Senate hearing showcases America's ambivalence

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing today titled "The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East: Yemen and the Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council." Chaired by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the hearing featured Stephen Seche and Mary Beth Long as expert witnesses. Seche served as the US ambassador to Yemen from 2007-2010 and currently serves as the VP of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, a think-tank funded by GCC governments but staffed by some credible DC thinkers. Long served for several years in the Department of Defense, and is now the head of a private security firm with a Middle East focus.  The senators present started out with questions on the current war in Yemen, the nature and purpose of American support for the Saudi-led coalition, and the role of Iran in the conflict. From there the hearing flailed into a discussion of Russia's relationship with the GCC states, with both committee members and witnesses undecided as to whether the GCC is wooing Russia to replace the US as their Most Important Ally, or planning to go to war against Russia in Syria. There was much talk of the "Russia-Iran alliance" as well. In fact, in some ways this was actually a hearing on Iran and what the US can and should do about Iranian influence in the region.

Those parts of the hearing that focused on Yemen were worth watching, however. Senator Corker and others on the committee pressed the witnesses on whether the US actually has any interests that are served by bombing Yemen, or whether America's involvement is purely motivated by Saudi/GCC interests. The eventual concensus seemed to be that the US was dragged, largely unprepared, into this conflict by Saudi Arabia, but that it is in America's interest to limit Iranian influence in Yemen. The witnesses disagreed on the actual extent of that influence, with Seche expressing the conventional wisdom of Yemen-watchers--that Iran isn't in charge of the Houthi-Saleh campaign for domination, or in his words, that "the Houthis are their own boss," but that Iran would benefit from a Houthi victory--while Long claimed that the Houthis are an outright Iranian proxy. Moreover, according to Long, Iranian, Russian, and Hezbollah fighters are already on the ground in Yemen (she at one point said, with a straight face, "we don't know how many there are, but we know it's increasing.").

Ms. Long's testimony was essentially a set of Saudi-authored talking points, with her Main Point being that, if the US wants to see this war come to a positive conclusion with decreased civilian casualties, it needs to hurry up and sell Saudi Arabia a lot more smart bombs, OR ELSE. Seche's testimony was much more balanced, without a clear political or economic agenda, which was refreshing.

Toward the end of the hearing, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) raised quite forcefully the issue of Yemen's humanitarian catastrophe, and the fact that the Saudi-led bombing campaign and naval blockade have contributed to it, a point to which Seche agreed. Senator Markey went on to say that "our silence is complicity" in Saudi Arabia's violations of international humanitarian law. He further pointed out that US law forbids military assistance to military entities that have committed "gross violations" of international law and human rights, and suggests that KSA's actions in Yemen put it within the bounds of such prohibitions.

If Senator Markey defined one end of the spectrum of arguments presented at today's hearing--the empathetic, humanitarian, reasonable end, Mary Beth Long positioned herself firmly at the other. According to Long, the fact that Houthi-Saleh forces used a Russian-made missile against coalition forces proves that Russian and/or Iranian military advisors are on the front lines in Yemen, and that Iranian weapons shipments are practically pouring into Yemen on a daily basis. This disregards the fact that the missile in question was, as far as anyone can tell, part of the arsenal of the Yemeni army, and that the pro-Saleh military includes units trained in the use of such missiles.

The take-away: though both witnesses represent institutions with ties to GCC powers, Ambassador Seche offered thoughtful and earnest opinions based on his own experience, while Ms. Long parroted propaganda. When forced to boil down their recommendations for US policy, Seche urged US policy makers to make sure that any further arms transfers to Saudi Arabia come with "significant strings" in the form of commitments to engage productively in peace talks. Long, on the other hand, urged the US to deliver more and better munitions to Saudi Arabia as quickly as possible.

And one final exchange that I found very interesting: Senator Markey asked the witnesses if the US administration should be making more of a fuss about Saudi violations of international law. Seche said no; calling out the Saudis in public would be counterproductive, but the administration should speak to KSA "privately" about this. Markey then asked if the Senate, and specifically the FRC, should speak out publicly on the issue since the administration can't. Seche enthusiastically said yes, that a vocal Congress could be helpful in international negotiations. He even said that he had used the "help me get this pesky Congress off my back" approach in his own dealings with intransigent foreign governments in the past.

You can watch the full video of the hearing, or download the witnesses' written testimony, right here.

Below I've Storified just some of the livetweeting of the hearing, by myself as well as Beka Feathers of PILPG and Kate Kizer of ADHRB.


Hadi's foreign minister speaks to Al Jazeera

Last weekend, the foreign minister of President Hadi's government-in-exile, Riyadh Yasin, gave an interview on the current situation in Yemen to Al Jazeera English. The whole interview is worth watching (it's just over 20 minutes), but there are a few important points I'd like to highlight.  First, when asked about the current state of the Yemeni state military, FM Yasin claims that about one third of the military is still loyal to President Hadi, and is fighting against the pro-Houthi/pro-Saleh forces. He also claims that about half of the military units and assets controlled by former president 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh have been destroyed already. Yasin also points out that many soldiers have simply deserted since the start of the war.

Yasin also refuses to admit that Yemen's conflict is, in fact, a civil war. Instead, he says it should be viewed as simply a coup by Saleh and the Houthi militia.

I think the idea that 1/3 of the army is still fighting for Hadi is beyond optimistic. There are definitely some segments of the regular military fighting against the Houthi/Saleh forces, particularly in Ta‘iz, but I think it's a relatively small number.

When asked about the humanitarian situation in Yemen, Yasin makes a claim that defies common sense and decency. He claims that the Saudi-led airstrikes and fighting on the ground haven't had as disastrous effect on the country as the foreign media thinks, and that Yemenis are used to living in very difficult conditions. Basically, he says that all of the current suffering is Saleh's fault for not building a better infrastructure during his 33-year-reign.

FM Yasin, who is based in Saudi Arabia, deserves some credit for openly criticizing the GCC initiative, which eased Saleh out of power in late 2011. He says that allowing Saleh to remain in Yemen was a "mistake," and that the GCC states are to blame for that mistake.

Yasin warns that if the Saudis and their coalition don't help Hadi's government regain control of the south soon, AQAP will likely move in and "become heroes of the people" by opposing the Houthis. This is, I think, a pretty good point.

Toward the end of the interview, Yasin says one more thing that's worth paying attention to. He says that Yemen is now "part of the Gulf states," and that the GCC members will be involved in "restructuring" Yemen once the conflict is over. The Saudi leadership has also talked recently about pushing through GCC membership for Yemen, something that has long been denied to the country in the past.

