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Of the Elites, By the Elites, For the Elites: An Update on Yemen's Revolution

[Image from European Press Photo Agency] [Image from European Press Photo Agency]

As the clock ticks closer to Friday, Yemenis and observers of Yemen are bracing themselves for the unknown. Reports of a prospective deal between Ali Saleh and Ali Mohsen for a mutual resignation flooded social networking sites, Yemeni homes and Taghyir Square today, speculating hopefully on its potential to spare the country further bloodshed. Saleh dispelled those rumors in a TV appearance Thursday night, looking haggard and worn and declaring he would not be stepping down. However, it is not clear that negotiations behind the scenes have really terminated, and if they have, what the reasons for the failed deal were. What terms did Saleh find unacceptable? Or was it Ali Mohsen who, after over 30 years of waiting in Saleh's shadow, found the potential opportunity to seize the presidency too strong to allow him to agree to the deal.

Over the past few weeks, Ali Saleh and Hamid al-Ahmar have been staring each other down, pounding on their war drums and swearing that they have legions of armed men willing to fight for them. The opposition party coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), has behaved like it represents the protesting masses even though it has spent the last several years playing the jester in Saleh's court. Now that the protesters have mobilized in the hundreds of thousands, practically forcing the regime to its knees, the JMP has thrust itself into the middle of negotiations with the regime (which the protesters have refused) as if it represents or even understands the demands of the protesters and the necessary changes that would cause the protests to dissipate. Saleh continues to propose "transition plans" that don't involve his immediate transition out of the presidency, thereby highlighting his fundamental failure to comprehend that his rule has come to an end. Hamid al-Ahmar has crowned himself king of the protests and issues periodic statements on his Suhail TV channel, pontificating on Yemen and Saleh and making grand declarations, such as his offer of the presidency to the south. One of his more recent statements came with a warning to Saleh: " Leave the presidency with your dignity and the dignity of your family or else suffer the consequences." Saleh rebutted with what he described as an offer to the protesters and the opposition that he knew would be rejected, but which he needed to make to ease his conscience. Only a few hours later, Saleh began his intensified campaign against the protests in Sana’a, first with the use of poisonous gas and climaxing with the use of snipers against protesters in the square, killing 52 and injuring over 100.

Ali Mohsen’s announcement of his “allegiance” to the revolution on Monday and the flurry of officers and soldiers who followed suit change the equation. Prior to his announcement, both the protesters and Ali Saleh thought they could exert some control over the development of events. Saleh appeared to think that he could sufficiently co-opt the formal opposition and/or feed false concessions to the protesters in order to regain control of the situation. While “negotiating” with the JMP on one side and promising the protesters he would step down by 2012 at the earliest (Saleh’s 2011 offer came after Ali Mohsen’s defection), Saleh had a slip of the tongue at one point, mentioning that Yemen would only see a change of power through the ballot box — suggesting that he was contemplating another run for office. Many protesters meanwhile were uneasy about the role that Hamid al-Ahmar continued to play as the self-appointed leader of those demanding immediate resignation (unlike the formal opposition, which has demonstrated its willingness to negotiate a more gradual resignation plan). The al-Ahmars have been great beneficiaries of the Saleh regime and so Hamid’s alignment in opposition to Saleh is viewed with skepticism by many as less of an opposition to the undemocratic and authoritarian nature of the regime than an attempt to supplant Saleh as its head. Nevertheless, many protesters viewed the alliance with Hamid as a distasteful means to an end. After Saleh is removed, they swear, we will get rid of Hamid too—though no plan for such act has yet emerged.

With Ali Mohsen’s announcement on Monday that he and the Armed Forces would back the revolution, there is less room for these hopeful calculations. Though Saleh may still count on the loyalty of the Republican Guard, Special Forces and internal security forces led by his son and nephews, even those forces have experienced defections of ranking officers and mutinies of soldiers. Saleh will either recognize that he is outnumbered and outgunned, or he will deceive himself into thinking he can still triumph militarily. In a worst case scenario, Yemen will descend into a civil war starting in the streets of the major cities and spreading to the rest of the country. In another less morbid scenario, Saleh will step down and the power elites who have elbowed their way to the front of this revolution: Hamid al-Ahmar, Ali Mohsen and Abdul Majid al-Zindani will rise effortlessly to the top of a political and economic system in which they are already leaders. In the backdrop of these elite power fights are the protesters, who continue to fight—and die—for a future of which they dream. It is only too tragic that their vision is not shared by those who may be on the verge of seizing the future of Yemen for themselves.  

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1 comment for " Of the Elites, By the Elites, For the Elites: An Update on Yemen's Revolution"

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Excellent account of the current power struggle, and the continuing marginalization of the youth voice in negotiations between the elites.

Issmat wrote on March 26, 2011 at 11:12 PM

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