Religious Scholars Weigh in on Unrest

By / Saddam Alashmory

Last Monday, hundreds of thousands rallied in cities across Yemen against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the largest of the protests of the past month, including one addressed by an influential firebrand cleric, a former ally of Saleh, whom the U.S. has linked to al-Qaida.

“Go on until you achieve your demands,” Sheik Abdul-Majid al-Zindani told tens of thousands of demonstrators in the capital of Sanaa.

A former U.S. ambassador to Yemen called al-Zindani’s decision to turn against President Ali Abdullah Saleh a major setback for the president.

International media reported that Zindani, whose word carries considerable weight in Yemen, was guarded by his private security force of 10 men carrying AK-47 assault rifles.

“An Islamic state is coming,” he told the crowd, adding that Saleh “came to power by force, and stayed in power by force, and the only way to get rid of him is through the force of the people.”

Just the previous day, Yemeni religious scholars asserted that peaceful change in Yemen can only occur through elections. Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, Chairman of Al-Iman University, said that Yemen has a constitution and the President has sworn to preserve the security and stability of the country.

Despite of an initiative approved by the religious scholars one week ago, Al-Zindani said that the opposition parties didn’t reply for the initiative between Saleh and Yemeni religious scholars.

In a move aimed by the Yemeni opposition to gain time and continue to encourage its supporters in the street, the opposition insists that it will remain committed to the street as a solution and is committed to people demands to end Saleh regime.

Sheikh al-Zindani declared that religious scholars have concluded, after a lengthy meeting with the president last week, to an eight-point plan.

These include withdrawal of the proposed changes to the electoral law from the parliament, withdrawing the constitutional procedures that had been proposed by the president, forming a supervised committee to supervise elections, forming a national government to oversee free and fair elections, bring corrupt officials to justice, releasing detainees who have not been proven guilty, forming a committee to mediate the current political stalemate.

The body would consist of five judges, two of whom are chosen by the president, two of them are chosen by the opposition party, and the fifth by the religious scholars to resolve the dispute of the political conflict between Yemen’s ruling and the opposition.

He referred to the request of the President to lift the sit-in, but Al-Zindani said it cannot be done because the Constitution guarantees the right to freely express opinions.

The president extended to religious scholars the responsibility for mediating the current dispute in case the opposition continued to adhere to the street.

He said that the leadership of the opposition is aware of the consequences if the situation were to become violent.

He said the meeting of religious scholars should not finish until a solution to the situation that the country is going through is found.