"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Yemen readies for "Day of Rage"

Meanwhile, back in Yemen...

Dozens of activists calling for the ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, have clashed with government supporters in Sanaa, the country's capital.
Plainclothes police also attacked the demonstrators, who marched to the Egyptian embassy in Sanaa on Saturday chanting "Ali, leave leave" and "Tunisia left, Egypt after it and Yemen in the coming future".
Small potatoes now, compared with Egypt, but Thursday the 3rd is shaping up to be a big day of protests.  The question is whether Salih will still try to respond peacefully and hope that he can outlast the anger until it dissipates- which I think would be a losing bet anyway- or if he will respond like Mubarak.  This is of course more dangerous in Yemen, where there are a lot of guns, as you may have heard.   This might be a clue. 

Tawakel Karman, a female activist who has led several protests in Sanaa during the past week, said that a member of the security forces in civilian clothes tried to attack her with a dagger and a shoe but was stopped by other protesters.
Of course, that is just one guy who might not have been following orders (and also, if you have a dagger wielding a shoe with the other hand just seems clumsy and superfluous.  I know the degrading aspect of it, but come on).   Things are happening so quickly in Cairo that Salih should be able to learn some lessons before Thursday. 

I would imagine he is going to spend the next 4 days offering to make huge concessions to attempt to take the steam out of any movement.  Nothing like resigning (though he might feint that way), but what he will see as enough.  If these are rejected, and their sincerity should of course be taken lightly, he will move to classify the protestors as enemies of "democracy and the state".   In that case, he might feel he has a free hand to break them. 

But if he is canny, he'll let them march and chant, and let them make the first move toward violence- or at least make it seem that way.   Salih doesn't want a day of rage to turn into days and nights of violence and fire, so he'll be wise not to overplay his hand.  But he isn't as nimble as he used to be, and is far more paranoid and closed off than before.  This will sound like shoddy analysis, but right now nothing will surprise me.  There are no guarantees. 

This is where the US can come in.   If we move against Mubarak, Salih will know that he is in a similar bind and that he can't count on us.  This will tie his hands even tighter, and maybe force him to offer concessions far greater than he would like.  See, I think that as much as Salih wants to be boss, and feels only he can run Yemen, I've always felt like there was a part of him who would love a legacy of being the first Arab leader in modern times to step down peacefully.  He still has that chance, even if it isn't entirely of his own volition.  That is what the US needs to urge him to do, appeal to that side, while keeping the stick of aid reduction in the forefront. 

I don't love the idea of Salih being gone.  I don't think that what comes next will be up to the insane challenges facing Yemen.   But times are different now.  Things have changed.  And while I've always felt his government being toppled would be a disaster, if there is a hint of democracy and inclusion even a weak government would be bolstered by legitimacy.   We do have an opportunity in Yemen that I don't think anyone honestly saw coming.  There were people who had more faith than I did, and I respect that, but I don't think the conditions were there.  The revolt that has wildfired across the region has created a new situation and new opportunities.   The US doesn't have the ability to control things, nor should it try, for both practical and moral reasons but it can use its influence to create a positive and almost unimaginable outcome.   Things won't be perfect, but for the first time in memory, there is space.  

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