You can (and should) watch the full interview at this link.

GCC airstrikes continue across Yemen

Just after nightfall in San‘a, sources in the city are reporting the most intense airstrikes since the Saudi-led joint bombing operation began on Wednesday. The air campaign, which Saudi Arabia has dubbed Operation Decisive Storm (‘asifat al-Hazm), includes forces from all Gulf Cooperation Council states with the exception of Oman, which seems to be positioning itself as a potential mediator. Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco are also contributing forces, while the US and other western states have promised logistical and intelligence support.  According to Yemeni government sources (that is, pro-Houthi officials in the acting government in San‘a), at least 39 Yemeni civilians were killed in the first two nights of air raids. Thursday night's bombings expanded beyond the capital, with coalition warplanes targeting pro-Houthi and pro-Saleh forces in Sa‘dah, Ta‘iz, Aden, and Lahj. Strikes on Friday reportedly have also targeted positions in al-Hudaydah on the Red Sea coast.

Meanwhile, Houthi/Saleh forces have continued their ground campaign for control over southern Yemen, pushing into Abyan and Shabwah Governorates for the first time on Friday. Pro-Saleh forces have reportedly cut off Aden--which the GCC swears is still under the control of the "legitimate government," even though President Hadi fled the city two days ago--from the north, west, and east. GCC-coalition naval and ground forces are waiting off the coast of Aden, but have not entered Yemen yet.

To get a sense of the thinking within the US administration about this latest phase of the conflict, read the transcript of Thursday's State Department press briefing. It seems that the Obama administration may have been caught off-guard by the GCC air campaign, and there does not seem to be total agreement within the US government about the usefulness of GCC actions.

The escalating conflict is already exacerbating Yemen's very serious humanitarian crisis. With roads cut by rival military forces, and power and fuel unavailable, life is only getting harder for the millions of Yemenis facing food insecurity and water shortages.

For propaganda-heavy coverage of the campaign from the Saudi perspective, check out Al Arabiya's English and Arabic websites. Al Jazeera's coverage is more balanced, giving airtime to Yemenis who oppose the airstrikes. Democracy Now interviewed Yemeni analyst and activist Farea al-Muslimi from San'a today, and International Crisis Group released a new briefing paper, which argues that the best option for descalation and peaceful resolution of the crisis would be a monitored ceasefire under the auspices of the UN Security Council, followed by UN-led talks.

March 3-8: Hadi calls for talks in Riyadh, foreign missions to Aden

Over the last week, political negotiations between Ansar Allah and Yemen’s other political parties once again dominated local headlines. President ‘Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi—having established himself in Aden after escaping from house arrest in Sanʻa—has proposed the Saudi capital of Riyadh as a possible venue for resuming the UN-led talks, which are aimed at breaking out of the long-standing political stalemate in the country. But those talks have reportedly continued in the capital without Hadi. The GPC and the Houthis were said to have agreed to form a presidential council, though UN special envoy to Jamal Benomar denied such reports. 

After Hadi called on the Arab and Western diplomatic missions to relocate to Aden, the Saudi and Emirati embassies resumed their operations while the US embassy announced it will be working from the port city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The new UK envoy, who has met with Hadi in Aden and handed in his credentials, said his embassy will not relocate to Aden.

Politically isolated as more than a dozen diplomatic missions pulled out of Sanʻa, the Houthis are reportedly seeking to increase engagement with Iran and to establish ties with Russia. Houthi forces were also reported to have stormed the Headquarters of the National Dialogue Conference General Secretariat in the capital.

In his provisional capital, Aden, President Hadi reportedly called for international aid money to be sent to Aden’s branch of the Yemen Central Bank. According to local observers, any such disruption would be “disastrous” if taken, as this poor Arab nation has been depending on foreign aid for years now.


Feb. 24-March 2: Parties wrangle over location of talks

Editor's note: this week's press review was written by freelance journalist Mohammed Ali Kalfood, filling in for Shuaib Almosawa. Last week’s news coverage spotlighted the issue of relocating the UN-led political talks outside of Yemen’s capital, which has sharply divided the parties involved.

Backed by GCC states, President ‘Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi—who fled house arrest in Sanʻa and established himself in the southern port city of Aden last weekhas called for moving negotiations to a “safe place.” The UN special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has since been trying to talk the involved political parties, including the Houthis, into relocating the sessions.

The Houthi group and the General People’s Congress party (GPC), along with four other political parties, reportedly refused the proposal of relocating the talks outside of Sanʻa. The Islah Party, on the other hand, welcomed this proposal. It was not clear to where exactly the sessions would be relocated, but Aden, Taʻiz, and three other Arab countries were reportedly the possible destinations.

Since arriving in Aden, President Hadi has received representatives of several states that closed their embassies in Sanʻa last month. US Ambassador Matthew Tueller met with Hadi on Monday. In statements to press following the meeting, Ambassador Tueller reiterated Washington's position that Hadi remains the legitimate president of the republic, and that the GCC Initiative and National Dialogue outcomes must still be implemented.

While the political process has been stalled, the Houthis—who took over power in Sanʻa in January—Continued to take action against their local rivals. The Houthi group was accused of staging crackdowns and abducting members of the Islah party in Sanʻa, which is seen as the main rival to Ansar Allah. Also, the group reportedly killed six people and kidnapped 108 others during February.

Feb. 17-23: Negotiations in question as Hadi challenges Houthi rule

Local news coverage during the Last week has again been focused on the political process intended to fill the void left by the resignation of the president and the government last month. The political parties involved in UN-led talks reportedly agreed to form a new national legislative body which would include representatives of underrepresented groups in addition to the incumbent members of Yemen’s parliament. The new body would add 250 members to the current roster of 301 members of parliament. It is not clear yet how the new members would be chosen; proclamations made recently by Ansar Allah—the Houthi movement’s political leadership—suggest that the movement’s so-called Revolutionary Committees would appoint new legislators. The Houthis dissolved the sitting parliament by revolutionary decree earlier this month.

Despite the relative ease in the ongoing talks between rival parties, opponents of the Houthi movement accused UN special envoy Jamal Benomar of "legitimizing" what they called the "Houthi coup." Such accusations were implicitly reinforced by the Gulf Cooperation Coucil, which demanded that the UN Security Council adopt a resolution against the Houthis under Chapter VII, which would open the way for possible economic and military measuresRussia and China have been featured in the local media as the main powers that opposed such a resolution, calling instead for supporting the ongoing UN talks "without imposing ready-made solutions from the outside."

