Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been playing the Dictator Game well so far – so let us not jump to the conclusion that he’s a goner just yet. Saleh has been expertly employing the range of tactics available to dictators. He has used the time-tested “bait-and-switch.” By oscillating between conciliatory measures and violence he has kept us guessing. A week prior to poor Mr. Mubarak’s ousting Saleh announced that he would not seek a continuance of his 32-year rule and step down in 2013 meanwhile pro-government supporters continued to clash with protestors – killing some of them in the process. Mr. Saleh also sends in the police, to protect the protestors, who don’t buy it and continue the mission. The back and forth has continued for nearly three complete months… so who on earth really believes this is it?
There are so many reasons this isn’t going to happen.
It’s not written in stone yet
The draft agreement would grant Saleh legal protection from prosecution – something he says he will not leave without and something the youth in the streets refuse to agree to. The political opposition which has tentatively agreed to the deal also has deal-breaking reservations. The proposed deal would call for the formation of a unity government within a week of the signing of the deal – but the opposition leaders want Saleh to step down first and cannot fathom forming a unity government by swearing oaths of Salah as President, who they say has “already lost legitimacy.” This agreement is being touted as a real deal, but it hasn’t been set in stone.
Saleh is not alone – he has his supporters
Even if the deal is signed and Salaeh resigns at the end of 30 days – he wouldn’t really be gone. The Parliament, which the present proposed deal gives the power to approve or reject Saleh’s resignation, is dominated by his own party. But say they let him resign, his political and personal dominance doesn’t necessarily come to an end. The anti-government protestors have been matched in the street by pro-Saleh/pro-government types. Saleh stepping down might not be enough for everyone to just go home – it wasn’t enough for many Egyptians that Mubarak stepped down.
The protestors are not alone either
In the months since protests began, a slow but steady stream of important figures have broken publically with Saleh and joined the popular movement in the streets. In late March top army officials announced support for the protestors and dispatched troops to protect them. Unlike in Egypt, where the entire military switched sides, only a number of Yemeni commanders have switched allegiance further complicating the lines of division. But suffice to say, the protesters are not along in the street and are not happy with a deal allowing Saleh to get away from 30-plus years of oppression and no trial afterwards.
There is more than one source of opposition
Those who have tentatively agreed to the deal drawn up by the Gulf Cooperation Council are a group called the Joint Meeting Parties – a coalition of seven Yemeni opposition political parties. While perhaps powerful as opposition on the elite political level, they are not representative of the young Yemeni in the street. While old political hacks make deals those in the street remain resolute, one of the street-representatives declaring that “Of course, we don’t accept this.”
So what does this recent maybe-deal mean? Probably nothing, absolutely nothing actually. It may be accepted by the political opposition, despite their resignations, but then will most definitely be rejected by the protestors in the streets. A wedge could be driven between the opposition groups – elite and street – and Saleh may continue in power because he has successfully divided his opposition. If the deal is rejected, Saleh stays in power and people stay in the streets regardless. But the opposition would stand more closely together, and with a few generals could prompt a deepening conflict and escalating violence.
Yemen could get nasty. Unlike Libya and Egypt – which merely tempt us with the possibility of anti-American terroristic-types taking advantage of turmoil – Yemen is home-base to AQAP. I don’t worry than a post-Saleh regime would in favor AQ, but I do worry that AQ could take advantage of political and social unrest in the country to expand their areas and carry out nefarious plots while the Sanaa is preoccupied.
But what to do, what to do? Nothing. Sadly, our military has already outstretched its capabilities. And we ought not to cheat the end-end game in Iraq or the previous and often-ignored quagmire in Afghanistan by opening another front elsewhere. We’ve succeeded in allowing the Libya buck to mostly pass to the French – who care a tad bit more than we do. But when Yemen goes down, and it probably will, who cares enough to get involved? Or rather, we may care – for the suffering of the Yemeni people among other things – but caring doesn’t give us the will to spend blood and treasure, or the ability to make things right.