Saleh: Is this goodbye?

Just a quick post today as I try to make sense of the events in Yemen over the past 24 hours. Late last night, it was announced that President Saleh has accepted the terms of a GCC plan that would see him relinquish power within 30 days. Although this initially seems to be a victory for the protesters, the situation remains far from clear-cut.

What is the GCC plan?

According to Iona Craig:

under the latest draft, Yemen’s parliament would grant Saleh legal protection from prosecution. The president would submit his resignation within 30 days and hand power to his vice president, who would call for new presidential elections.

Potential sticking points

Saleh is an incredibly canny political operator. Whilst this latest announcement could signify an acceptance that his time is finally up, it could also be a last ditch attempt to split the protesters and formal opposition parties. Assuming it’s the former, there remain a number of problems with the GCC deal:

  • The timeframe: although Saleh would remain at the helm for 30 days, a new government would be formed within a week of the deal being signed. This could give Saleh a good deal of leverage during the transition: despite important defections from the army and ruling party, large swathes of the political elite remain indebted to him.
  • Parliament: under the terms of the deal, parliament would have the power to accept or reject Saleh’s resignation. This condition could yet provide his get-out-of-jail-free card. The overwhelming majority of parliament is drawn from Yemen’s ruling party, the GPC. As fully paid-up members of Saleh’s patronage networks, most of these individuals owe both their positions and their livelihoods to his continued support (never a good position from which to make an impartial decision). Should parliament reject the resignation, Saleh could potentially cling onto power. Pointing to ‘popular’ support and even a renewed legitimacy, he might recycle a tactic from 2006 when he reneged on a previous promise not to run for re-election.
  • The family: Reports have suggested that the future of Saleh’s family has been an important sticking point in negotiations over his departure. After 38 years at the top, his sons and extended family are firmly embedded in the country’s political life: whilst the Republican Guard and Special Forces are under the control of his son, Ahmed, his personal protection force  is led by nephew, Tariq. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg and his dependents are present in all levels of the political system. Over the next 30 days, Saleh will presumably have a good deal of time to cut last minute deals and guarantee their positions for the future.
  • Immunity: Whilst parts of the official opposition may settle for an immunity clause, it is unlikely that many of the protesters will accept such an option. Saleh’s bloody repression of the country’s northern al-Huthi rebellion and southern secessionist movement has led some to label him a war criminal. In adition, the last 3 months have seen over 130 protesters killed at the hands of his security forces. Such brutality will not be easily forgotten.

In addition, the plan calls for the JMP to halt demonstrations. This will be difficult: not only would the party struggle to  stop unaffiliated protesters from continuing to demonstrate – indeed, the capacity to mobilise large numbers without formal political organisation has been one of the uprising’s greatest strengths – but it would even have difficulty controlling its own members. The past few months have seen an increasing disconnect between the JMP’s young activists and its leadership. Many of the former have felt increasingly betrayed by the latter’s tacit alliance with the regime, reinforcing its preference for coexistence over confrontation. It is hard to see why the younger activists would suddenly end their participation in the demonstrations when there is so much left to achieve. This battle remains far from over.

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One comment

  1. Jay Ulfelder

    Did I hear right that the GCC plan also leaves election management and state resources in the incumbents’ hands through the transition? If so, I would expect that to be a non-starter for the opposition — especially the groups not currently organized into parties. That would tilt the elections strongly against them.

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