President Hadi, who had been under house arrest in capital Sanʻa since he was forced to resign last month, appeared in the southern port city of Aden on February 21, after militia men loyal to him captured parts of the city last week. Hadi issued a statement upon his arrival, positioning himself as the legitimate president of the republic and calling on the international community to regard all steps taken by the Houthis since September as null and illegitimate. It's not yet clear how Hadi made it, amid strict security measures, out of his house and through several checkpoints manned by the Houthis. Unnamed Houthi sources claimed that Hadi was disguised in woman clothes during his escape. Other news suggested that the Houthis let Hadi out under pressure from the UNSC to release him without condition.

Hadi’s escape gave him, along with his old allies in the opposition coalition, a strong position from which to negotiate with Ansar Allah. Backed by Saudi Arabia and the GCC, Hadi has called for negotiations be moved to a safe place. The GCC issued a statement on Monday welcoming Hadi's exit to Aden and pledged its full support for the transition.

Feb. 10-16: War of Words between Houthis and Foreign Powers

The closure of several western diplomatic missions as well as those of GGC countries in Yemen got the most attention in local media during the last week. One of the leading local media outlets speculated that the departure of the missions, all of which cited security concerns over the Houthi group's seizure of power, could be a preamble to an international military action against the group. The Houthis are often referred to as an Iranian proxy aimed at destabilizing neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The prospect of a military action against Houthi forces increased as the Egyptian envoy to Yemen threatened to use force if the Houthi leadership decided to shut the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

Yemen’s main political parties were reported to have lost hope that the ongoing UN-brokered talks would ever bring about a way out of the current political crisis. They warned the international community that the danger coming out of Yemen would reach all states overseeing transition if those states "didn't act".

The top official in Marib, the oil rich province expected to witness heavy clashes between local tribesmen and Houthi militias, has vowed to take defense actions if the Houthis invade.

Militants of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula stormed the base of a military brigade in Shabwah and looted materiel, claiming that it did so to thwart a Houthi bid to take over the brigade. The recent security vacuum has also led oil companies in southern and eastern Yemen to stop operations.

In the southern port city of Aden, clashes between militias known as Popular Committees—which are loyal to (former) President Hadi—and Central Security Forces said to be loyal to Ansar Allah erupted overnight, with the militias gaining the upper hand and reportedly taking control of government buildings.

Military and security commanders in the south reportedly addressed the issue. The situation remains volatile as the Houthi group slammed Sunday’s UN Security Council resolution, calling on GCC states and the international community to “respect the Yemeni peoples’ will and sovereignty.”

Will the GCC deal destroy itself, or can a real transition be salvaged?

I was asked last week to write an op-ed about Yemen's upcoming presidential "election" for a German magazine. Because most of our readers don't read German (myself included), I'm publishing the English version of my article here, and the German version is available at Zenith Magazine Online. I expect many readers to disagree with parts of this piece, or think that I'm oversimplifying things. I think there's a lot about these issues that needs to be discussed, so please comment if you feel so inclined. In particular, I expect some readers to take issue with the last section, where I lay out a very simplistic prescription for a very complicated problem. I'm aware that these things are easier said than done, but the problem at hand is an existential one and must be confronted, regardless of how hard this solution might be to implement.

On February 21, Yemen will hold a presidential election that will defy almost every notion of what an election should be. Contrary to Yemeni law, the “election” will feature only one candidate, whose victory has been decided ahead of time; but even if the election’s result is certain, its effects are difficult to predict.

The voting process in question—“referendum” is a more accurate description than “election,” but both words are far too suggestive of democracy for this occasion—has been mandated not by the Yemeni constitution, nor by popular demand, but by an agreement signed by the heads of Yemen’s largest political parties and written by representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), hardly experts in the science of representative government. The GCC initiative, which was heavily sponsored by the United States and brokered in part by the United Nations, was foisted upon Yemen as an ostensible solution to what the GCC liked to call Yemen’s “political crisis,” the year-long popular revolution against the regime of President ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh. In actual fact, the deal could fail to meet any the revolution’s demands, while giving Saleh everything he could ask for.

Vice President ‘Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi—who has served Saleh since 1994 and has no real power base of his own—has been “nominated” by both Saleh’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC) and the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), and will run unopposed (a few independent revolutionaries have declared their intentions to run, but none has been certified by parliament). With no opponent, Hadi is guaranteed victory. But other than a promotion for Hadi, it’s not clear what, if anything, the election will achieve.

The GCC initiative was drafted in late May after a series of negotiations that began in March, when a number of prominent political and military figures broke away from the regime in response to the March 18 massacre of over 50 protesters in Sanʻa. By the time Saleh signed the deal in late November, his forces had killed hundreds more and pushed the country to the verge of all-out civil war. Since the signing, incidents of large-scale violence have decreased, but otherwise not much has changed.

The unity government formed in December (another creation of the GCC deal) has thus far failed to achieve its most pressing objective, the demilitarization of Yemen’s cities and the restructuring of Yemen’s divided military. Saleh’s close relatives still command much of the armed forces and other coercive apparatuses. In fact, a great deal of Saleh’s regime remains intact. ‘Ali Saleh himself is currently vacationing in New York, and has said more than once that he plans to return to Yemen before February 21 to “participate” in Hadi’s big day. His exact plans for the near future are unclear, but neither the GCC deal nor the facts on the ground would prevent him from meddling in the political arena once the letter of the agreement has been carried out, especially since Yemen’s parliament has already passed a law granting Saleh and his henchmen full immunity from legal action (another stipulation of the deal).

Plenty of intelligent and well-meaning observers have argued in favor of both the immunity provision and the one-candidate election. Full immunity, they argue, was necessary to induce Saleh to sign the agreement and step down. In reality, however, the immunity provision has been counterproductive. It has alienated several revolutionary factions from the political process, prompting the so-called Huthi movement and much of the Southern Movement to announce boycotts of the coming election. It has deprived the new government of an avenue by which it could have removed regime officials from power and recovered purloined state revenues. Most important, though, is the lesson the provision teaches Saleh (not to mention Bashar al-Assad, Hamad al-Khalifah, et al.): that in the eyes of the world, ten months of brutality is no worse than four; that the reward for intransigence is leniency. The GCC deal handed Saleh a victory over his opponents he could never have won by force of arms; with that victory under his belt, and his loyal sons, nephews, and brothers still firmly ensconced in positions of power, what does it matter who bears the title of president?

