President Ali Abdullah Salih, leader of northern Yemen since 1978, leader of a unified Yemen since 1990, has announced that, in the face of mounting protests and a new, vibrant and explosive morning in the Middle East, he will immediately resign the Presidency. In 2013, when his term is up, I mean. So, not really immediately. Salih has also announced that his son will not be the next President, and that he is scrapping new electoral laws that were considered unfair to the opposition parties, including an amendment that would allow him to run again (after 32 years, he's being term-limited out), and is delaying the Parliamentary elections in the spring to allow the opposition to better organize themselves.
So, now there are a couple of questions. One is: is this sincere? Is he really planning to only stay for another two years, and then take up golf? Or is this typical Salih, where he will announce one thing but manipulate the situation for the next couple of years so that he can come back with the acclaim of the people, a reluctant hero for a troubled nation.
I won't pretend to know what is in his heart. I would imagine that, in typical fashion, he isn't really thinking about 2013- he's thinking about right now. These steps were absolutely crucial if he wants to hang on- I've been arguing that he needs to make huge concessions, and he made them all (all but the big one, and we'll get to that). Salih is concerned for the day, and he thinks this will help him win it, or at least survive it. I am sure that somewhere in the back of his head he thinks there is a way to get to 2013 and beyond, but in between there he'll have about 3700 other crisis to deal with.
But can he survive the day? That is the big question. As Nasser reports, this isn't going to stop the protests.
The Yemeni opposition said they would take to the streets tomorrow Thursday despite a declared promise by President Saleh that he would not stand for elections and he would not pass power to his son.
“The President Saleh’s call for dialogue is something and the demonstrations are something else,” said Mohammed Al Mutawakel, the chairman of the supreme council of the collation of the opposition parties.
“The opposition would take to the street tomorrow with the people, and the ruling party should not link the call for dialogue to the demonstrations.”
The opposition is mulling over a response to the initiatives, but I would think they are acceptable. The JMP is part of the system, after all, and they aren't going to want to upset it too much. But as I argued the other day, I don't think the JMP is really leading these marches, even though they are nominally in charge. This is a reflection of the passion in Tunisia and Egypt, and there will be a sizable number of people who will want Salih out right now- not 2013.
But I think he took some of the wind out of their sails, which of course was his intention all along. It will be much easier for him to make the case that he was elected, he has the right and the obligation to finish out his term, and that these are agitators. He gave legitimate opposition groups everything they wanted, so why are these troublemakers asking more?
Will it work? I answer this with my analyst cap, and as someone who has spent a long time thinking about it: I don't have the first goddamn clue. It is impossible to tell what is going to happen. I do think that there will be people agitating for his departure, but unless it gets really big I don't think Salih will crack down- in a strange way, he bought himself a lot of space in which he can simply ignore their demands. This might have been a masterstroke, or we might one day look back at it as the desperate moves of an end-of-his-days tyrant. I'll try to blog frequently tomorrow- should be a hell of a day, and we can just hope it doesn't resemble what we're seeing in Cairo right now.