Source: FT, By Abeer Allam,11/06/2011
Sana’a- Western countries, led by the US, are pressing Saudi Arabia to push for a swift transfer of power in Yemen, warning of a looming security, political and humanitarian crisis if the political standstill is not resolved.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, is in Saudi Arabia recovering from wounds sustained in a blast at his compound on June 3.
His sudden evacuation on June 4 after 33 years in power raised hopes of reaching a deal to end the crisis that has gripped Yemen for four months.
On Friday in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, thousands of protesters called for the “butcher” to be put on trial. “We want Saleh to go, we want to fix Yemen, we are afraid he might return, but we will not allow it,’’ said Bandar al-Dhabian, 35.
“We want a humble god-fearing president. If he comes back it is a disaster.” There was also a pro-Saleh demonstration in the capital.
But western governments have become increasingly exasperated with the lack of a timetable for talks on a transition of power amid government rumours Mr Saleh could return.
The Yemeni government is playing down the severity of the president’s condition, but a western diplomat told the Financial Times that he had “very serious burns, broken bones and shrapnel” that would take months to heal.
A Gulf Co-Operation Council initiative – rejected by Mr Saleh but welcomed by the opposition and the west – had called for a transition of power and an election. “Yemen cannot wait months for the formation of a government or for a political process,” the diplomat said.
“The important thing is that the president needs to take decisions, preferably to agree to the GCC initiative. It is dangerous for Yemen to wait and allow a political vacuum to form.”
The Saudi role was vital, the diplomat added. “They believe the GCC initiative is the best way forward. The international community agrees. But they have the president in their country. They are best placed to persuade him of this.”
Saudi Arabia, however, is treading carefully. Osama Nogali, the Saudi foreign minister’s spokesman, told the FT last week that Mr Saleh’s evacuation was not part of a political deal.
While the Saudi government was eager to see an orderly transfer of power in Yemen, it was up to the Yemenis to decide the pace or the shape of such transition, he said.
Some in Riyadh want Mr Saleh to stay and sign a deal, while others do not want to force an incumbent Arab president out of power.
Saudi Arabia has a long porous border with Yemen and shares the US fear that al-Qaeda militants could expand their control.
Mr Saleh had withdrawn most of his security forces in remote regions to quell protests, leading to a security vacuum that was being exploited by al-Qaeda militants in areas such as Zinjibar, experts said.
Meanwhile, the US wants Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi, vice-president, to form a national unity government with the main opposition. But hardliners have rejected talks with the opposition before Mr Saleh’s return.
“No one is sure of what will happen. The Americans and Saudis could persuade Saleh to return to his palace and sign a power transition with dignity as he wished,” Nasser Arrabyee, a Yemeni writer, said. “But Saleh is crafty.
He could come back and exploit people’s anger and sympathy for him, after he was attacked inside a mosque, to ignite a full war.”
Mr Saleh’s family still controls key security and economic positions. His son Ahmed, who was seen as a likely successor, oversees the Republican Guard. He is holding to a ceasefire agreement with the al-Ahmar clans.
“The message to him [Ahmed] is: do not go down the road of violence and revenge because that leads to more losses to you and your family’s interests and not just the al-Ahmar,” the western diplomat said. “This is not just a conflict between the Saleh and al-Ahmar families. This is a crisis with international dimensions.”