Monday, February 27, 2012

Yemen: Politics As Usual

In a patently obvious set-up, Yemen’s life-long dictator Saleh has handed leadership to his deputy, with Riyadh and Washington smirking from the sidelines like two imperial Cheshire Cats. Expect further sectarianism, further Arab Spring protests, further al Qua’ida popularity, and further Iranian-Saudi competition for influence. Expect Yemen to continue to be little Iraq, doing its part to undermine democracy and stability in the Mideast, for the convenience of the powers who are pleased to see themselves, with good reason for the moment at least, as being in charge.

A long, long time ago, a Mideastern dictator was overthrown by a colonial invader that promptly rewrote both constitution and laws for its own convenience. Outraged, the people, who had thought the invasion was intended to liberate them from tyranny, revolted, with their George Washington an unlikely plump young cleric. Nevertheless, within the decade, they succeeded in kicking out the invader’s army...after the whole society had been shattered by invader brutality, sectarianism, and the empowerment of al Qua’ida. That, of course, was in another universe and has nothing to do with Yemen.

In Yemen:

A car bomb outside the gate of a presidential compound in a southern Yemeni city killed at least 25 people, a health official said, hours after the country’s new president was formally inaugurated and vowed to fight al-Qaeda. [Times of Israel 2/25/12.]

Ahmed Saleh, son of the ex-dictator and…still…head of the brutal Republican Guards, warned in the days before the retirement of his father against reforming his power-base, a key demand of the protesters during the year-long popular demonstrations for democracy. The Republic Guards “led many of the attacks on largely peaceful protesters” during those demonstrations, according to Letta Taylor of Human Rights Watch.

Not only Saleh’s sons and nephew—head of the 20,000-man counterterrorism unit, but all the major politicians competing for power via private militias and manipulation of popular demonstrations, remain in place (the Saleh family, general ali Muhsin, tribal federation leader Hamid al-Ahmar). Democracy for Yemen is nothing more than a glib word in the mouth of Hillary Clinton. The only legitimate justification for the Riyadh-brokered retirement of Saleh is that it would end the civil war, but the underlying causal dynamics have not visibly changed: the northern and southern secessionist movements as well as al Qua’ida have all rejected the fraudulent election. [See Bernard Haykel, “On the Brink.”] Yemen, with a population as large as Saudi Arabia’s, is a powder keg. By betting on a short-sighted investment in the Yemeni status quo, Washington has once more rolled the national security dice.

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