The GCC initiative contains several provisions that are well thought-out and have the potential to be extremely beneficial. In fact, much of the initiative mirrors the original demands of Yemen’s revolutionary youth: the formation of a Conference of National Dialogue that includes all factions and parties, the drafting of a new constitution and a popular referendum to approve it, a sweeping process of political, judicial, educational, and economic reform to address the basic grievances of the people. But in order for any of those plans to come to fruition, two things must happen first. Before any other progress can be made, the entire Saleh family must be removed from power. With half of the military and huge tranches of the economy in their hands, any other reforms will be superficial. Second, the leaders of the transition and their foreign backers must convince all of the major revolutionary factions to buy in to the transitional process. By granting Saleh and his associates immunity from legal action and failing to place any other restraints on their behavior, the GCC agreement renders impossible the first of these. By forcing a farcical election on the country, it seriously hinders the second.

The international community’s mistakes can still be remedied, however, if the Yemeni transitional authorities are willing to take immediate, decisive action. President-elect Hadi should draft, with the approval of the unity government, a mechanism that would forbid ‘Ali Saleh from having any involvement in politics, and ban all of his immediate family members from military and political positions as well. This won’t be easy to accomplish, but one way or another it must be done if there is to be a meaningful transition. If the governments of the GCC and their friends in the west are at all serious about helping Yemen move forward, they must encourage Hadi in taking this step, and support the decision in any way possible. Once the complete removal of Saleh and his kinsmen is achieved, Hadi and the unity government must immediately assemble the Conference of National Dialogue and constitutional commission. The longer it takes the government to implement this phase of the GCC initiative, the more alienated the revolutionary factions will become, and the less likely groups like the Huthis and the Southern Movement will be to participate in Yemen’s transitional institutions.

If Hadi can summon the will to take decisive action now, Yemen may yet make the most of the deeply flawed transition plan. If not, come February 22, Hadi may find himself a president without a country.

Implementation Mechanism of the GCC Agreement

Although the GCC agreement was signed in Riyadh almost three months ago, most people have never seen a full text of the document, or of the implementation mechanism that was signed with it. Newspapers have only published quotations or summaries. Thanks to our friend in San`a, Abdulaziz al-Sakkaf, we're able to finally publish here the official English translation of the Implementation Mechanism. I plan to provide some commentary on this at some point, but for now, the document is here for all to read. Translated from Arabic

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Agreement on the implementation mechanism for the transition process in Yemen in accordance with the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)


Part I. Introduction

Part II. The transition period

Part III. First phase of the transition

Part IV. Second phase of the transfer of power

Part V . Settlement of disputes

Part VI. Concluding provisions

Annex: Draft Presidential Decree

Part I. Introduction

1. The two parties recognize that

(a) As a result of the deadlock in the political transition, the political, economic, humanitarian and security situation has deteriorated with increasing rapidity and the Yemeni people have suffered great hardship;

(b) Our people, including youth, have legitimate aspirations for change; and

(c) This situation requires that all political leaders should fulfil their responsibilities towards the people by immediately engaging in a clear process for transition to good democratic governance in Yemen.

2. The two parties deeply appreciate the efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its Secretary-General, the United Nations Secretary General acting through his Special Adviser, the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the Security Council, and those of the GCC and the European Union, to support an agreement on the peaceful transfer of power. The two parties adopt this Mechanism on the basis of the GCC initiative and fully in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 2014 (2011).

3. The following definitions shall apply in relation to this Agreement:

(a) The term "GCC Initiative" refers to the GCC initiative to resolve the Yemeni crisis in the draft of 21 and 22 May 2011;

(b) The term "the Mechanism" refers to this Agreement on the implementation mechanism for the transition process in Yemen in accordance with the GCC Initiative;

(c) The term "the two parties" refers to the National Coalition (General People’s Congress and its allies) as one party, and the National Council (Joint Meeting Parties their partners) as the other.

4. The GCC Initiative and the Mechanism shall supersede any current constitutional or legal arrangements. They may not be challenged before the institutions of the State.

Part II. The transition period

5. The two parties acknowledge that under Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011, the President of Yemen irrevocably delegated to the Vice-President the presidential powers to negotiate, sign and bring into force this Mechanism, along with all constitutional powers pertaining to its implementation and follow-up. Those powers include calling for early elections and taking all of the decisions necessary to form a government of national unity, including swearing in its members, as well as establishing the other bodies set forth in this Mechanism.

6. The transition period shall enter into effect as follows:

(a) In accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 2014 (2011), which notes the commitment by the President of Yemen to immediately sign the GCC Initiative and encourages him, or those authorized to act on his behalf, to do so, and to implement a political settlement based upon it, and in accordance with Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011, the President or the Vice-President acting on his behalf shall sign the GCC Initiative concurrently with the signature of this Mechanism by the two parties.

(b) Concurrently with the signing of this Mechanism, and acting under the powers delegated by the President in Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011, the Vice-President shall issue a decree providing for early presidential elections to be held within 90 days of the entry into force of this Mechanism. In accordance with the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the decree shall enter into force 60 days before the elections. The draft text of the Decree is annexed to this Mechanism (Annex 1).

(c) This Mechanism shall enter into force when the President or Vice-President has signed the GCC Initiative, all parties have signed this Mechanism in accordance with this paragraph, and the decree referred to in subparagraph (b) above has been issued.

7. The transition period shall begin with the entry into force of this Mechanism. The transition period shall then consist of two phases:

(a) The first phase shall begin with the entry into force of this Mechanism and end with the inauguration of the President following the early presidential elections;

(b) The second phase, which shall last for two years, shall begin with the inauguration of the President following the early presidential elections. It shall end with the holding of general elections in accordance with the new Constitution and the inauguration of the new President of the Republic.

8. During the first and second stages of the transition, decisions of Parliament shall be taken by consensus. If consensus on any given topic cannot be reached, the Speaker of Parliament shall refer the matter for decision by the Vice-President in the first phase, or the President in the second phase. That decision shall be binding for the two parties.

9. The two parties shall take the necessary steps to ensure that Parliament adopts the legislation and other laws necessary for the full implementation of commitments in respect of the guarantees set forth in the GCC Initiative and this Mechanism.

Part III. First phase of the transitional period

Formation of the government of national unity

10. Immediately on entry into force of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism, the opposition shall nominate its candidate for the post of Prime Minister. The Vice-President shall issue a presidential decree requesting that person to form a government of national unity. The government of national unity shall be formed within 14 days of the issuance of the decree. A republican decree shall be issued to that effect and signed by the Vice-President and Prime Minister;

(a) Each party shall account for 50 per cent of nominees for the government of national unity, and due consideration shall be given to the representation of women. With regard to the distribution of portfolios, one of the two parties shall prepare two lists of ministries and transmit them to the other party, which shall have the right to choose one of the lists.

