Stifling Yemen's Revolution

Gulf monarchies and the Yemeni old guard are working together to buy time and, they hope, sap the uprising of its ability to keep protesting


Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi / Reuters

After three months of protests and street battles in cities throughout Yemen, opposition leaders announced on Monday, April 25, that they were prepared to sign a negotiated settlement with the regime. The agreement, brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is supposed to usher in a transitional government that would be a mutually agreeable compromise between the current government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the opposition movement, which includes a variety of marginalized political groups. Reports of the settlement eagerly declared that the "political crisis" in Yemen was near its end.

It's not over. Not even close.

Despite their statements in support of the settlement, the parties could not even agree when to sign -- the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) said the agreement would be signed on Saturday; President Saleh's political party, the General People's Congress (GPC) said Sunday. As of today, the agreement is still awaiting signatures.

On Saturday, GCC Secretary-General Abdel Latif al Zayyani arrived in Sanaa to escort Saleh to Riyadh for the signing ceremony. Saleh refused to go. He complained that he would not sign if Qatar was represented at the ceremony, as he blames Doha-based al Jazeera for inciting protests. He requested one of his ministers sign in his stead and told officials that he would not leave Yemen for fear of a coup while he was abroad. Al Zayyani told the press that he met with Saleh four times and each time Saleh insisted on a new condition for signing the accord. The Yemeni president appears to be, as he has from the start, buying time.

The GCC settlement actually settles nothing -- it hasn't even been able to provide a reprieve from the political violence in the streets of Sanaa, Ta'iz, and Aden. Wednesday, April 27, two days after both the regime and the opposition agreed to sign the deal, was the bloodiest day in Yemen in more than a month, with plainclothes gunmen in Sanaa firing into crowds of anti-government protesters. Bullet-pocked ambulances rushed the injured to official or makeshift hospitals. Twelve died, and al Jazeera now estimates more than 140 deaths in the past three months. That may be a conservative estimate. Last Friday's march, which filled the 60 Meter Road highway in the capital, was dubbed the Friday of Honoring Martyrs.

The GCC, a regional organization consisting of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman, has been eager to staunch the Arab Spring, which they fear could threaten their own regimes. One month after the first protests in Bahrain, the GCC bolstered the Bahraini regime with a Peninsular Shield force of 1,000 Saudi troops. Saudi Arabia, the most influential member of the council, has a particular interest in Yemen. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based affiliate of the wider al-Qaeda terror network, has attacked the Saudi royal family before and would like to again. The Saudis have had an understanding with the Saleh regime, even helping fight in the Yemeni government's war against rebellious northern tribes. Keeping Saleh is the best of all possible worlds for Saudi Arabia. They keep their ally and further illustrate what they began in Bahrain: the consequences of a failing rebellion.

Presented by

J. Dana Stuster, a Joseph S. Nye National Security Research Intern at Center for a New American Security, is a writer living in Washington, DC.

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