Monday, April 25, 2011

Yemen Crisis Spurs Regional Activism

April 25, 2011

Thomas W. Lippman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

The proposed solution to the political crisis in Yemen offered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) appears unlikely to bring about a peaceful resolution.

Many of the protesters who have been demanding the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have rejected the GCC plan because it includes amnesty for him. Saleh, who has agreed to give up his office in a month but only in an orderly transfer of power, has rejected demands that he quit immediately.

"We are committed to constitutional legitimacy and don't accept chaos," he told an interviewer on Sunday evening. "Whom shall I hand it over to? Those who are trying to make a coup? No. We will do it through ballot boxes and referendum."

If this stalemate continues, the violence in Yemen is also likely to continue. The longer-term significance of this episode may turn out to be not the fate of Yemen but the new era of regional activism that seems to be developing in the GCC, which until very recently was a negligible actor in regional security matters.

The GCC was created in 1981 as an economic and cultural grouping of the six Sunni Muslim monarchies on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. The organization's effectiveness has long been undermined by internal rivalries—in particular, the small sheikhdoms' fear of being overpowered by Saudi Arabia—and despite token efforts has never achieved a common security strategy or built an effective joint defense force. [In his last months as chief of the U.S. Central Command, which includes the GCC countries in its area of responsibility, Gen. David Petraeus declared publicly that he had given up on trying to forge the six countries into a coherent joint force.]

But fear is a powerful motivator, and two large fears have galvanized the GCC into joint actions, under the leadership of a new secretary general, Abdul Latif al-Zayyani, a Bahraini who took office during the height of the turmoil in his country.

Alarmed by what GCC members saw as Iranian troublemaking on their side of the Gulf, the GCC endorsed and expedited the decision by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to send security forces into Bahrain. It torpedoed a planned Arab summit conference in Baghdad because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom they regard as an ally of Tehran, criticized GCC leaders for their crackdowns on dissidents. And it crafted a plan for Saleh to step aside.

Yemen is not a member of the GCC; [not being a monarchy, it was automatically excluded from membership.] But it has long, porous borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman, is a center of strength for al-Qaeda, and presents a long-term threat to GCC stability if state failure and a looming water shortage spark large-scale cross-border migration.

Whatever the outcome in Yemen, those in Washington and in friendly GCC governments who are concerned about regional stability may welcome the potential emergence of the group as an active player, in their own interests.

Yemen protests kill 3 as opposition haggles



Violence continues as protest leaders debate whether to accept Gulf plan for President Saleh to step down.

SANAA - Yemeni security forces shot dead three more protesters against President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday while opposition politicians debated whether to cooperate with a Gulf plan for the veteran autocrat to step aside.

The risk of Yemen, the poorest Arab state long on the brink of collapse, descending further into bloodshed is a major worry for Saudi Arabia and the United States, which fear an active al Qaida wing could strengthen a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula.

Witnesses said security men opened fire to stop protesters marching through the city of Taiz, south of the capital. They were trying to join a pro-democracy rally that would take them past a palace belonging to Saleh. "There were thousands in a march who came from outside Taiz, but the police, army and gunmen in civilian clothes confronted them, opening fire with bullets and tear gas," said Jamil Abdullah, a protest organizer.

"They opened fire heavily from every direction."

A woman watching the clash from her balcony was shot dead, and medical sources said 25 others were shot and wounded in the town, scene of some of Yemen's largest anti-Saleh protests.

Both Western and Gulf Arab allies of Yemen have tried to mediate a solution to a three-month crisis in which protesters inspired by Arab revolts against autocratic rule in Egypt and Tunisia have sought Saleh's immediate ouster.

Saleh, seeing political allies desert him en masse, agreed in principle to a proposal by Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers to step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself, his family and aides.

But the plan, yet to be formally agreed, would allow Saleh to stay in power for a further 30 days before stepping down. Analysts say that could leave room to make trouble.


In Taiz, clashes lasted for several hours, with heavy gunfire reported. Dozens were arrested, activists said.

Similar clashes broke out in the town of Ibb, where one protester was shot dead and a dozen were wounded by live fire as police tried to break up a march, witnesses said.

Security forces also shot dead a protester in the southern province of al-Baida while trying to disperse a protest.

Yemen's main opposition coalition, made up of Islamists and leftists, has welcomed the Gulf plan but stopped short of a full endorsement and said it would stay out of a unity government during a transition period.

Some opposition members, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters on Sunday they did not want to be associated with a unity administration in case Saleh, a shrewd political survivor, did not resign after a month.

The arrangement proposed by Gulf states would involve Saleh appointing a prime minister chosen by the opposition to form a unity government made up of ministers from all sides. He would resign, handing over to a vice president from the ruling party.

An opposition refusal to take part could stymie the plan, and opposition sources said the US ambassador had pushed the group to come on board fully in a meeting on Sunday.

Opposition leaders met on Monday to formulate a stance and may talk again with Gulf and Western diplomats as early as Tuesday to give a response. They were expected to issue a statement on their position within hours.

"We met with Gulf and Western ambassadors in Sanaa to discuss the Gulf initiative and receive clarifications (on the Gulf plan's stance) on the continuation of protests," an opposition source said, adding that more meetings would follow.

Protesters, who want Saleh prosecuted over a crackdown in which more than 125 protesters have died, remain unconvinced by the proposed deal and have called for more demonstrations.

The mostly young protesters, who include large cross sectors of Yemeni society from tribesmen to northern Shi'ite rebels and southern separatists, have expressed fears that Saleh's inner circle could slow or stop his departure.

Two Antigovernment Protesters Killed in Ibb and Al-Baitha Provinces

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, Apr 25, 2011- At least two antigovernment protesters were killed and several others were wounded in two separate clashes with security forces in Ibb and Al-Baitha provinces.

One was shot dead in Ibb province and 30 others wounded seven of them by live bullets and the others by stones, in clashes between anti-Saleh protesters demanding the fall of embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime and security forces in plainclothes.

The second protester was killed in the southern province of Al-Baitha where tens of thousands of anti-Saleh protesters marched on Monday demanding an end to Saleh's regime.

Medical and eyewitnesses in the southern province of Taiz said that 250 anti-government protesters were treated for inhaling tear gas and 50 were wounded by live bullets and stones when security forces tried to disperse protesters taking to the streets demanding immediate ouster for President Saleh.

President Saleh's regime has been facing nationwide protests in 15 of Yemen's province since the beginning of February.

More than 130 demonstrators have been killed in clashes with the security forces since late January.