in every branch of government. Yemen’s revolutionaries, however, are not letting up the pressure in the streets, creating an increasingly clear distinction between the conciliatory position of the government "opposition" and the far more intransigent views held by demonstrators, writes Nahla Chahal.

They say it is 70 billion dollars! A few years ago, there were American estimates that he had about 30 billion dollars in US hard currency in his accounts. This is what Ali Abdullah Saleh has "earned" since taking power in 1978. If the man had owned vast Texas oil fields or had he been one of the biggest global traders - even if the merchandise were drugs - he would not have been able to "save" such a large sum.

In our countries, being in power is the way to wealth. And contrary to popular belief, this “habit” is old. This habit is the cause of [our countries’] rampant and inherited misery, not only in economic terms, but in everything. Ending this habit is the way to betterment, because when being in power no longer leads to wealth, good governance follows. Institutions would become [more effective] and objective. The concepts of public service, responsibility, accountability, humility and other necessary human values would flourish... But let us return to Saleh. Let us assume that these estimates are exaggerated. Let us assume that the man's wealth - what he looted from the country - amounts to one tenth of the estimates. That would still be an enormous sum. According to reports by UN agencies, Yemen ranks 151st in human development. Only a handful of countries are in worse shape.

Today, Saleh is negotiating to get immunity for himself, his sons, his cousins, and his friends. He is requesting to be allowed to depart Yemen in all his splendor and without any accountability for the looting and the repression he committed. He thinks that merely agreeing to leave is a concession that exempts him from all accountability. How strange are our rulers' concepts of a settlement - that is, if they are forced to settle at all. To them, it is the least of all evils. But rarely do they resort to it. Most of the time they are deprived of that option and end up dead... along with their sons, cousins, and friends!

Ali Abdullah Saleh intended to hand over power to his son, Brigadier General Ahmad, the leader of the Republican Guard - the army unit that is the most powerful, best armed, and most ready to suppress [the people] for [Ahmad's] sake. One year after the explosion of anger in Yemen and [Saleh] is dodging and maneuvering and flouting the obligations he was forced to announce his commitment to. All the time he has been saying something and doing something else. His closest allies in the region and the world have become fed up with him. He became a burden threatening their interests in [Yemen]. But he is located in an important geographic, economic, and political location, and if that country is abandoned, it would be like following the logic of the tyrants.

Then on November 23, [Saleh] was forced to sign the Gulf Initiative after it has been amended at his request. A transitional government was formed under Mohammed Basindwa who is part of the "opposition lite" - because he was, until recently, a regime loyalist. Mansour Hadi, Saleh's vice president, was appointed as chargé d'affaires of the presidency while Saleh remained president, but only nominally. This confused the US administration which was at a loss over what to call him. It decided not to receive him for [medical] treatment because he insisted that his visit be conducted according to presidential protocol!

An early presidential election is scheduled for February 21 with Mr. Mansour Hadi as the only candidate, by consensus. But in spite of all the arrangements favoring Saleh, the road to that day seems long and fraught with peril.

Then finally, the Council of Ministers voted on an immunity "law" and, in a few days, will send it to parliament for approval. This law is a recognition by Saleh that he has done something wrong. Otherwise he would not require immunity. Saleh, like [the street rioters], is taking the country hostage to improve the conditions of his future.

But this arrangement is starting to encounter obstacles, the first of which is from within the regime. Saleh continues to threaten a crackdown on demonstrators. He stirs up his supporters, presides over his political party's meetings, and scolds Mansour Hadi, who had become so fed up with Saleh that he was about to resign had one of the sheikhs of the Gulf Cooperation Council - the arrangement's architect - not whispered in his ear. As for the prime minister, he is touring the Gulf countries lamenting that his government has inherited an "empty coffer."

[With regards to the immunity law], the UN Commissioner for Human Rights has objected to that dangerous international legal precedent. But the Yemenis revolted against all this arrogance. They are refusing to make things easy to the point of diluting [the revolution], which they feel would threaten the future of the country and waste an opportunity to fix its problems. They are worried because all of Saleh's agents - in the military, the security organs, and state employees - are still present, and his men occupy key positions. But the revolutionaries have started expelling some of them through street actions.

[It is amazing] how patient the Yemenis are. They have been patient for a whole year in the middle of a revolution. This has resulted in a crystallization of Yemeni nationalism, as demonstrated by the [protesters’] refusal to be drawn into an armed conflict (and this in a society that is armed to the teeth). Saleh's forces were deliberately attacking them to draw them into a fight. [But the revolutionaries] were able to organize a large and continuous popular uprising that did not disappoint. It included all professional sectors and spread throughout the entire country, despite [Yemen’s] divisions and its tribal and regional power structures, which could be used for domination or secession. We saw Tawakkul Karman [a Nobel Peace Laureate and one of the leaders of the Yemeni revolutions] and thousands of women participate in the revolution on an ongoing basis. We also saw dozens of women assume leadership roles. This is a dream come true!

Opposition parties represented by the Joint Meeting Parties have been overly indulgent in proposing this immunity law while the people loudly rejected it. It seems this institutional opposition wants [to deprive Saleh of every excuse] for not leaving [peacefully]. So they are making things easier for him to leave, hoping that this will mark a sharp enough turn to begin a new phase. They are also giving the proper weight to the political and tribal divisions that helped Saleh gain influence, and which for three and a half decades constituted his source of wealth. But there are reasons to believe that they are maintaining the popular pressure to deter Saleh from resorting to crime if he gets the chance. They are very aware that Saleh would like to extract yet more concessions, and even abrogate the agreement altogether if he could. They may also be maintaining popular pressure to block the slide towards compromise. Thus, the [revolutionary] cause is still to be settled in the streets.

Sign up for our Newsletter




Cookies help us deliver our services. By using them you accept our use of cookies. Learn more... X