November 7-13: Increase in deadly clashes along Yemen-Saudi border

Monday, November 7UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed addressed reporters in San’a to reiterate his calls to end the conflict and highlight the need for increased humanitarian aid. "People are dying...the infrastructure is falling apart...and the economy is on the brink of abyss."

The World Health Organization released a statement on the same day, reporting that more than 7,070 people had been killed and over 36,818 injured as of October 25, while another 21 million people are in urgent need of health services.

The WHO also reports that more than half of all medical facilities in Yemen are closed or are only partially functioning and there is a critical shortage of doctors in 40% of all districts. A lack of access to healthcare means that many Yemenis are deprived of life-saving operations and treatments.

Tuesday, November 8 For election day in the United States, Al Jazeera interviewed citizens of Tunisia, Yemen, and Gaza about their opinions of this year’s candidates and US policy in the Middle East.

“We hope the upcoming US administration--be it Clinton or Trump--pays due attention to Yemen and is interested in resolving the current conflict, especially the humanitarian conditions that are deteriorating,” said one Yemeni man.

Another added, "I expect no change in US foreign policy, namely towards the Muslim world; especially with Trump. As for Hillary Clinton, I believe she will follow the same policies of Obama, namely to cause a rift among the Arabs and cause them to fight each other, while they stand as spectators."

During a visit to Lebanon, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for a political solution to the conflict in Yemen.

"We should admit that there is no military solution, neither for the Yemeni crisis nor for the Syrian crisis," Zarif said. "We believe that continuing to use military methods in order to win the Yemeni and Syrian crises will only lead to more fighting and bloodshed."

An analysis in the Huffington Post attempts to explain why Saudi Arabia continues its military campaign in Yemen despite the steep costs. One of the chief motives for pushing forward with the war is the kingdom’s desire to rally the public around a common Shi’i enemy, simultaneously distracting the Saudi populace from serious economic problems at home while inciting hatred of the kingdom’s regional rival.

An official in Hadi’s government reportedly told Anadolu News Agency that the exiled president considers a plan proposed by the UN to be “a betrayal of the blood of [Yemen's] martyrs.” The roadmap put forward by Special Envoy to Yemen Ould Cheikh Ahmed would marginalize Hadi's role in a proposed transitional period.

Wednesday, November 9 Pro-government forces in Yemen claimed to have killed 30 al-Qaeda suspects at a farm west of Mukalla. Four soldiers were also killed in the clashes.

The Sunday Times reports that the UK has deployed its most advanced warship, the HMS Daring, to the Red Sea to protect critical shipping lanes. Both US and UAE vessels have been targeted by Houthi forces in the Red Sea over the past month, while an oil tanker was attacked by pirates.

Thursday, November 10 Houthi military sources told Saba News Agency that their forces have captured the two Saudi towns of al-Kars and al-Dafiniya, killing dozens of Saudi soldiers. The sources claimed that this was a military response to the Saudi-led coalition’s continued targeting of Yemen’s infrastructure.

Friday, November 11 The sub-governor of the Central Bank of Yemen, Ibrahim al-Nahari, was dismissed by Hadi’s government following the relocation of the CBY from San’a to Aden. Al-Nahari was fired on the pretext of forging reports to foreign financial institutions, though no evidence for this accusation has been made public.

Saudi press reports that Houthi missiles fired into the kingdom’s southern Dhahran province injured 14 civilians. The same report claims that Houthi forces launched failed attacks in Al-Qabbaytah region of Lahj province, southeast of Ta’iz.

Sunday, November 13 UK Ambassador to Yemen Edmund Fitton-Brown writes for Al-Arabiya to explain a prospective roadmap for peace in Yemen:

“The terms of the roadmap would see the Houthi militia and Saleh loyalists withdraw from areas they have occupied, including the capital Sana’a and the cities of Taiz and Hodeidah. They would also be required to hand over their heavy weaponry.

“In return, a new Vice-President enjoying extensive national acceptability and credibility will be appointed who assumes full Presidential authority and oversees the formation of a new Government of National Unity. And it will be this Government which takes forward the political transition envisaged for Yemen back in 2012, leading to democratic elections and a new Constitution chosen by the Yemeni people.”