(b) The Prime Minister-designate shall appoint the members of the government as proposed by the two parties. The Vice-President shall then issue a decree setting forth the agreed names of the cabinet members. Nominees shall have a high standard of accountability and commitment to human rights and international humanitarian law.

11. The members of the government shall take the constitutional oath before the Vice-President. Within ten days, the government of national unity shall submit its programme to Parliament for a vote of confidence within five days.

Functioning of the government of national unity

12. The government of national unity shall take its decisions by consensus. If there is no full consensus on any given matter, the Prime Minister shall consult with the Vice-President or, after the early presidential elections, the President, in order to reach consensus. If consensus between them is not possible, the Vice-President or, after the early presidential elections, the President, shall take the final decision.

13. Immediately after its formation, the government of national unity shall

(a) Take the necessary steps, in consultation with the other relevant actors, to ensure the cessation of all forms of violence and violations of humanitarian law; end the confrontation of armed forces, armed formations, militias and other armed groups; ensure their return to barracks; ensure freedom of movement for all through the country; protect civilians; and take the other necessary measures to achieve peace and security and extend State control;

(b) Facilitate and secure humanitarian access and delivery wherever it is needed;

(c) Issue appropriate legal and administrative instructions for all branches of the State sector to comply immediately with standards of good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights;

(d) Issue specific legal and administrative instructions to the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the police, prisons and security forces to act in accordance with the law and international standards, and to release those unlawfully detained;

(e) The government of national unity shall comply with all resolutions of the Security Council and Human Rights Council and with the relevant international norms and conventions.

Powers of the Vice-President and government of national unity

14. In implementing this Mechanism, the Vice-President shall exercise the following constitutional powers, in addition to those appertaining to his office:

(1) Convening early presidential elections; (2) Exercising all functions of the President in respect of Parliament; (3) Announcing the formation of, and swearing in, the government of national unity in the first phase; (4) All functions relating to the work of the Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability; (5) Managing foreign affairs to the extent necessary for the implementation of this Mechanism; (6) Issuing the decrees necessary for the implementation of this Mechanism.

15. In the first phase, the Vice-President and government of national unity shall exercise executive authority encompassing all matters pertaining to this Agreement, including the following, acting in conjunction with Parliament where appropriate:

(a) Formulating and implementing an initial programme of economic stabilization and development and addressing the immediate needs of the population in all regions of Yemen;

(b) Coordinating relations with development donors;

(c) Ensuring that governmental functions, including local government, are fulfilled in an orderly manner in accordance with the principles of good governance, rule of law, human rights, transparency and accountability;

(d) Approving an interim budget, supervising the administration of all aspects of State finance and ensuring full transparency and accountability;

(e) Taking the necessary legislative and administrative steps to ensure that presidential elections are held within 90 days of the entry into force of this Mechanism;

(f) Establishing the following institutions as provided for by this Mechanism:

(1) Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability;

(2) Conference for National Dialogue.

(g) The government of national unity and the Vice-President shall immediately establish a liaison committee to engage effectively with youth movements from all parties in the squares and elsewhere in Yemen, to disseminate and explain the terms of this Agreement; initiate an open conversation about the future of the country, which will be continued through the comprehensive Conference for National Dialogue; and involve youth in determining the future of political life.

Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability

16. Within five days of the entry into force of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism, the Vice- President in the first transitional phase shall establish and chair a Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability. The Committee shall work to

(a) End the division in the armed forces and address its causes;

(b) End all of the armed conflicts;

(c) Ensure that the armed forces and other armed formations return to their camps; end all armed presence in the capital Sana'a and other the cities; and remove militias and irregular armed groups from the capital and other cities;

(d) Remove road blocks, checkpoints and improvised fortifications in all governorates;

(e) Rehabilitate those who do not meet the conditions for service in the military and security forces;

(f) Take any other measures to reduce the risk of armed confrontation in Yemen.

17. During the two transitional phases, the Committee on Military Affairs for Achieving Security and Stability shall also work to create the necessary conditions and take the necessary steps to integrate the armed forces under unified, national and professional leadership in the context of the rule of law.

Early presidential elections

18.(*) The early presidential elections shall be held in accordance with the following provisions:

(*) Translator's note: this paragraph is mis-numbered 20 in the original Arabic text.

(a) The elections shall take place within 90 days of the signature of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism;

(b) The early elections for the post of President shall be organized and supervised by the Higher Commission for Elections and Referendums using the current register of voters on an exceptional basis. Any citizen, male or female, who has attained the legal age for voting and can establish as much on the basis of an official document such as a birth certificate or national identity card, shall have the right to vote on the basis of that document;

(c) The sides commit not to nominate or endorse any candidate for the early presidential elections except for the consensus candidate Vice-President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi;

(d) The Secretary-General of the United Nations is requested to provide and coordinate electoral assistance to help ensure the orderly and timely holding of elections.

Part IV. Second phase of the transfer of power

Functions and powers of the President and government of national unity

19.(†) After the early Presidential elections, the newly elected President and the Government of national unity shall exercise all of their customary functions as set forth in the Constitution. In addition, they shall exercise the powers necessary to continue the tasks specified for the implementation of the first phase, and additional tasks specified for the second phase of the transfer of power. The latter include

(†) Translator's note: this paragraph is mis-numbered 21 in the original Arabic text.

(a) Ensuring that the Conference for National Dialogue is convened, and forming a preparatory committee for the Conference, as well as an Interpretation Committee and other bodies established pursuant to this Mechanism;

(b) Establishing a process of constitutional reform that will address the structure of the State and the political system, and submitting the amended Constitution to the Yemeni people in a referendum;

(c) Reforming the electoral system; and

(d) Holding elections for Parliament and the Presidency in accordance with the new Constitution.

Conference for National Dialogue

20.(‡) With the beginning of the second transitional phase, the President-elect and the government of national unity shall convene a comprehensive Conference for National Dialogue for all forces and political actors, including youth, the Southern Movement, the Houthis, other political parties, civil society representatives and women. Women must be represented in all participating groups.

(‡) Translator's note: this paragraph is mis-numbered 18 in the original Arabic text.

21.(§)The Conference shall discuss the following issues:

(§) Translator's note: this paragraph is mis-numbered 19 in the original Arabic text.

