Playing with fire

President Saleh's speech earlier today was a textbook example of the first rule of propaganda: attribute all of your crimes to your enemy. It's the kind of political rhetoric that is beautiful in its pure dishonesty. That is to say that every single sentence in this speech is not only false, but the exact opposite of the truth. If you could take a photographic negative of this speech, or somehow reverse the polarity of it, it would become a perfect statement of fact. For your edification, the BBC's translation of today's speech is below:

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

O large crowd, brothers and sisters, my young sons and daughters, may God bless this Friday and many happy returns of the day.

We salute this million-man crowd of great Yemeni people in all the governorates. This month, we will celebrate the national day of the 22nd of May.

We congratulate the great Yemeni people on these feelings and unprecedented enthusiasm and support for constitutional legitimacy.

We call upon all the sons of the country to be united in one rank to face all economic, political, and subversive challenges caused by the operatives of the Joint Meeting Parties, the JMP, who block roads and kill the people whose souls it is not permissible to kill.

O JMP and your allies, stop playing with fire. Our people, in all villages, districts, and suburbs, backed by our brave Armed Forces, will not stand idle; they will respond properly. On Wednesday, you attacked government institutions, killed people whose souls it is not permissible to kill, and assaulted the building of the Council of Ministers and the  radio building, and previously assaulted Al-Thawrah Sports City. These are acts of sabotage; you have damaged in three months what we have been constructing for 32 years. These are the subversive elements that want to profit at the expense of those in power to slaughter our Yemeni people, cut out their tongues, behead them and block roads. O JMP and the lawless elements that support it, stop playing with fire.

Our people will have to defend their institutions, villages, houses. We will face the challenge with a challenge. Those who want power have to get it through ballot boxes. No killing the souls of the people whose souls it is not permissible to kill, no road blocking, no cutting off gas and oil in Ma'rib; these belong to the people, not the General People's Congress [GPC] or the JMP - these belong to the people. You get your salaries through them, people live on these resources. O JMP, stop playing with fire.

These are subversive elements; they are not loyal to the country. We call upon everyone to start constructive dialogue, sponsored by any side, anywhere. We call upon you to start a reasonable dialogue.

A tribute to the millions of our people, and may God's peace be upon you.

Source: Republic of Yemen TV, Sanaa, in Arabic 13 May 11, BBC Monitoring

We've seen Brother President 'Ali 'Abdullah use this kind of quasi-religious talk before; he's not very good at it. After this week's massacres and pre-escalation activities in San‘a, Ta‘iz, and Hodaydah (and now Ibb), and a promise from the leading Youth organization of major escalations next week, the subtext of this speech is that Saleh has few or no cards left to play. He's slipping into the realm of Qadhafi-esque self-parody with this speech; all that's missing are the helwasa pills.

Saleh has threatened the collapse of the state. Done: the banks are out of money, there's no cooking gas, drinking water, or fuel. There's no parliament, most foreign missions and more than half of the military is in a state of mutiny. But the protests continue.

Saleh has threatened the rise of al-Qa‘idah. Well, according to Shatha al-Harazi and others, AQAP is operating in the open in parts of Yemen, and in other parts tribal leaders have AQAP on the run. And the Americans (the real audience for Saleh's hysterics) have re-started their own mis-guided counter-terror operations, and will continue to shoot up southern Yemen with or without Yahya Saleh's help.

Saleh has played all manner of games with the GCC, which is trying its best to save him from destruction despite his own best efforts to the contrary. But Yesteday Qatar—the only Gulf state that commands respect and admiration outside its own borders—publicly removed itself from the GCC's Yemen process, in what I take to be a challenge to the other Gulf states. Qatar has long been angling for regional influence and prestige; by taking a more realistic, tough line on the Saleh regime, it will certainly gain both from the Yemeni people and opposition factions.

Finally, President Saleh has threatened outright civil war. Of course no one wants war, but signs are that leaders on various sides are preparing for it. General 'Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar is ready. The tribes of Nihm and Yafi‘ proved this week and last that they are more than ready. Saleh still commands a military force, to be sure, but not necessarily the most formidable one in the country. Gregory Johnsen described him as "a warlord with an army"; my suspicion is that if he tried today to order that army into war, he would not be at all pleased with the results.

The Youth are planning the final stage of their protests, with the full knowledge that dozens if not hundreds of them will die. The rebellious military units and tribal armies are becoming more bold and more willing to take on the regime. The only one who doesn't know that Saleh's time is up is Saleh himself. The GCC deal was the best he'll ever see; in prolonging the endgame, he's the one playing with fire.