By Dr. Murad Alazzany, A professor in Sana’a University
The Yemenis youth have been taking in the streets all over the country for three months in a protest calling to end of Saleh’s rule which has been going on for almost 33 years. Though their protest has gone through many turns and twists, the Yemeni youth have achieved many victories on the ground. Mainly, they succeeded to rally many people and to escalate their protest till it picked up a revolutionary momentum enough to challenge the president and his regime. However, they have not attained the main goal of their protest which is the overthrown of Saleh.
In fact, the Yemeni youth have missed their chance to topple down Saleh and his regime twice. The first chance was offered by the accident of the Friday of dignity. That is when 57 people were killed by snipers. As the incident was heinous, it drew a nationwide condemnation and triggered a series of high profile resignations and defections – all of which represented a menacing threat to the president and to his regime.
The second chance was represented in the defection of Major General Ali Mohsin, the head of the northwestern military zone and the first armoured division, which happened three days after the first incident. The major at that day declared that he would deploy his army units to protect the youth and their revolution. The news of his defection was received all over the country with great enthusiasm and it simultaneously opened the door for more people to join the protests, while adding to the cracks in the regime.
These two events represented the most dramatic development in the chronicle of the Yemeni protest . As they were subsequent in time and and unexpected, they created a kind of hysterical fear that paralyzed the regime members to decide anything on the ground. The president appeared at the eve of that day ambivalent and startled. Having the protesters pursued an instant march to the presidential palace at the eve of any of those two events, or just declared it, the president might have fled to one of the neighboring countries and all his regime will crack down.
As the youth did not take that move, the president felt secured from any renowned threat that could topple him. However, he thought he would be luckier than Bin Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt if he could negotiate with the opposition and the defected Major a graceful exit of power. In fact, he was about to sign that power exist deal with them in the presence of the American and British ambassadors. The deal stated that the president had to cede power in exchange of immunity for himself and his family members.
However, the impetus of these dramatic events totally vanished on the following Friday and the chances of toppling Saleh becomes increasingly distant. That is when the regime leaders succeeded to rally ten thousands of supporters in that capital. That is to propel the president to solidify his stance against the opposition coalition parties. That move contributed to quell the president’s fears and to make him change his stand regarding the deal he was about to sign.
Within that twist of the Yemeni politics, the series of defections and resignations that initially happened to weaken Saleh’s rule, turned out to pour on his interest. They served in cleaning his inner circle from suspected loyalties and in filtering his regime from unreliable figures. Thus, his camp became exclusive on those who deemed their destiny to be bonded to his. That granted Saleh a prospect of the real support he has on the ground. Based on that support, Saleh formulated steadfast tactics and strategies while he was negotiating with the opposition. Gradually, he managed to reinstate the equilibrium of his regime in a way enabled it to keep pace with uprising. That is why the regime did not witness any more cracks when it was expected to collapse.
It was the mistake of the youth that they reckoned the negotiation between the president and the opposition to resolve the political crisis in the country. They stopped escalating their uprising or adopting new protesting tactics that challenge the president and his regime. The opposition apparently became convinced that the president still had a wide support and they viewed it inevitable to resolve the crisis in the country without negotiating with him. They neglected the fact that without money and the exploitation of other resources of the country, the president would not manage to rally those people.
The leniency of the youth and the indecision of the opposition gave the president the time and the frame of mind to re-organize his cards. In order to attain more time, he requested Saudi Arabia to play a role in resolving the uprising storming the country. Saudi Arabia, in turn, decided to involve other Gulf countries which all together sponsor a plan that would pave the way for Saleh’s resignation within 30 days.
Saleh initially indicated that he would sign that plan but then it appeared that he invested on it to save his regime an immediate and inevitable fall. As he has always been a cunning negotiator, he utilized the Gulf plan to alter the revolutionary fervor into a crisis between his party and the opposition coalition parties. In the process, He kept equivocating on the plan’s details to gain more time which he invested in fixing on the cracks that had occurred within his regime and to reorganize his cards and alliances.
The opposition erred when they illusitioned that plan a road map sketching Saleh a peaceful exit for poer for Saleh. What becomes clear is that their chances to force him from power are distant.
That was clear from the discourse flared up by Saleh every Friday which oscillates between emphasizing on his constitutional legitimacy as the president and welcoming the Gulf plan. The discourse reflects that Saleh is neither looking for a dignified exist of power nor for a solution to end up the crisis. He rather comes up with new conditions that set hurdles for the opposition to accept the plan of the GCC. Earlier this month his refusal to sign the plan with the presence of Qatar. Later he proposed immunity for all his regime members though he initially proposed it only for his family members and himself. Then, he threw a wrench in the process by saying that he would only sign in his capacity as head of the ruling party, not as president –a caveat bitterly opposed by the opposition. Recently, he has declared that he would not cede power only if the long entrenched issues of the South and Sada’a are resolved. These are the issues which he could not resolve almost in six years of his rule.
The delay of signing the plane is only a technique to gain much time- he bets on time to diminish his opponents. Saleh believes now that he is immune from the threat of the revolution. But he will be committing a fatal mistake if he expects the youth who have been staging demonstrations for three consecutive months to leave without achieving the goal of toppling him down.
The event of last week, when a group of youth protesters rushed en masse towards the cabinet building, proved that the youth are determined to escalate their protest till they topple down the regime. Apparently, the fierce attack they received from the security forces and regime loyalties did not dent their aplomb to pursue their goal. As their fury continues to mount at the president’s refusal to step down , they declared a planed a planed march on the presidential palace on Tuesday. That reflects their readiness to take the risks and willingness to make sacrifices. But one wonders how many people should be killed to make Saleh cede power. In fact, the country is reaching a critical juncture as it became less likely that the sides could reach agreement on a final accord for a peaceful transfer of presidential power.
But Saleh must be aware that the youth are determined to tighten the bolts on him. He is obliged to honor his position as the president to shun spilling the blood of the country youth. He should declare his acceptance to sign the gulf plan soon before the youth start their planed march and before more blood is spilt.
From another perspective, the Gulf countries have to take a historical responsibility towards what is happening in Yemen. They have to use their influence to pressure all the sides to accept their plan brokered by them. Otherwise, the sequences of allowing Yemen to fall into a civil war will be fatal particularly when violence is not a monody of the state. That will destabilize the whole area and the cost to contain the unrest will be hundred times more than now.