Political Analysis

Political Disputes Move to Yemen’s Streets

What faces Yemen nowadays is clearly far less dynamic and widespread than what happened in Tunisia and what is going in Egypt. The ongoing political problem threatens the future of the current and future generations even more than the civil war in the summer of 1994 and the six wars of Sa’ada.

Indeed, fighting al-Qaeda and repressing the Southern movement’s campaign to secede may have less value in the government’s perspective than the ongoing disputes with the opposition parties.

Politicians, diplomats, and international observers are interpreting the political situation in Yemen as an increasingly complex mess of party infighting.

Last week, President Ali Abdullah Saleh met with the military and security officers for the third annual conference of its kind. During his speech, the President was actively warning and conciliatory in his remarks.

Since December of last year, the government has decided to break all deals with the opposition parties to continue the democratic process for the upcoming parliamentary election scheduled for April 27th. The action has raised deep misgivings on the dialogue between the government and the opposition parties, who complain of the nonexistence of transparency and lack of faith in the government’s ability to make change.

The daily meeting of President Saleh with the various types of political players, businessmen, unions, local and international allies has made the head of Yemen quite exhausted of the ugly game with the opposition who, in his view, never respect any proposed deal for the future of democracy and the multiparty system.

Friendly diplomacy between the two parties ceased ultimately, and the language of threats is a common strategy of using the street to prove their claims and to manifest their apparent disdain for the stability and progress of Yemen.

President Saleh repeatedly refused to allow his adversaries’ desire for chaos and the cheap exploitation of poor people’s needs and emotions to advance political agendas.

“The opposition wants power without elections,” said Saleh during the security conference. We have proposed that the presidential term be for two rounds without the possibility of renewal, and it’s disgusting to hear the talk of inheritance of Yemen.

“Those who call people to go into the streets want to fight investment and increase unemployment, which would increase the desire of the individual citizen for revenge against the government,” said Saleh.

“We are a democratic country and the people enjoy full freedom and no one can compare Yemen to Tunisia. The constitutional amendments are a proposal from the governmental to the public, and are subject to a vote.

“We postponed the elections for two years in order to allow the [opposition] joint meeting parties (JMP) to discuss their position with their members and now they are calling for a the third year of delays,” the President concluded, asserting that the conduct of elections is his presidential duty.

The military and security institutions are tasked with protecting Yemen, and it will need to face any incidence of looting or militia activity should protests turn more violent.

“Yemen has suffered under the period of the imamate and is now paying the dues of democracy to continue in such a complicated community in which there are a range of many personal interests,” the president continued.  We honestly invite the opposition leaders for a TV debate for people to know who is violating the law and never concede their commitments or adapt their views.”

President Saleh said that he would request from the people to forgiveness in case he committed a mistake or did not achieve his mission. “Only God is perfect,” he declared.

“For the people in Radfan, al-Dhalea, and Abyan, these people will leave and run outside like those who had to run in the summer of 1994,” he continued.

“There is no problem with the quota system and the parliament and Shura council are left for people to decide what they need. We are not a Sultanate, Imamate or Sheikhdom. We are a democratic country and that is resolute in the 26 revolution and the 14th of October revolution too.”

In response to the president’s speech, the opposition parties rejected Mr. Saleh’s tone and accused him of muddling the facts. Hamid al-Ahmar, the head of the opposition JMP coalition, has appeared on an interview with Suhail private Yemeni satellite channel, which he owns, as well as in al-Sahwah daily Arabic newspaper.

Al-Ahmar called for big protests throughout Yemen to oust president Saleh, calling it the most corrupt government in the history of Yemen, which helped increase unemployment and poverty in the country. Al-Ahmar said that the government is appropriating the natural sources of a generation and using the government facilities and monopolies to stay in power indefinitely.

Al-Ahmar said that the Yemeni people will bear not longer more poverty, and he characterized the speech of the president as repetitive and trite, except the call for a debate with the opposition parties.

He claimed to have suggested having a debate with the president during the military conference itself. Al-Ahmar has proposed fifteen questions for the debate, focusing on what the government has achieved, dialogue between the opposition and government, and the rules for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

“What is the legality of an individual’s amendments to the law, the inheritance of the presidency, and what are the guarantees for the people if their ruler acts with impunity?  What are the signs that Yemen would not be like Tunisia? When will it be too much for the president to continue in this way?”

A few crowds of opposition supporters gathered in Sana’a, Taiz, and Shabwa, and went into the streets to express their rejection to the new constitutional amendments for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The visit of the US secretary of state Hilary Clinton early this month has left many with an ambiguous impression of US views on the situation in Yemen. Clinton met with both President Saleh and the opposition parties.

Clinton also met with Tawakal Karman, an activist and journalist who was captured and released the next day after an investigation by the national security authorities.

Karman had been accused of sowing sedition in the country and calling for the ouster of his president and his family as well.