Hundreds of thousands protested in cities and towns across Yemen today against what they view as President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s latest ruse to avoid a genuine transfer of power.
“No deal, no maneuvering, the president should leave,” protesters in the capital Sana’a shouted, demonstrating against Saleh’s decision to authorize his vice president Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi to negotiate a transition plan on his behalf.
The protests coincided with an intensification of violence near the southern city of Zinjibar where Islamic extremists killed three government soldiers and with fresh US warnings that Al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based offshoot is benefitting from the turmoil in the poorest Arab nation.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has “emerged as the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad,” newly appointed CIA director David Petraeus said today.
Although most observers credit the Arab Spring with undermining the jihadists’ appeal, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri this week renewed efforts to take advantage of the region’s upsisings in a new video released by as-Sahab, the group’s media arm.
The opposition Joint Meetings Parties rejected Saleh’s transfer of authority.
“Any talk of a dialogue before signing the Gulf initiative is either an attempt at wasting time or deceiving public opinion,” said JMP spokesman Mohammed Qahtan.
“The JMP calls on the young men and women of the revolution to continue escalating the peaceful revolution until the whole regime falls,” it said in a statement.
But other observers were more positive.
“I think it’s still a very big step,” said prominent Yemeni political analyst, Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani. “Giving legal authority to the vice president allows him to decide what’s best for the country.”
Opposition and civil society groups believe that Saleh – currently recovering in Saudi Arabia from bomb-blast injuries – is playing for time and insist that the president personally endorse a transfer of power to avoid any subsequent ambiguities.
“It is unclear how far Hadi’s negotiating power extends,” notes a Sana’a-based democracy activist. “Regardless, deputizing Hadi falls short of opposition demands that the president personally sign the agreement, and is likely to be viewed as yet another stalling tactic.”
Saleh’s offer to transfer negotiating authority would in any case leave him with considerable authority and leverage in other state institutions. His family “continues to control key military units, mainly in the capital Sana’a,” notes Bernard Haykel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.”
“As Saleh has only transferred authority for negotiating the transition deal,” one report notes, “it appears that the three-month period will only kick off once Hadi signs the [Gulf Cooperation Council] plan in his stead.”
Representatives of youth, women and civil society groups this week established an International Contact Group, comprising teams of experts inside and outside the country, to help the opposition’s specialized committees to prepare for a transition.
It has been suggested that Yemen’s civil society had eclipsed its political parties in the pro-democracy upsurge. But some observers now believe that democracy and civil society groups have been marginalized by tribal politics and military actors as the conflict becomes more violent and polarized.
Excessive use of force by state security forces is the principal cause of the country’s “increasingly violent struggle,” according to a report from UN human rights investigators released today.
“All sides may be guilty of using and abusing peaceful protesters and the civilian population in this increasingly violent power struggle,” the 23-page UN report concludes.
Some observers believe that early presidential elections remain the best solution to the crisis, but the GGC’s involvement remains essential.
“When we find an early solution to the political deadlock in Yemen, we can shift attention to issues most important relating to the economic and social situations in this poor country,” said Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is necessary that the GCC bloc plays a key role in Yemen at the moment and in the future.”