Yemen’s Saleh: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

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After triggering the collapse of the Ben-Ali and Mubarak regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, the forward momentum of the Arab Spring has been halted lately by drawn out conflicts in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. In the case of Yemen, a political solution to the impasse continues to elude the parties despite more than three months of negotiations between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and opposition forces.  Earlier this week, the embattled president refused to sign an agreement that would have eased him from office and paved the way for new democratic elections. Regional observers have not spared their disappointment regarding this latest setback, characterizing the situation variably as an impasse, imbroglio, or stalemate. Yemeni commentators, on the other hand, evince a more complicated picture.

Ahmed Al-Jarallah, for example, cautions in Arab Times against showing Saleh the door too early: “No matter how much we agree or disagree with Saleh, we cannot deny the fact that he has ruled for 33 years, during which he doused tension several times and prevented sectarian, tribal and secession wars that would have turned Yemen into another Somalia. He has been able to keep his country united and solved many internal conflicts that would have led into wars in which each militia leader would have tried to outsmart the other. He has strengthened relations with several countries, but these achievements mean nothing to the minority that has been demanding for his ouster. They do not even care if these achievements will be destroyed. After all, they have been trying to implement destructive agendas against the future, stability and international relations of the country.”

The Yemen Observer editorial is somewhat more nuanced, emphasizing the need for a clear and definitive agreement: “Signing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement is not the solution to Yemen’s current political crisis — it is only the beginning of the solution. This is why we have to be clear and careful about this agreement. We have to be very careful about its details. If not, signing this agreement could speed up civil war in Yemen. Both sides, the General People’s Congress (GPC) and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), should be clear on what is expected of them if they sign the GCC initiative. Its details should include a time frame and indicators of successful implementation. In the agreement, there are talks about the removal of all issues that cause discontent and friction. Behind closed doors sources reveal that the opposition laugh and say that this clause means that President Ali Abdullah Saleh should go.”

While clearly expressing his preference that Saleh should step down, Hakim Almasmari of the Yemen Post believes: “The opposition is partly blamed for this delay as they turned the Yemeni revolution into a political crisis, leaving millions in Yemen’s change squares shocked and lost. International powers have not helped in solving the crises as they continue keeping their stance unclear. Saleh has used the international stall for his favor as it had given him more time to reshuffle his political cards. Saleh has almost assured himself that his ruling General People Congress party, GPC, will continue being a force in the future of Yemeni politics. However, nothing he has does can save him from the wrath of the millions and the blood that was spilt.”

The Yemeni news website Sahwa Net, on the other hand, approvingly cites statements by the Turkish Foreign Minister: “[Ahmet] Davutoğlu told Yemen Times that Yemen lacks further transparency, democracy, and justices, pointing out that the Yemeni people have the right to change their president. ‘Nobody can stay in power for over three decades without accountability. The people have the right to ask their president about his achievements’…. He further stressed the importance of peaceful transition of power, calling on the Yemeni authorities to not use violence against peaceful protests. He affirmed that Turkey supports the GCC-mediated initiative on Yemen which includes the resignation of President Saleh.”

Regional editorials have been especially pessimistic about a near-term solution. Last week, the Khaleej Times editorial declared that it was “Time for Saleh to stand down…. The Yemeni president is treading a losing track. His defiance to stay put in office is not only taking him to the brink but also sliding his country in further chaos and bloodshed. The opposition, which had earlier agreed to a series of conditionalities hoping to see transfer of power, is now too going back on its words. This new equation is untenable for peace and security of the country that had seen months of conflict and political polarization. The rationale way out for President Ali Abdullah al-Saleh is to follow in letter and spirit the deal proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, and ensure that Yemen is saved from death and destruction in all humility.”

This week, the same newspaper characterized the situation as stalemate: “Yemen’s crisis is in a deadlock mode. President Ali Abdullah al-Saleh is defiant, and seems to be unrelenting in signing on the dotted line proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council….This impasse in Sanaa is in need of being addressed. The GCC-backed meditation is a blessing in disguise and should be made to succeed. The regional countries and the respective leadership can do well by engaging themselves personally so that the stalemate comes to an end, and the upheaval is addressed in a pacific political manner. Saleh, after three decades of rule, stands to gain prestige and privilege even if he steps down in all humility.”

The Peninsula editorial uses the term ‘impasse’ to describe the current situation in Yemen, noting: “In the three months of massive protests against his rule which convulsed the country, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has perfected the art of prevarication and political gimmickry….Yesterday’s collapse is certain to cause an escalation in street protests and the country is now facing an uncertain future, with a government, which is paralyzed due to protests, and an opposition, which will not settle for anything other than Saleh’s ouster, locked in a fierce battle….The world needs to act more firmly to force Saleh to step aside. The western reaction to Arab Spring is not uniform, and one of the victims of their double standards is Yemen.”

For the Saudi Arab News, on the other hand, the most recent developments in Yemen are no less than an ‘imbroglio’:  “[Saleh] should know the situation is not favorable to him at home or regionally…. Not for the first time, Saleh has snubbed a proposal that would end his rule in exchange for immunity from prosecution…. Saleh has a more than decent opportunity to avoid the calamities of Asad and Qaddafi and to rather be remembered for leaving a Yemen still intact. The Yemeni leader was tantalizingly close to concluding his presidency relatively peacefully. Yet Yemen is also very close to a civil war.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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