<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
Last week, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally signed off on a Gulf Cooperation Council-backed plan which transitions him out of power in favor of the current vice president. The deal also guarantees Saleh and his circle immunity from prosecution. While the news was received positively by most regional governments, as well as UN and U.S. officials, many within Yemen question whether the nearly year-long protests have been sold short.
In Yemen, Nasser Arrabyee, writing for the government-backed Yemen Observer, reports: “Yemenis were very happy to see the conflicting parties sign documents to end their 11-month long sufferings. Almost the whole world welcomed the peaceful end of the crisis and the honorable exit of President Ali Abdullah Saleh who also expressed his happiness to see all Yemenis united to build the new Yemen....However, some of the protesters in the streets refused the GCC deal and criticized strongly the opposition parties describing their leaders as ‘traitors of the blood of the revolution martyrs’....But this refusal is viewed by observers as kind of maneuvering to strengthen the opposition to have more political gains while negotiating, as more than 90 percent of those protesters are members of the opposition parties and they listen and follow the instructions of their parties.”
On the other hand, Yemen Post’s editor Hakim Almasmari believes “[t]he worst is ahead for Yemen…. Yemenis are preparing for an era that they fear will be bloody and even worse than the first ten months of 2011.... Assassinations on those who became a burden on any side will happen, especially as Yemen currently has no courts, police stations, and pubic security operating. Blood will be spilt and no one will investigate. Journalists will be targets and will face the wrath of power thirsty politicians and military leaders....Millions are not against Saleh as a person, but rather because he has not succeeded in helping Yemen take the next step towards prosperity....Saleh leaving power will only be the beginning of a long Yemeni revolution against all those who were involved in corruption and killing of innocent people.”
A report by Yemen Times staff also expresses concern about the way forward, while acknowledging the historic nature of the developments: “While there were celebrations in Change Square where anti-government protesters have been camped since February, many still reject the GCC deal because of the immunity it offers Saleh and his regime. ‘We did not go to the streets for 10 months and risk our lives for Saleh’s regime to share power with the JMP [opposition coalition],’ said Waleed Al-Amari a protestor in Sana’a’s Change Square....Taiseer Al-Samee a journalist from Taiz feels optimistic about the signing and says this is a new chapter for Yemen. ‘This will save Yemen from collapse and will put an end to the bloodshed. With Saleh now gone the modern state building will begin.’”
Yemen’s opposition forces also believe the deal had given too much to Saleh and his circle. Staff writers at Yemen News cite “The National Council of forces of the peaceful revolution [who] called upon President Saleh to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 2014 on Yemen without delay. The Council said that ‘the excessive tolerance and diplomacy with the remnants of the ruling family has led to major disasters and forces of Saleh committed a series of massacres after the Gulf initiative.’ ‘Saleh believes that the Gulf initiative gives him a cover and immunity to continue killing our people in front of eyes and ears of the world,’ the Council said in a statement.”
Fears of more difficult times ahead seem to be confirmed by events following the signing of the deal. According to a Yemen Online report, “Loyalist and rebel army units briefly traded artillery fire in the city centre, jeopardizing the implementation of a delicate transition plan that was hammered out by Gulf and U.S. envoys over several months....Many demonstrators believe that opposition party leaders conceded too much by signing a deal that grants immunity from prosecution to government officials and leaves senior government officials in their positions....with the transition agreement ratified, and its Yemeni signatories obliged to follow a strict timetable of deadlines to form a national unity cabinet and announce early elections, international leverage over the coming phase may be scant.”
A similar combination of relief and concern is discernable in the regional commentary as well. The Arab News editorial reminds Saleh that he “must honor the Riyadh deal…. It is certainly Saleh’s last chance to extricate himself from the 10-month crisis that has resulted in hundreds of people killed and brought the country to the brink of dissolution. If he does not go, many more Yemenis will die, the country will probably break apart and the chances are he will end up the same way as Libya’s dictator, Muammar Qaddafi....No one in Saudi Arabia or the other GCC states is foolish enough to say that the Riyadh deal solves Yemen’s problems. But it provides the only realistic start to solving them.... As part of Wednesday’s agreement, there is a promise that a united Yemen will receive substantial aid from Saudi Arabia and other GCC states. That promise must be kept.”
The National’s editorial also warns Saleh to follow through with this promises but cautions: “many questions remain unanswered....Of even more concern is that Ahmad Saleh, the president’s son, remains in charge of the country's elite armed forces, the Republican Guard. In a country on the verge of failed state status and in danger of a split between the North and South, there is a real danger that ‘national security’ will become a pretext for the Salehs to hold on - although that remains the biggest stumbling block to national reconciliation.... As Mr Saleh landed in Riyadh, clashes between government forces and different tribes spread across the country. With so many warring sides, Yemen faces a precarious balance of power at best. But that would be easier if Mr. Saleh isn’t tipping the scales.”
The UAE’s Khaleej Times editorial board takes a more positive view of the development: “While the opposition has struck a cautious note by saying that they would sign the agreement in principal — probably fearing a non-implementation of agreements etc in the interim phase — things are looking more positive. Violent clashes between opposition loyalists and government forces had literally paralyzed the state’s economic affairs and political administration. It is hoped that with one phase of the political crisis now dealt with, people can return to their normal lives. The opposition and ruling party’s politicians should now focus on state building instead of indulging in petty political scoring. The progressive way forward is to let the past go and work for a politically and economically sound Yemen.”
The Peninsula editorial expresses a more cautious attitude regarding the future of the country: “...the deal should offer a way out of the nine-month-long turmoil that has left hundreds dead and the country teetering on the brink of civil war. But unfortunately, protests erupted in Sanaa after the signing of the deal was announced with demonstrators protesting the granting of immunity to the president. A power transfer deal that brings no peace is no deal. It’s surprising that a section of the opposition is rejecting it…. The opposition now must eschew the path of protests and grab the opportunity to build a democratic Yemen. The government too must adopt a conciliatory approach, not a confrontational one, by listening to the opposition and addressing their concerns.”
Finally, Asharq Alawsat’s Tariq Alhomayed reflects on the President Saleh’s adroit handling of the crisis: “Whatever the current situation with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh; the man must be considered extremely shrewd and a master at dancing with snakes. This is not a compliment, but it stems from comparing the facts, and the reality that sometimes things are defined by their opposites. A mere comparison, for example, between Ali Abdullah Saleh and Bashar al-Assad, shows a big difference in the game of politics and the art of maneuvering....Saleh is very shrewd, from his arrival to power, his survival at the helm, and ultimately his departure.”
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