"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Thursday, February 3, 2011

So...did Salih win?

Tens of thousands of people came out in San'a today to call for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Salih, meeting, symbolically, in Tahrir Square, and- no, that's not exactly right.  They were supposed to, but the square was filled with Salih supporters, so the anti-regime rally was moved to San'a University.   According to reports, both protests dispersed peacefully in the mid-afternoon, one assumes right around the qat time, which is perfectly and wonderfully Yemeni.

I don't really mean to sound flippant; this isn't over.  The opposition plans to march every Thursday until they get what they want, which is a mix of those who wants concessions (which Salih is theoretically giving) and those who want him to step down immediately (which he isn't).  Whether these remain peaceful and relatively respectful depends on a combination of Salih's actions, and whether they at least have the appearance of sincerity, and if the JMP and other political groups can control the protests, or whether they will become a reflection of inchoate but very real dissatisfaction and rage.

(On a personal note, I got kind of giddy at writing "relatively respectful"- this is relative to what might be a new Arab world, where the speeches of leaders can be met with derisive snarls and laughter, rather than a police-enforced somnolent nod and hollow applause.  This might just be a moment, and can easily be reversed, but for now carries a whiplashing excitement.)

But for right now Salih has managed this with the kind of dexterity and stagecraft he is famous for, but which many, myself included, had thought he lost, as his circle closed and he became locked in a paranoid labyrinth largely of his own making.*   He has managed to undercut the protestors by announcing his intentions to reform the system, and coming out against hereditary rule.  The next few weeks are crucial, and we can see how sincere he really is, and that will largely guide what will happen.

What I would imagine he is going to do is find a way to share some spheres of power with the opposition, hoping he can co-opt them and they can in turn dampen the passion of their supporters.  This is what he has always done; this is his way- the Yemeni way- to smooth over differences.  And it might work.  2013 is a long way away though- for those who want change now it could seem like an eternity, and they might not listen to the JMP.  After all, if you have already broken the psychological barrier of listening to the President, who has been in charge for the entire lives of many of the protestors, it will be easy to turn on the weak and divided leaders of the opposition, especially when they can be easily accused of selling out.

So is Salih sincere?  Probably to an extent; it is in his interest not to let the country fall apart, and he has always shown an incredible ideological flexibility to fit his own interests.   Like I said yesterday, he bought himself some breathing room, and isn't really thinking about 2013 yet.  Gun to my head, I'd say he won't run again, but that is based on what is happening at this moment, and that is flexible.  If these movements collapse in on themselves, he might try to change things again.

Of course, and this should have been said all week, even if the status quo reasserts itself to some degree- and nothing will ever be completely the same; you can't erase a taste of freedom- Salih will still have all the problems he has been dealing with beforehand, and which threatened to break apart him and his country.  So, to answer the title of this post- yes.  For now, tentatively, and with a million battles ahead.

Sorry- I've been reading a lot of Borges these last couple of days.  It is impossible not to want to shoehorn "labyrinth" in somewhere.

1 comment:

  1. Brian, what do you think is the make-up of the opposition in Yemen? Is it a genuine groundswell of popular dissatisfaction, or the existing opposition making hay while the sun is shining on Middle Eastern protest movements...?