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[Dehai-WN] Time.com: In Yemen, a U.S.-Backed Transition Plan Draws Fire from Democracy Activists

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 28 Jan 2012 22:53:47 +0100

In Yemen, a U.S.-Backed Transition Plan Draws Fire from Democracy Activists

By <http://www.time.com/time/letters/email_letter.html> Noah Browning & Tom
Finn in Sana'a Friday, Jan. 27, 2012

Yemen was mentioned twice in President Barack Obama's State of the Union
address on Tuesday, once in respect of the the "decisive blows" by American
power that had sent al-Qaeda scrambling, and again in respect of the "wave
of change" that has broken across the Arab world to demand the "rights and
dignity of all human beings." No country is more delicately balanced between
the contending pressures of the Arab Spring and Washington's campaign
against al-Qaeda. And neither has been advanced by heavy U.S. intervention
in the impoverished Arabian nation, as an overriding focus on al-Qaeda
continues to define Washington's policy on Yemen's battle over democracy.
The departure of the dictator President Ali Abdullah Saleh to the U.S. a
week ago is the culmination of a grand bargain between contending factions
of the country's political class, brokered by U.S. diplomats, which avoids
both genuine elections and accountability for the regime's bloody crackdowns
on protestors.

Saleh, in power for 33 years, was ravaged by a bomb attack in his palace
last summer amid an increasingly violent anti-government uprising. Immunity
from prosecution and leave to seek medical treatment abroad, Washington's
logic goes, will discourage him from marring Yemen's pro forma election next
month of a successor - Saleh's Vice President is the sole candidate.
<http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2076292,00.html> (Photos:
Yemen on the Brink)

The deal has outraged many of the democracy activists who have pledged to
remain camped out in city squares throughout the country. "There shouldn't
be any place for tyrants in the free world," TIME was told by Tawakul
Karman, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her role in challenging
the regime.

"This is against all international agreements, laws, and covenants," she
added. "The entry of Ali Saleh into America is an insult to the values of
the American people. This was a mistake by the Administration, and I am
confident he will be met with wide disapproval in America. This will tarnish
the reputation of America among all those who support the Arab Spring

Allowing Saleh to stay might be couched as a humanitarian gesture, but it
also reflects a realism branded as cynical by Yemeni activists. Yemen's
power struggle is far from over, and Saleh may yet emerge victorious if he
returns to continue leading the ruling party through his extended family. As
Charles Schmitz, a Yemen expert at Towson University, notes, "Saleh's sons
are still in command of the armed forces and security apparatus. So, though
Saleh is politically a pariah, the U.S. still needs his clan to help fight
al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda is the priority in U.S. policy."

The regime's efforts against terrorism, however, have been superficial at
best. Saleh's government used its position as the local partner in the Bush
Administration's "Global War on Terror" to obtain arms and, more
importantly, a veneer of political legitimacy in confronting its domestic
adversaries. Last year, the regime diverted its elite U.S.-trained and
-armed counterterrorism force away from its patrols in the restive South to
battle opposition tribesmen in the capital. And as the battle for power in
the capital has raged, extremism has spread dangerously in Yemen's rugged
hinterlands. A group calling itself Ansar al-Sharia, the "Partisans of
Islamic Law" have capitalized on the erosion of the central government's
writ to seize a growing swath of territory. Cutting off hands for larceny
and executing soldiers who resist them, their range expanded to within easy
driving distance of the capital. An armed gang seized the Southeastern city
of Rada'a last week, raising the al-Qaeda flag there and decrying a new
national unity government as "Jewish."
2100164,00.html> (Video: Tawakul Karman, Revolutionary Mother)

The distraction in the capital has prompted the U.S. step up its own covert
war against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the movement's local
franchise is known. In October, a drone strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a
U.S. citizen who had been the group's star recruiter and public face. Drone
strikes have so far executed mostly lower and mid-level operatives, but
frequently also kill civilians.A separate attack in October killed Awlaki's
16-year old son, also a U.S. national.

Limited as it is, few observers of Yemen's complex, bloody politics believed
that even the amount of change achieved so far would have been possible.That
a society as well-armed as Yemen's could avoid Libya's civil war or Syria's
grisly breakdown, diplomats insist, signals a triumph of negotiation.

The stewardship of the United States and its Arab allies over the plan
remains a major grievance of the protest movement here, however. Protesters
in Sana'a Thursday chanted, "This is a revolution, not a political crisis!"
The early intercession of foreign powers with a transition plan distracted
attention from popular demands, they say, and allowed the president to cite
ongoing talks in delaying his resignation. Many Yemenis believe the key
interest guiding the U.S. has been keeping enough of the regime intact to
combat al-Qaeda, and that this has distorted the outcome.
(Photos: Occupy Sana'a)

Saleh, in addressing the U.S. media, works the issue, portraying himself as
loyal ally against terrorism. "I am addressing the American public. I want
to ask a question: Are you still keeping your commitment in continuing the
operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda?" he said last year, in an
interview with TIME. "But what we see is that we are pressured by America
and the international community to speed up the process of handing over

Despite ongoing repression, Saleh has used his relationship with the U.S. to
bolster his position. Last July, John Brennan, the Obama administration's
counterterrorism adviser, paid an official visit to Saleh, then on medical
leave in Saudi Arabia. The spectacle was broadcast on Yemeni state TV - the
sight of the President's good health and statesmanlike demeanor sent
loyalist soldiers and tribesmen into riotous celebratory gunfire which
deepened tensions.

Ultimately, it was a threat of U.N. sanctions that would have sunk the
government that paved the way for the current deal. U.N. mediators won all
sides' consent to a timeline for political transition, which connected Yemen
with a wider democratic trend that leaves in flux U.S. reliance on
authoritarian Arab states to guard its interests. In Yemen, the US enjoys
unrivaled leverage over a brutish yet desperate regime, but remains fearful
of what might replace it. Because Yemen is one of the few Arab states in
which al-Qaeda operates with much vigor, these days, it is also one in which
the U.S. struggles to relinquish the longstanding habit of prioritizing
security concerns over the promise of democracy.

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