Yemen: The Return of Ali Abdullah Saleh

In his first speech since his return from Saudi Arabia, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, claimed he was committed to transferring power in early elections.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemeni President

The president’s return, and reaasumption of his presidential powers, has caught many unawares, as it has effectively reasserted anti-government pressures onto Saleh solely.   His medical absence had insulated him from political pressure.  Nonetheless, Saleh has returned which may demonstrate that Saleh has grown concerned with the escalation of brutality being committed by both side, most notably being his eldest son Ahmed who fired upon unarmed demonstrators.  Many suggest that Saleh’s return is part of his strategy for prolonging the ineffectual dialogues with the political opposition, being brokered by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).  Before his departure, Saleh was infamous for delaying and obfuscating negotiations by insisting on unacceptable preconditions.

The Yemeni president has called for early elections, but many within the opposition and Saleh’s own office feel that the calls are only demonstrations of his attempt to use rhetoric as a form of detente, with no intention of implementation.  Evidently, the latest peace formula is unlikely to appease protesters who want nothing less than his immediate departure.

“The opposition parties abused and misused the vigils by youth in order to seize power, and some of their elements conducted subversive actions to sabotage the movement of the youth.” – Abubakr A. Al-Qirbi, Yemen Foreign Minister

The UN has perceived the call by Saleh for peaceful dialogue as the right course for the reform of Yemen.  After Yemen’s Foreign Minister delivered a speech to the General Assembly, the UN stated that change in Yemen must follow constitutional process.  Divisions in Yemen will only be overcome by a return to the legality of the constitution and fixing its shortcomings.  A smooth transition of power would allow reconciliation, reform and reconstruction without violating democratic principles.  Nonetheless, unbridled population growth, prevalence of poverty, desertification and paucity of oil have combined to create an in environment in which thousands of university graduates have found it impossible to find employment.  Such dissent and disenchantment has allowed opposition parties to manipulate the youth in order to seize power and spark demonstration, which began in January/February.

Despite calls for peaceful means towards reform, government forces have killed hundreds since the on-start of the revolts, in attempt to stamp out resistance.  At least 150 people, mostly protesters, renegade soldiers and tribesmen, have been killed over the past week as loyalist forces use excessive forces.  The loyalist have rained mortar shells on protestors and fired on crowds with anti-aircraft guns.  Snipers have been stations on rooftops to pick off protesters on the streets below.  Needless to say, rumors of excessive force are clearly true.

Resembling attrition, killing as many as possible until surrender, the tactics of the government forces have had the opposite effect.  Facing such brutal onslaught, the anti-government forces have intensified their efforts.  Today, anti-government tribesmen overran an army base holding an elite unit of Republican Guard, north of Yemen’s capital.  The tribesmen captured 30 soldiers and dealt a blow to the prestige of the power of the Republican Guards.  Furthermore, a military spokesman said that a Sukhoi SU-33 military plane was shotdown by anti-aircraft guns near Arhab, where armed tribesmen have been locked in combat with elite Republican Guards.

In retrospect, violence will only continue as long as Saleh refused to sign a bill to transfer power.  However, transferring power will only vindicate the practicality of force, as well as put another scapegoat in power to which the tribesmen will target.  As the UN has stated, the GCC will have to mediate a democratic means for a peaceful end to conflict, a reform to the constitution to appease rebels, as well as establish a new leader, favored by the masses.

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