The Last Days of Yemen’s Despot

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As Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh struggles to maintain power, he is lashing out and accusing both Israel and the United States of orchestrating the ongoing unrest in his country and throughout the entire Middle East. While Saleh’s conspiratorial outburst may find some appeal with the Yemini populace, it will do little to staunch what increasingly looks to be the inevitable end to his rule.

Speaking to a group of students and academics in the capital city of Sanaa, Saleh darkly intoned, “I am going to reveal a secret. There is an operations room in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world. The operations room is in Tel Aviv and run by the White House.”

Not content to leave it at that, Saleh said that those operations had extended to Yemen: “Regrettably those [opposition figures] are sitting day and night with the American ambassador where they hand him reports and he gives them instructions. We say that this is a Zionist agenda.”

Saleh’s conspiratorial remarks came as Yemen saw the largest anti-government demonstrations to date. Tens of thousands of Yemini citizens took to the streets of the capital city of Sanaa chanting, “The people want the downfall of the regime.” The large size of the protest was credited to the participation of opposition political parties, including the Socialist Party, which ruled south Yemen before merging with the north in 1990.

Saleh’s statements drew a quick and direct response from US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley: “The protests in Yemen are not the product of external conspiracies. President Saleh knows better. His people deserve a better response.”

Unfortunately, playing the anti-Semitic card as a ploy to divert attention to his increasing troubles may be Saleh’s only answer. His problems, and by extension those of Yemen, mirror the template seen in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In those cases, the script for unrest was pretty much the same: public outrage at official corruption, high unemployment, overwhelming poverty and overbearing authoritarian rule.

Saleh’s response to those conditions has also been consistent with those used by Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. While acknowledging the need for political and economic reforms, Saleh’s answer was to present them in a way that would not upset the ruling order of the country. He said his package of reforms was designed to “calm the situation and heal the rift between all political forces and maintain the security, stability and unity of the country.”

In a case of too little, too late, his proposed reforms, as well as a promise to step down as president in 2013, did little to mollify his opponents who saw Saleh’s ouster as the nonnegotiable starting point.

So, ratcheting up the rhetoric, Saleh has refused to step down, rejected calls to set up a national unity government, and declared: “The opposition is bankrupt and possesses no programs.”

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