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[Dehai-WN] Middle East Online: Yemen's new President: Another Anwar al-Sadat?

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 5 Mar 2012 00:06:06 +0100

Yemen's new President: Another Anwar al-Sadat?


The story of Yemen's new president reminds us of Egypt on the eve of Gamal
Abdul Nasser's death in 1970. While at the apex of his career, Nasser
appointed his loyal protege Anwar al-Sadat as vice-president, believing that
Sadat would always carry out orders with no questions asked, writes Sami

 First Published: 2012-03-04

Middle East Online

The swearing-in of Yemen's new President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Saturday
topped headlines in the Arab world.

Millions of young people in various Arab capitals watched with a sparkle in
their eyes, seeing that once again, regime change is doable and it doesn't
have to be via foreign occupation, like Iraq in 2003, or through a
devastating North Atlantic Treaty Organization attack, as the case with
Libya in 2011.

In Yemen's case, it was achieved through the will and might of Yemeni youth,
and through a political deal hammered out by Saudi Arabia and its allies in
the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). That deal, as the world now knows only
too well, has provided a new model for the Arab Spring, a workable one
despite being neither as smooth as Tunisia nor as violent as Libya.

The win-win solution included granting outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh
a dignified exit, immunity from persecution (along with his entire family)
and the right to live and work in Yemen, with all the honors of a former
president. The democratic change in Yemen will soon rip through the Arab
world, empowering Arab youth who are aspiring for democratic change in Iraq,
Algeria, Bahrain, and Syria.

Hadi now replaces his former boss, an autocrat with strong ties to the US,
who has been around - running a corrupted oligarchy with an iron fist -
since 1978. Never in his wildest dreams did Saleh imagine that one day he
would no longer be the president of Yemen.

That is what plagued his three friends, Tunisian president Zein Al-Abidin
Ben Ali, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Libyan leader Muammar

All four of them sincerely believed that they were going to stay in power
forever. Mubarak argued that his country was different from Tunisia, while
Gaddafi said that Libya was different from both Egypt and Tunisia, since his
people were living in a popular democracy.

Saleh, with little surprise, said the same thing about Yemen. Like the
ex-president of Egypt and the late dictator of Libya, Saleh also toyed with
the idea of bequeathing power to one of his sons, and when the revolt
erupted against him one year ago, he resisted it forcefully, accusing the
demonstrators of being outlaws, and agents of al-Qaeda - words ripped out of
the dictionary of every single Arab dictatorship.

He then fought a losing battle against his own people for one year, but
eventually accepted reality and stepped down, very unwillingly. While all of
this was happening, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi was in the shadow, watching
closely as Saleh's iron grip over Yemen was rapidly slipping away.

At first glance, the new president of Yemen doesn't seem too different from
his predecessor, having spent the past 17 years of his life answering to the
beck and call of Ali Abdullah Saleh, in his capacity as vice president of
the republic. His critics argue that saw the corruption and turned a blind
eye to it, or in some cases, was even party to it.

Others argue that Hadi has a thin moral fiber, for having witnessed so much
wrongdoings and autocracy and not lifting a finger to stop it. Like Saleh,
after all, he too is a decorated army officer who thinks that nations can be
administered like an official army. A closer, look, however, tells a very
different story. First, in his post as vice-president Hadi had purely
ceremonial powers and commanded no real authority.

Yemeni politics took the shape of Ali Abdullah Saleh, and nobody else was
allowed to decide on anything substantial during the Yemeni President's
33-year old rule. Even if he wished to see political change happen, Abd
Rabbo Mansour Hadi could not advance democracy or defect from Saleh's
entourage, fearing for his life and that of his family. He had no Yemeni
blood on his hands, and was not involved in the crackdown that began in
February 2011.

Born in May 1945 in a small village in southern Yemen, Hadi joined the South
Yemeni Army in 1970 and received advanced military training in the UK,
Egypt, and the USSR, where he studied for four years. He rose in rank
steadily, becoming deputy chief-of-staff for supply in 1983, arranging all
arms deals with the Soviet Union.

In October 1994, he was appointed vice president to Saleh, and held the job
non-stop until replacing him as acting president in June 2011, when the
Yemeni president went to Saudi Arabia to undergo medical treatment after an
armed attack on his compound. He was voted officially into office on
February 25, after winning a national referendum where he stood as the only
candidate, winning 99.8% of the votes.

The figure speaks high drama, of course, because it looks anything but
democratic, reminding Yemenis of the pathetic elections under Saleh, where
he too won the elections with nearly all of the electoral. If we scratch
beneath the surface, however, we can see that in Hadi's case, it doesn't
mean that 99.8% of Yemen's 24 million want him for president.

In a plebiscite, after all, only one candidate stands for office and
usually, those who vote are supporters of this one candidate. In this case,
those who voted for Hadi were actually voting against Ali Abdullah Saleh,
rather than for the new president. Those who wanted Saleh to stay did not
show up at the polls, simply because Saleh was not running for president
anymore. It means that Hadi got 99.8% of the votes cast, not all of Yemen's

Hours after Hadi took his oath, however, a car bomb exploded at one of the
seven presidential palaces located in the southern town of Mukalla, more
than 480 kilometers west of the capital Sana. The bomb, no doubt, looked and
smelled like the dirty work of al-Qaeda. Most of the dead were soldiers in
the Republican Guard.

The message, of course, was targeted at the new president, who vowed in his
inaugural address to continue the war against al-Qaeda "as a religious and
national duty". Al-Qaeda was reminding him - and perhaps the world at large
- that Yemen's ills will not be cured overnight through the ousting of
Saleh. Additionally, Hadi faces a rebellion in the north, a secessionist
movement in the south, a devastated and fractured military, and a tribal
society that in many parts of the country, remains loyal to Saleh.

The story of Yemen's new president reminds us of Egypt on the eve of Gamal
Abdul Nasser's death in 1970. While at the apex of his career, Nasser
appointed his loyal protege Anwar al-Sadat as vice-president, believing that
Sadat would always carry out orders with no questions asked.

When Nasser died in September 1970, heavyweights in the Egyptian state
backed Sadat for president, arguing that he would be a weak and colorless
leader who they would be able to play with at will because he lacked a
strong personality, and a power base on the Egyptian Street. Pretty soon,
however, Sadat matured into a political genius, bringing down his opponents,
one by one, and rising to paramount leadership traits that he matched - and
in some cases outdid - the legendary Nasser himself. In theory, nothing
prevents Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi from writing Ali Abdullah Saleh into
history, and becoming another Anwar al-Sadat.

Sami Moubayed is a university professor, historian, and editor-in-chief of
Forward Magazine in Syria. This article appeared in Asia Times Online on
March 1, 2012.


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Received on Sun Mar 04 2012 - 18:06:15 EST
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