Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 April 2011
Issue No. 1044
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The big guns

US, Saudi and GCC "mediation" is poised to bring Yemen's three months of angst to a close, says Nasser Arrabyee

Click to view caption
Protesters march during a demonstration demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz. Yemeni forces loyal to Saleh opened fire at an anti-government protest march on Sunday in the capital Sanaa

At the request of Germany, the 15- nation UN Security Council met late Tuesday to discuss a way forward for a US-backed and Saudi- led GCC plan for a smooth and peaceful transfer of the power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh in a short and specified time.

President Saleh's advisor Abdel-Karim Al-Eryani chaired a meeting with the GCC foreign ministers in Abu Dhabi late Tuesday for discussing how Saleh wants the transfer of power to happen.

Earlier in the week, representatives of the opposition met in Riyadh with the GCC ministers and told them clearly the plan should mean the stepping down of Saleh, not only a transfer of power. The opposition did not refuse the possibility of giving guarantees for Saleh and his relatives not to be tried after stepping down.

From what was leaked to journalists here in Sanaa about the plan being discussed now by all parties is the following: both Saleh and General Ali Mohsen, who sided with the opposition, should leave Yemen after Saleh hands his powers to a deputy agreed by all. Then President Saleh should declare his stepping down within a month after appointing a new deputy. Saleh should transfer his presidential powers to the new deputy within a week after signing the deal that results from the GCC plan.

Saleh is said to have requested that the new deputy should be either Ali Mohamed Mujawar, prime minister of the current acting government or Rashad Al-Alimi, deputy prime minister for security and defense affairs.

After appointing a new deputy and handing over powers to him, Saleh should submit his resignation to the parliament and should have a guarantee that he would not be put on trial.

Saleh's son Ahmed, commander of republican guards, his nephew Amar Saleh, commander of national security agency, and his nephew Yehia Saleh, commander of central security forces, should leave the country after transferring power to the new president.

The new president should issue a decree to form an opposition-led national unity government for running the country until elections are held. Saleh and Mohsen should leave Yemen after that and stay outside Yemen during the transitional period. Finally, the opposition JMPs and their young people in the sit-in squares should end all demonstrations.

The pro-and anti-Saleh protests are continuing. The anti-Saleh protests want Saleh out without any conditions, and those who support Saleh want him to finish his constitutional term that ends in September 2013. However, the US, EU, GCC seem to be supporting an immediate transfer of power and stepping down to avoid a civil war.

Tribal leaders are also exerting continuous efforts to mediate between Saleh and Mohsen whose rival troops are deployed in the capital Sanaa and could ignite a war at any moment.

Adel Al-Shujaa, chairman of Future Centre for Researches, a local NGO, urged all parties to do their best for ending the crisis and avoiding bloodshed through dialogue and compromise. "Refusing dialogue means wanting to take power by force, and this means overthrowing the constitution, and returning to square one," said Al-Shujaa.

The civil war that might break out if the GCC plan fails would not only affect the weak Yemen but also the GCC countries and US and EU. So, they seem to be doing their best to avert a civil war and at the same time making sure the new regime continues fighting Al-Qaeda.

An expert said that Al-Qaeda could strengthen in Yemen after collapse of the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. "The new regime will take time to become as tough as Saleh on Al-Qaeda," said Said Obaid Al-Jimhi, chairman of the Al-Jimhi Centre for Studies, a local think tank specialised in Al-Qaeda affairs. "Al-Qaeda leaders think Saleh was very hard on them."

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is now playing politics more than terrorism, taking as much advantage as possible from the three-month old unrest, according to Al-Jimhi, the author of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. "They know that any terrorist operation would be in the interest of President Saleh, so they are turning to politics now," said Al-Jimhi in an interview on Monday.

AQAP would likely keep silent if the Islamist opposition party Islah, that leads a coalition of Socialists and Nasserites, ruled after the semi-secular regime of President Saleh. "Not because they agree with the Islamists of Islah, but to take a while to prove to their sympathisers that these Islamists are more corrupt than Saleh as they always say," said Al-Jimhi.

Because AQAP now is playing politics more than anything else, it does not show any anger over the statements of the Islamists that they would be more serious partners in combating terrorism than Saleh when they rule. The opposition apparently wants to reassure the West and the US in particular, although locally they play down the threats of Al-Qaeda and keep saying it was made by the regime. "AQAP would start fighting the new regime, whether Islamists or whoever, when this new regime starts to prevent them from fighting the Americans," said Al-Jimhi.

Surprisingly, Saleh is still manoeuvring and arguing despite being embattled by all these problems. On Saturday, he said that women have all rights and freedoms like men after he previously angered a lot of women by saying it's not Islamic for women to sit in and march with men.

The opposition women accused Saleh of offending their honour considering, such religious advice from Saleh as a sign of doubt about their moral decency. "We don't doubt our women, but we are afraid for them from bad men," Saleh told thousands of women supporters who came to his palace to express their support for him.

"I was just wondering how [the Islamists] allow their women to be with the protesters in the streets while they say always it's forbidden for women to be with men in any place," Saleh said. "They exploit women only for votes and not to participate in government, but we want women to participate with men as ministers and ambassadors."

After Saleh's controversial statements on women, Islamist extremists started to prevent liberal women from marching with men. At least four women activists were beaten up and eight men were arrested by extremists nearby Sanaa University.

"Extremists from the Islamist party, Islah, and soldiers from Ali Mohsen's forces have mercilessly beaten up the women and men who were marching together late Saturday near the university," said human right activist Abdel-Rashid Al-Faqih. "No activists in the history of modern Yemen have been beaten up like these women activists," said Al-Faqih who is also chairman of the Dialogue Forum, a local NGO.

The anti-Saleh Islamist protesters tried to impose their way on other liberal protesters from the very beginning of the three-month old protests.

The Islamist became even harder on the liberal protesters after the Islamist- oriented General Mohsen declared his support for the anti-Saleh protests. The troops of Mohsen help the extremists by putting unwanted protesters in prisons.

Human right groups strongly condemned the "barbaric attacks" on women by the extremists. This division between the protesters was exploited by Saleh's supporters.

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