(a) The process of drafting the Constitution, including the establishment of a Constitutional Drafting Commission and its membership;

(b) Constitutional reform, addressing the structure of the State and political system, and submitting constitutional amendments to the Yemeni people through a referendum;

(c) The dialogue shall address the issue of the South in a manner conducive to a just national solution that preserves the unity, stability and security of Yemen.

(d) Examination of the various issues with a national dimension, including the causes of tension in Saada;

(e) Taking steps towards building a comprehensive democratic system, including reform of the civil service, the judiciary and local governance;

(f) Taking steps aimed at achieving national reconciliation and transitional justice, and measures to ensure that violations of human rights and humanitarian law do not occur in future;

(g) The adoption of legal and other means to strengthen the protection and rights of vulnerable groups, including children, as well as the advancement of women;

(h) Contributing to determining the priorities of programmes for reconstruction and sustainable economic development in order to create job opportunities and better economic, social and cultural services for all.

Constitutional Commission

22. The government of national unity shall establish a Constitutional Commission immediately on the conclusion of the work of the Conference of National Dialogue within six months. The Commission shall prepare a new draft constitution within three months of the date of its establishment. It shall propose the necessary steps for the draft constitution to be discussed and submitted for referendum in order to ensure broad popular participation and transparency.

Organization of elections under the new Constitution

23. Within three months of the adoption of the new Constitution, Parliament shall enact a law convening national parliamentary elections and, if provided for by the Constitution, presidential elections. The Higher Commission for Elections and Referendums shall be reconstituted and the new register of voters re-compiled in accordance with the new Constitution. That law will be subject to subsequent review by the newly elected Parliament.

24. The term of the President elected under paragraph 7 of this Mechanism shall end upon the inauguration of the President elected under the new Constitution.

Part V. Settlement of disputes

25. Within 15 days of the entry into force of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism, the Vice- President and the Prime Minister of the government of national unity shall form an Interpretation Committee to which the two parties shall refer in order to resolve any dispute regarding the interpretation of the GCC Initiative or the Mechanism.

Part VI. Concluding provisions

26. Women shall appropriately represented in all of the institutions referred to in this Mechanism.

27. The Government shall provide adequate funding for the institutions and activities established by this Mechanism.

28. In order to ensure the effective implementation of this Mechanism, the two parties call on the States members of the GCC and the United Nations Security Council to support its implementation. They further call on the States members of the GCC, the permanent members of the Security Council, the European Union and its States members to support the implementation of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism.

29. The Secretary-General of the United Nations is called upon to provide continuous assistance, in cooperation with other agencies, for the implementation of this Agreement. He is also requested to coordinate assistance from the international community for the implementation of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism.

30. The following are invited to attend the signature of this Mechanism: the Secretary-General of the GCC and the Secretary-General of the United Nations or their representatives, as well as the representatives of the States members of the GCC, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and the League of Arab States.

(Signatures and dates)


Exercising(**) the authority conferred on me by the President under Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011, I hereby solemnly convene elections for the office of President of the Republic to be held on 00/00/2012. This Decree is deemed to be in force from today, and the convening of elections contained therein is irrevocable. The convening of elections shall take effect in accordance with the provisions of the Mechanism, without any need for any further steps, sixty days before the holding of elections as set forth in the Mechanism.

** Translator's note: On the basis of the unofficial English translation, the following may be missing from the Arabic text:

" Annex: Decree issued by the Vice-President concurrently with the signature of the GCC Initiative and the Mechanism.

The Vice-President of the Republic, acting under to the authority conferred on him by the President under Presidential Decree No. 24 of 2011."

This decree shall be published in the Official Gazette.

He signed...now what?

We're honored once again to offer our readers a guest-post by University of Exeter PhD candidate and renowned Yemen-watcher Fernando Carvajal. I should probably stop calling them "guest-posts," though, since Fernando is responsible for more of our recent content than we are. This one offers some much-needed insight into the behind-the-scenes politics of the formation of the new unity government and the immediate future of Yemen after the signing of the infamous GCC agreement. Fernando prefaces his post with a phrase familiar to American readers: "Sic semper tyrannis"

So far this has been one of those intense weeks for Yemenis and our group of observers.  Events began to develop on Saturday November 19th with news that UN Special Envoy Jamal Ben Omar would cancel a planned trip to Riyadh with Opposition leaders and representatives from president Saleh’s government, and instead would remain in Sana’a until the final deal would lead to agreement on the GCC Initiative introduced in April.  Ben Omar pressed both sides for a final agreement as the 30 day deadline imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 2014 approached. This deadline would require Ben Omar to produce a report on the situation, which would not paint a favorable picture for President Saleh, who already began to feel the heat from calls to freeze his assets outside Yemen and impose sanctions on his relatives and government officials by activists like Tawakkol Karman and others online.  Such efforts against Saleh gained the ear of French officials who made their opinion public and threatened to act on sanctions if the stalemate and killings continued in Yemen.

As I left Yemen on Monday November 21st it looked like I would miss another historic event this year, even though my Yemeni friends remained pessimistic about the president’s intentions.  On Wednesday, as I waited for my flight from London to Los Angeles I began to read the news that President Saleh had signed the GCC initiative in Riyadh, which was then followed by a series of signatures elsewhere of the documents containing amendments and additions to the initiative as agreed by the Joint Meeting Parties and government officials like FM Abu Bakr al-Qirbi and Dr Abd al-Kareem al-Iryani.   As people in Sana’a informed me before my departure, two points were essential to ensuring signatures on both sides. First was the issue over immunity. Many people still think this only concerns President Saleh and his relatives, but indeed the deal includes immunity for about 16 major personalities directly involved in the conflict since February in areas like Aden, Arhab, Sana’a and Taiz.  All individuals involved in violent clashes with official posts are covered by the immunity deal, even so-called defectors who curiously enough have remained on official government payrolls since March 20th.

Second, the Southern question had been a vital issue to address before any deal could be agreed. This was Dr. Yasin Saeed No’man’s main agenda.  Dr. No’man, head of the Yemen Socialist Party, has remained the primary face of the Southern issue since the failed National Dialogue process. Al-Harak, or Southern Movement, has been unable to become a legitimate representative of the South within political negotiations as an ‘unconstitutional’ entity.  This leaves Dr. No’man with the burden to carry on under pressure from the population in the South and obstacles created by ‘leaders’ in exile.  Dr. No’man, and his junior political allies within the JMP, had to press for the issue to be included in the agreement in order for it to remain in the agenda for the Dialogue process leading to the interim government. The issue had to be recognized within the agreement in order to marginalize any communiqué produced during the two day meeting of southern leaders in Cairo between November 21 and 22.  Fortunately for Dr. No’man the meeting in Cairo was a fiasco. Only a few activists attended the meeting and the few opted to continue supporting secession, moving away from loud voices supporting negotiations on the establishment of a Federal Republic, whose political entities are still debated inside and outside Yemen.  The matter remains highly volatile but at least the Southern question has not been completely ignored as the Houthi issue, which remains completely outside the political process today.