More than 350,000 Yemeni children were unable to resume their education in the past school year, bringing the total of out-of-school children in the country to over two million, according to UNICEF.

Thousands of students in Ta’iz now study in homes rather than at their former schools, over 2,000 of which have been either destroyed or repurposed as military facilities or humanitarian shelters.

An excellent article by Ben Hubbard in the New York Times offers insight into life on the ground in San’a and surrounding areas. Hubbard interviews average Yemenis who are facing extreme hardships including unemployment, malnourishment, and a lack of medical supplies.

The Yemeni army said in a statement that its forces and the Saudi-led coalition had struck Houthi sites in the districts of Midi and Harad in Hajjah province, killing “scores” of Houthi fighters.

Ibrahim Mothana, 10/23/1988 - 9/5/2013

Yemeni activist Ibrahim Mothana passed away in San‘a today. He was 24 years old. In those 24 years he accomplished more than most of us ever will. He was a prominent voice in Yemen's youth-led uprising, which began in 2011. He was a co-founder of the Watan Party, one of a few new political organizations to emerge from the revolution. He was also a prolific writer, who opined on Yemen's political and social challenges with insight, humor, and optimism.

A recital of his resumé does not do Ibrahim justice, though. He was 24 years old, and as someone of that age should, he defined himself by what he hoped and planned to do, rather than what he had already done. Ibrahim was devoted to his country, and he saw in Yemen as much potential as we all saw in him. Though a harsh and realistic critic of Yemen's flaws, Ibrahim believed in the idea of a New Yemen, which he and so many other revolutionaries struggled for. His hopefulness for his country was pragmatic; he understood better than most what it would take to build the Yemen he imagined.

For everyone who knew him, it is hard to imagine the New Yemen without Ibrahim. But just as surely as he will be missed, his work and his example will continue to inspire his colleagues, friends, and compatriots through the difficult years to come.

Ibrahim Mothana


Ibrahim appeared on episode two of the YPP's Mafraj Radio podcast.

Summary: NDC Youth Hangout

Last month, a group of prominent Youth activists held an online discussion via Google Hangout. The discussion was in Arabic, so I asked YPP intern Shelby Jamerson to write up a brief summary for our non-Arabic-speaking readers. The full video of the Hangout is available here. You can learn more about the National Dialogue Conference and the work of the Youth delegates on episodes 2 and 5 of the YPP podcast, Mafraj Radio. Take it away, Shelby: Yemen's so-called Independent Youth (young activists who are not affiliated with any mainstream political party) have 40 representatives participating in Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference. Add to that the designated "youth" delegates from other participating parties, and Yemeni youth compose 20% of the dialogue’s body. The Independent Youth, who played a pivotal role in the removal of former President 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh from office in 2012, have continued to play a central role in the development of a new Yemen. However, many are feeling frustrated with the challenges facing the success of the NDC. On July 15, 2013, Youth activists gathered together to discuss issues and field questions received via YouTube comments and tweets. Here are some of the issues discussed:

Though the NDC comprises members from a wide variety of backgrounds, the youth who make up around 50% of the population feel underrepresented in the talks; they are afraid that their voice is not strong enough to compete with other factions.

  • Though foundational for starting a new Yemen, Ghanem Sahar expressed concern that the NDC is a political process meant to assuage tensions outside of the dialogue rather than provide solutions to pressing issues like Southern separation and the Sa’da issue.
  • The youth are emphatic about the need for a real constitution to govern the emerging Yemeni state. For Yemen to succeed in creating a new state, there must be a new constitution with clearly defined institutions, political parties, equality, and inclusion. The new state must embrace the idea of a united Yemen where there is no distinction made between north and south or women and men.
  • Delegates involved in the dialogue are concerned about the regions that Yemen will split into.
  • While the NDC must endeavor to provide a political solution to the Southern issue, delegates expressed concern that this will not end the violence or unrest. The NDC must provide a solution that addresses all of the people’s concerns including education, poverty, health, and basic needs.
  •  Finally, the youth desire to see a civil state created.

