Yemen's Arab Transition Model Seen to Be in Trouble: Noe & Raad

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By Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad

The so-called Yemen model for persuading a dictator to take the first step from power -- often invoked as international diplomats look for ways to end bloodshed in Syria -- is increasingly seen as foundering.

After a month in office, Yemen's new president, Abdurabuh Hadi, is struggling to hold the strife-ridden country together. Commentators in the region who recently were euphoric at the decision of Hadi's predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step down have turned darkly pessimistic.

Hadi faces severe pressure from Saleh, who recently threatened to bring down the new government, using the votes of Cabinet ministers who remain loyal to him.

At the same time, clashes between the army -- itself split along political and tribal lines -- and a resurgent al-Qaeda that now holds tracts of Yemeni territory have resulted in hundreds of casualties over several weeks of often intense fighting, including in key towns and cities.

Even Iran has been injected into the mix, with the U.S. and some of its Arab regime allies in the Gulf accusing officials in Tehran of supporting a religious minority in the north known as the Houthists, as well as secessionists in the south.

Saleh ended his 33-year rule in late February, following a presidential election in which Hadi was the only candidate allowed to stand. It wasn't much of a democratic transition, but it was widely welcomed in the region as providing an escape from a potential full-scale civil war.

The deal under which Saleh handed power to Hadi, engineered by the U.S., Europe and the Gulf states, provided the former president with immunity from prosecution. It also effectively allowed him and his family to retain significant influence in the security services and in the current Cabinet of national reconciliation.

"Day after day,” wrote Hassan Haidar, a columnist for the Saudi owned, London based Al-Hayat, “it is becoming increasingly clear that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquishing power, despite how positive and necessary it was, has neither put a stop to the chaos experienced by Yemen at the political and security levels, nor produced a solution that would rebuild the state on new foundations.”

Haidar blamed the country’s deepening divide on Saleh's opponents, including those Yemenis who continue to protest in public squares. There is, he wrote, “a crisis faced by members of the opposition, who have so far not given their public, in particular, and their fellow citizens in general, the impression that they are capable of shaping a model better than the one that had been standing.”

Haidar’s position proved popular among other state-owned media in the Gulf. The pro-monarchy Saudi paper Ar-Riyadh, while characterizing Saleh’s recent threats to bring down the government as unhelpful, said Iran might be to blame for al-Qaeda’s rising fortunes in Yemen:

“We must find out who is financing the organization and pushing it to carry out these dangerous operations, and whether or not the Houthis are allied with it, which would expose many states that want Yemen to be the state of al-Qaeda,” a veiled reference to Iran, which neighboring Saudi Arabia blames for supporting the Houthist insurgency along its border.

Non-Gulf-state media, however, saw the original reconciliation deal championed by the Gulf states at the root of Yemen's troubles.

“The prescriptions provided by the United States, Europe, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have failed to save the ailing country. Yemeni politicians in particular are tasting the bitterness of the GCC initiative that allowed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the target of a popular revolution, not only to remain in the country but to enjoy full immunity,” Zakaria al-Kamali wrote in the left-leaning, Beirut-based Al-Akhbar daily

Reflecting a widely held view among Saleh’s opponents, columnist Issam al-Kamali wrote in the Yemen-based Mareb Press that the former president was responsible for al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Yemen, since it bolstered his assertion that only he could control the group:

Ever since he returned from treatment in the U.S. for wounds sustained during an attack on the presidential palace last June, “Saleh brought with him terrorism (Al-Qaeda), assassinations, anarchy and killing. He must leave, along with his family, which is running the security and especially the intelligence apparatuses, through which terrorism, killing and destruction are being activated,” wrote al-Kamali.

Writing in, the mouthpiece of Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party, columnist Mohammad Anaam shot back that the war against the former president “does not require morals, as long as they are achieving gains and victories through lies and rumors.” He charged that “all the foreign media outlets” and Saleh’s political enemies were inciting a dispute between the two presidents as a means “to shift the world’s attention away from the real battle waged by our people against al-Qaeda.”

At least one Yemeni columnist was fed up with the blame game played out by both sides. “It is no longer acceptable for any component in the authority to play the role of the victim, just as it is no longer acceptable for this talk about the revolution, change or development in order to disown a past of which they were a part,” wrote Abdullah al-Safani in Yemen's state-owned Ath-Thawra. Both sides, he lamented, were merely “reproducing the backwardness and the crises” of Yemen’s past, a road to destruction that will ultimately spare no one.

(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)

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-0- Mar/27/2012 15:21 GMT