Saleh supporters rally round president
15 June 2011
By Abeer Allam
Sanaa-A senior Yemeni official has declared as “out of the question” the possibility of a swift transition of power away from the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, accusing western governments of misreading the situation.
A June 3 attack against Mr Saleh, who is recovering in Saudi Arabia, has changed the “rules of the game” and the government was not obliged to hand over power under such circumstances, according to Hisham Sharaf Abdullah, the country’s trade and industry minister and a senior ruling party official.
“The Americans and Europeans wanted to hastily close the Yemeni file and move on as if it was Tunisia or Egypt,” Mr Abdullah told the Financial Times. “Our response: ‘Not before the president’s return,’ and we shot millions of bullets in the air on Wednesday to make this message clear. They got the message.”
In a display of power last Wednesday night, Mr Saleh’s supporters kept the capital Sana’a awake by sending long bursts of machinegun fire and fireworks into the air in what state media reported were celebrations to mark Mr Saleh’s recovery.
The US last week called for an immediate handover of power to end the political turmoil that has embroiled Yemen for months. Gerald Feierstein, the US ambassador to Sana’a, has held several meetings with Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi, the vice-president, to urge him to form a national unity government.
Analysts say finding a solution to the crisis in Yemen is not easy. Mr Saleh has a strong power base nurtured through 33 years of rule and patronage. Even if he is no longer in the picture because of his severe injuries, his family controls key posts, including the Republican Guard, headed by his son Ahmed.
“If, God forbids, anything happens to the president, we still have the president’s son, we still have most of the army and a strong party,” Mr Adbullah said. “And we have 50 to 60 million pieces of personal weapons.”
Analysts argue talks focused on a transition are the best option for resolving the crisis, though they are also being impeded by questions over Mr Saleh’s health and a possible return.
“The vice-president needs to start [the] transition, but it is unclear if he going to be able to do that or if he has the respect, recognition and authority to do that,” said Chris Boucek, a Yemen expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Foreign ministers of the Gulf Co-operation Council will hold a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to discuss the Yemeni crisis.