The events of the last few days deserve a long and thoughtful blog entry, or several, but right now I just want to get a few thoughts down on various subjects. Yesterday the GCC foreign ministers met to discuss the Yemen situation "after hearing from both sides." The fact that the ministers think there are but two sides in this revolution tells us right away that the revolutionary Youth are not going to get what they're after from the GCC. The plan that has leaked out of these meetings so far confirms this. It goes something like this: President Saleh steps down within the next 30 days, handing power to his vice president (as per the constitution). It's not clear whether he would retain the current VP, 'Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, or appoint someone more likable. Then, 60 days after the transfer of power, new elections would be held.
Now, Yemen's ruling party--the GPC--and its main opposition bloc--the JMP--have been at loggerheads for about three years now over the country's election laws, and parliamentary elections have been postponed twice. Why anyone thinks elections could be organized in three months is beyond me.
Then again, maybe I'm being unfair. Unlike many countries, Yemen has at least held successful elections before; maybe it would be best to just push ahead with them, if the parties could agree to a set of emergency election rules. Previously the main bone of contention was the fact the the GPC effectively controlled the election process, and could disqualify whomever it saw fit. If this system were to be suspended and elections monitored by some third party (the GCC has lots of experience with democratic elections, right?), perhaps 90 days would be enough time.
But I forgot to mention real selling point of the current GCC plan: Saleh and his whole family get a guarantee of immunity from prosecution. They probably don't even have to leave the country, and there's no mention of assets being frozen nationalized. That's right: the family that has run Yemen into the ground, and motivated millions of people to revolt, and has allegedly emptied the central bank in the last two months, gets to stick around, maybe run for office, maybe start that civil war 'Ali 'Abdullah's been promising.
So why would the GCC and the Saleh regime put forward a plan that the other side will certainly refuse? Because, as I suggested earlier, there isn't an "other side." The other way to put it is that there are at least five different "other sides" (maybe a hundred, it depends on how you count). The GCC can play dumb, but they know this quite well, as does the president, of course. Sure, the Youth in the protest squares will be disgusted, and the regime is counting on that. But the other rebellious groups--the major tribal confederations, the Huthis, several pieces of the military, the JMP establishment--will all understand that a compromise is being offered here, one that could give them all exactly what they want. General 'Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the shaykhs of Hashid and Bakil, the JMP leadership; they all know how to talk a good revolution, but for the most part they are in this revolution because it's where the action is. They will stand behind the Youth until they hear a good enough offer, and no longer. And of course, the Youth will catch the bullets and the beatings until then. Once these various segments of the political mainstream agree to negotiate with the regime, the Youth will appear to be the sole rejectionists, and will be blamed for all the chaos and disunity.
Oh, and of course the Southern Movement folks will also be left behind, and the regime will be given all the excuse it needs to intensify its crackdowns until the revolutionaries can no longer sustain their movement.
So that's what the regime and the GCC are really working toward in these negotiations, or at least that's how I read it. The big question is whether the activists who started this revolution have learned enough about politics in the last three months to prove me and the regime wrong. Can the Youth maintain their shaky coalitions long enough to outlast Saleh? Can they convince the mainstream opposition forces to take a chance, when cutting a deal with the devil would probably pay off faster and better? The GCC plans to send an envoy to Yemen later this week with the official details of the deal, so perhaps we'll learn the answers to these questions very soon.
Oh, and as a footnote: the UN Security Council met this week to talk about Yemen as well, for the first time and at the request of Germany. They failed to draft an official statement, as China and Russia blocked all proposals (I really doubt the US was too upset about this, either). The next time you catch me or any other Yemen watcher saying that all Saleh has left are his own relatives, remember that two of the most powerful nations in the world are still unwilling to criticize him.