If the situation in Yemen weren’t serious, it would almost be comical. The trajectory of events is familiar. The Gulf Cooperation Council, an entity dominated by Saudi Arabia, comes up with a deal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave power after 30 days, with elections soon after, in exchange for legal immunity from prosecution for Saleh and perhaps members of his family. Saleh agrees to it in principle. The opposition agrees. Then Saleh raises some objection and refuses to sign the agreement. I think this has happened three times now. In the latest display, the opposition actually signed the document, going further than any previous deal. Saleh initially said he would sign it despite denouncing it as a “coup.” That should have been a sign.
As it turned out, Saleh didn’t sign the deal, and what accompanied this decision in the streets of Sanaa should end any hopes of a deal for some time.
Yemen’s embattled president on Sunday resisted intense U.S. and Arab pressure and stalled at signing a deal calling for him to step down in 30 days, as his regime brought armed supporters into the streets demanding he stay. Hundreds of militiamen trapped the American and other ambassadors inside a diplomatic mission for hours.
The militiamen, armed with knives and swords, blocked the entrances to the United Arab Emirates Embassy, where at least five U.S., European and Arab ambassadors had gathered, expecting President Ali Abdullah Saleh to arrive to sign the agreement.
Finally in the evening, Yemeni military helicopters landed at the embassy and ferried the diplomats out, taking them to the presidential palace. There they witnessed several Yemeni ruling party officials sign the accord. But Saleh, shown on state TV standing alongside the U.S. ambassador, did not sign.
Saleh said afterward he would not do so unless opposition leaders attend and sign it as well in public, not “behind closed doors.”
“If they don’t comply, they are dragging us to a civil war, and they will have to hold responsibility for the bloodshed in the past and the blood which will be spilled later on because of their stupidity,” Saleh warned in an address on state TV.
The Western diplomats were trapped for several hours in the UAE Embassy. And while all this happened, hundreds of thousands of protesters massed in the central square in Sanaa, rejecting the agreement wholesale and demanding that Saleh immediately leave.
The Gulf Cooperation Council suspended their mediation of the deal, and I don’t see how they can continue, given that they nearly got a bunch of diplomats killed at the aborted signing ceremony today. With not a little understatement, the GCC said their suspension was due to “a lack of the suitable conditions.”
I would say so.
At this point, only a total revolt by the military is likely to end Saleh’s 33-year rule. So far, only a portion of the military has defected. We could easily see this move into a state of civil war between those military factions.