Finally, today we began to hear news of Mr. Mohammed BaSundwa as the most probable candidate from the JMP for the post of interim Prime Minister for the 90 day period under the GCC Initiative.  The Twitter-sphere also began to transmit opinions of many at Change Square who claimed BaSundwa was not the ideal candidate but would be acceptable, we assume this is the case for JMP youth, not independents who continue rejecting the legitimacy of the GCC deal.  I was told last weekend that the other two candidates would be Dr. Yasin No’man and Abd al-Wahhab al-Anesi of al-Islah.  The former would be the ideal candidate but Dr. No’man failed to accept President Saleh’s offer after 22 May 2010 and he would lose further credibility in the South by merely participating in the interim government.  People have hopes for No’man as a Prime Minister after the elections, not merely within the 90 day transition period.  Mr. al-Anesi would be problematic as a candidate since he is the head of al-Islah party, blamed for hijacking the youth revolution, and representing the old guard within the party with a more conservative image.  His candidacy would also represent Islah’s hegemony over the JMP and would raise red flags for the US and UK governments at a time when Islamist parties begin their ascent through the Arab Spring in North Africa.

As for Mr. BaSundwa, a former UN Ambassador and Foreign Minister under president Saleh, his candidacy appears the most appropriate for the interim period.  I spent my Fridays during Ramadan this year with him and a group of opposition personalities in Sana’a, where I had the opportunity to gain further insight into the complexities faced by the National Transition Council.  It was also a great opportunity for me to understand some of the personalities involved.  My most memorable exchange with Mr. BaSundwa and company was when I complained to the group about the Council’s holiday announcement. I was a bit harsh, in a diplomatic way, when I expressed my disgust of the idea that politicians could go on Eid holiday in the middle of a ‘revolution’ while youth remained at Change Square and Freedom Square away from their own families. Many agreed with me but at the end they said ‘this is Yemen’.  Mr. BaSundwa impressed me with his understanding of the crisis and international actors, but I have to say that we must keep our expectations low during his brief term in office.  His role will be to maintain the parties engaged, as he did during the National Dialogue process.  We must also keep in mind that his presence will not be well received by President Saleh, who still holds BaSundwa responsible for the direct attacks on him produced by the final communiqué from the Central Committee of the National Dialogue.  Saleh also opposed BaSundwa’s presence during the signing of the GCC Initiative in May.  We must also keep in mind that the interim government, if it includes BaSundwa, will actually be an ‘all Southern government’. Both VP al-Hadi and BaSundwa are southerners, and if we look at the overwhelming majority of Deputy Ministers they too are Southerners. We need to see who will be the new Vice President and how many Deputy Ministers are changed after the 90 day transition period.  I guess Hamid al-Ahmar will get his wish.

Some analysts in Sana’a also point to BaSundwa’s relations with Hamid al-Ahmar as a major point of friction between him and President Saleh.  After all these negative points against BaSundwa one may wonder why him?   We must keep in mind the process engaged in ending the nearly ten month long stalemate merely included regime actors, not the youth or groups beyond existing political parties.  Choices are few from within the political elite.  Many of us will agree this has been a direct negative consequence of the many opportunities missed by the independent youth to organize themselves and become active participants rather than marginalized and co-opted numbers contained by Firqa and al-Islah.  The major theme over the past ten months in Yemen has been the absence of viable alternatives.  None have surfaced, even from among the defectors, like Muhammad Abu Lahum of the Justice & Building Bloc or from within the newly announced Democratic Awakening Movement.  No individual or group has been able to challenge the JMP leadership, yes, not even Tawakkol Karman.  The lack of viable alternatives leaves the elite to negotiate among themselves and to proceed along expected political lines without any plans to change the status quo.

We must keep in mind that no political actor, not Abu Lahum or the Democratic Awakening, have produced any vision for progress following the transition process.  It is a shame that after ten months neither the government nor groups of activists have a program for constitutional reform, economic recovery or national reconciliation.  We are now in the days after the signature and since March all I hear is ‘the plan will come out after the signature, it will be ready’.  Well, where is it? As a foreigner I understand that my role should be limited to that of an observer, but after spending so much time with activists and government officials I cannot avoid asking such questions. I truly hope that some vision is announced within hours, otherwise the youth will find themselves having thrown away ten months of their lives for nothing.  Occupation of streets in Sana’a or Ta‘iz will mean nothing without a vision of what the ‘post-Saleh period’ should look like.

What Saudi Arabia wants

Who says you can't fit everything you need to say into a tweet? This entry was originally a very long tweet by our friend and sometimes blogger Fernando Carvajal. It was in response to a conversation (Storified below) between a few Yemen-watchers about why Saudi Arabia hasn't decided to back Yemen's opposition Islah party as a replacement for President Saleh and the GPC. View "What Saudi Arabia wants" on Storify

A strong Yemen means its institutions within the Jumhuriya (Republic) context are strong, this means democracy is strong. This threatens the KSA because even under Abdullah they have a reform project that is to run at a pace comfortable to Al Saud, and if Yemen, or any other neighbor in the peninsula reforms too quickly it will force Al Saud to speed up reform, confront rivals sooner then they want, and it will be a distraction for their own mid- and long-term projects. This will also impact the rest of the GCC of course, not just KSA. Any advance on democratization in yemen would mean the entire Peninsula would have to catch up quicker. Monarchs have not yet figured out how to do this without losing. I'm sure they like King Felipe (Spain) & Queen Elizabeth some, but they dont envy their symbolic positions. [I.e., Gulf rulers aren't ruling out a transition to constitutional monarchy with a functional, empowered parliament, but not on their own schedules and not without maintaining a significant degree of power and wealth.]

On the other hand, a weak Yemen poses other challenges for Al Saud: if the country spirals downward away from "controlled chaos," like Bernard Haykel says, it will force KSA to focus on security issues and neglect mid long term projects, which already carry natural rivals from within the Kingdom. Al Saud can't handle too many rivals or challenges at once; all of this Arab Spring is getting in the way of a mid-term plan to increase hegemony in the region vis a vis Iran, Iraq and yes, Israel. If it has to watch its flank all the time it can't focus on succession, economic stimulus, energy markets, competing with Dubai in finance sector, playing a new role in Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Iraq and placating US on counter-terrorism. People forget that 'terrorists' are still trying to kill Saudis, never mind Iran. We forget migration, human trafficking, tribal disputes along the border. Also, an unstable Yemen means KSA needs to spend more money on tribal leaders to minimize, not end, distabilizing disputes that might end up costing more, like this revolution. This cuts into their own budget, and as the new generation fights amongt themselves, it leaves less cash to go around the family itself.

KSA is not the only Gulf state threatened by a weak Yemen. Oman fears spread of Salafi groups into its territory at a time when the Sultan is also looking at succession, and is also going through an economic crisis. People forget KSA just saved Oman's butt in February with a large contribution to counter any type of Arab Spring there. The UAE, for it's part, can't afford increased instability in Gulf of Aden because it affects its port operations at a time when they can't afford to lose any more cash or investments. AQAP will remain a threat not because of numbers but because it still has a hideout in Yemen for ideologues and small groups of operatives able to reach KSA or the Horn. With Awlaki out of the way and yemen cracking down on visas for Westerners and Asians the training camp factor decreases as well as the recruitment ops, [but none of the Gulf states can afford to neglect counter-terrorism efforts until and unless Yemen is able and willing to address the threat itself.]

People need to forget about the old myth in which Saudi's king 'Abdul 'Aziz told his sons, while on his death bed, to "keep Yemen weak." This was more about the Imam [Yahya] than any crystal ball effect on his part for his successors. The King didn't trust Imam Yahya or Ahmad ibn Yahya or the British in the south so he needed to ensure his son Faysal learned from his campaign in Tihama and prevent the Imam from returning to Najran and Asir (the treaty of 1934 was never intended as a permanent border, until 2000). Being a holy man, the Imam threatened Al Saud's hold on al-Haramain as other Sunni groups (MB) wished the Zaydis could fill the power vacuum after the Ottomans.

The new reality is that KSA and the other Gulf states can't afford to allow Yemen to become too weak, or too strong, yet.

Confusion and counter-revolution

The word "Yemen" has not been spoken very often in State Department press briefings of late. Two weeks ago (the last time a question about Yemen was asked in such a briefing) DoS spokesperson Victoria Nuland seemed completely disinterested in answering questions about President Saleh's possible return. "Whether he stays, whether he comes back," she said, "we need him to sign this GCC agreement and move on, allow his country to move on. So our position is unchanged." Readers of this blog already know how I feel about the GCC deal. It's insulting to the people of Yemen, and completely irrelevant to the political process, because it excludes most of the factions that need to be included for a real resolution of the current situation. The US administration's continuing insistence is basically an admission that the US is not interested in playing any role in such a resolution, and a slap in the face to Yemen's protesters. Unfortunately, the US is still involved in Yemen in other ways.

Just over a month ago, back when 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh still looked frail and beaten, President Obama's CT advisor, John Brennan, went to visit him in Riyadh. The White House assured us that Brennan was trying to convince Saleh to step down. We were told that the US insisted on a peaceful and immediate transfer of power in Yemen. We were told that Brennan even takallum-ed a little 'arabiyah to drive the point home. But the evidence suggests that the administration's mind was elsewhere. While Brennan was doing his "y‘ani shwayah mumkin" routine in Riyadh, the Pentagon and CIA were supposedly hard at work ramping up their "covert" war against AQAP (by "covert" I mean "constantly leaked to the press in order to make the administration look proactive").

The real signal that the US administration is not, in fact, committed to a peaceful transition in Yemen came at the beginning of this month, when Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers visited San‘a to meet with the chief of staff of Yemen's (regime-loyal) army. Neither DoD nor the White House felt like talking about this meeting, so we don't have much to go on other than the Yemeni state media's account, according to which the two men discussed military cooperation and the ongoing fight against AQAP.

The optimist in me wants to believe that Vickers was talking to the chief of staff about how Yemen's army can stop killing civilians and play a positive role in the dismantling of the Saleh regime. But I don't think that's what happened. Were the US committed to Saleh's removal, Saleh would be gone. Were the US committed to Yemeni self-determination, the process of forming a new government, free of the Saleh family and the regime's inner circle, would be much further along. Clearly the Obama administration isn't supporting President Saleh, but its confused policy is enabling his persistence.

But there's more to hate about America's current confused policy than its impact on the Yemeni people. The Obama administration and congress should be looking at how their short-sighted decisions affect American security and interests in the Middle East. Since the start of the "Arab Spring," Saudi Arabia has been flexing its muscle and showing the world that it has the capability and the will to pursue a regional policy that may be at odds with those of its western allies. Al Saud has always seen Yemen as its plaything, and has an interest in a certain level of continued instability in Yemen which is directly at odds with American interests. By thoughtlessly promoting the GCC deal instead of trying to engage with the various anti-regime factions in Yemen, the US is effectively letting the KSA dictate the terms for future engagement with Yemen.

It's also pretty clear that the escalation of the "covert war" against AQAP is designed mainly to bolster Obama's counter-terror cred in the run-up to the 2012 elections. Otherwise the super-secret plan to build a new airbase in Yemen wouldn't have been leaked to every single journalist in the world before the lease has even been typed up. There has already been plenty of debate among analysts over the effectiveness of drones in Yemen. To my mind the most obvious argument against the current US drone/missile campaign is that it has killed far more civilians than AQAP operatives (I would estimate the ratio at about 10:1). Aside from the simple fact that killing people is wrong and should be avoided whenever possible, the killing of innocent, non-terrorist Yemenis has several negative effects on the counter-terrorism effort in general.

One of these effects is that it hands AQAP a ready-made recruiting tool even without launching a single missile. Obama et al. seem to have forgotten that Bin Laden's original rallying cry back in the 1990s was the expulsion of infidel armies from the Land of the Two Holy Mosques. The presence of US troops and military facilities in Saudi Arabia inspired many of al-Qa‘idah's early recruits. Do the policy makers in Washington not think that AQAP will use the construction of new US bases on Yemeni soil to recruit Yemenis? I admit I don't know the miles-per-gallon figures for Predators and Reapers, but would the tactical advantages of launching drones from Hodaydah instead of Djibouti really outweigh the rhetorical advantages this move has already given AQAP?

What the US needs to do is stop running its mouth in all directions, and put together a policy toward Yemen--the real Yemen, not the boogeyman Yemen of congressional hearings and campaign speeches--that considers American interests and the needs of the Yemeni people.  If we wait until after the 2012 elections, it may be too late.

Thirty Plus Sixty

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.