Mafraj Radio Episode 2

In the second episode of Mafraj Radio, we take a look back at the Youth Revolution of 2011 with Ibrahim Mothana, and go inside the long-awaited National Dialogue Conference with a member of the Youth delegation, Baraa Shiban. We also get an update on the situation in 'Aden from activist 'Alaa Isam.

Here's the full video of Youth delegate Mubarak al-Bahar's opening address to the National Dialogue Conference, quoted in Act 1:

Here's the Aden Live TV segment quoted in Act 2, in which the pro-Hirak satellite channel covers demonstrations and crackdowns in 'Aden.

Saleh's return

Fernando Carvajal, PhD candidate at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. The author has visited Yemen for over eleven years and witnessed the initial five months of the popular uprising in Sana’a. His most recent visit to Yemen was during the past month of August. I am one of those who hates blurb and sound-bite articles so as soon as I heard the news of Saleh’s return this past Friday morning I decided to sit and write about conversations I had in Sana’a during Ramadan.  Everyone I met with from the ruling party assured me the president would return and that even though some in the Saudi ruling family preferred him not to, Saleh would return, as long as his health permitted.  The original version of this piece was written before I had a chance to catch up with news of the clashes and dozens of deaths. This is an updated version based on information from Sana’a and my own analysis.  The article changed direction from the idea of ‘Saleh’s major opportunity to rescue any legitimacy he had remaining’ to ‘the major opportunity he failed to capitalize on’.  Much still remains unclear about the events of September 23rd, but we can be assured that even with the support of Saudi Arabia, the US and UK, he is now the one with his back against the wall instead of the opposition elements. It’s a bit long, but this was the plan agreed by members of the GPC to address the crisis.

As Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh abruptly returned to Sana’a under the cover of dawn on “the Friday of Confidence in God’s Victory” protesters and outside observers brace for prophetic escalation into civil war.  The immediate reaction from Yemenis at the protests sites and observers outside the country was one of surprise to Saleh’s apparent ‘defiance’ of the US and UK stance and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s brokered plan for peaceful transition of power.  A second reaction raised prospects once again of a devastating civil war as consequence of Saleh’s expected revenge against the opposition for the June 3rd attack inside the Presidential Palace.  Saleh’s close advisors and members of the ruling party dismiss such views back in August and for a month spoke of a deal that would work to de-escalate the crisis and present a more realistic plan for the peaceful transition of power from Saleh to his Vice President, Abdo Rabo al-Hadi.  Essentially, Saleh’s last opportunity to prove he is able to be part of the solution.  The events of September 23rd shocked everyone, even those    predicting  Saleh’s savage revenge, which seemed to be released upon unarmed protesters at the perimeter and center of Change Square in Sana’a.

Most important to president Saleh’s return to Sana’a has been his health.  After spending nearly “112 days” convalescing in Riyadh, as Mohammed al-Basha of the Yemeni Embassy in Washington DC indicated, Saleh’s return indicates his health is in good condition.  His spokesman in Sana’a, Abdo al-Janadi, had often reported on Saleh’s imminent return since late July, as if teasing people each week.  Another sign of why his return indicates Saleh is now in good health is the lessons learned over past two months as his close allies injured along with him began returning to Yemen.  One such official was mentioned during my last visit to Sana’a in August, who upon his return from Riyadh in early Ramadan passed away as result of complications from his burns and the poor medical care available in Sana’a.  No doubt Saleh arrived with what should be substantial medical assistance.

While most people in opposition to Saleh and many observers in the West began writing Saleh’s political obituary following the attempted assassination, his relatives, along with political and tribal allies have worked for nearly four months to hold the fort until his return. As many have speculated, the timing of his return is no coincidence, as the crisis once again escalated following deadly clashes on Sunday September 18 leaving over 60 peaceful protesters dead in Sana’a. We can deduce from his unannounced arrival that President Saleh perceived this to be the right time to re-engage the opposition in dialogue to prevent further escalation and show regional and international allies he indeed represented the only solution to the crisis.  His return followed a private meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on September 19 and renewed efforts to implement existing transition plans brokered by the US, UK and the GCC.  Until the morning of his return we knew this was completely rejected by independent youth protesting in Sana’a, Taiz and the port of Aden, and further complicated the opposition’s efforts to negotiate a transition directly with the Vice President.

Most observers and opposition personalities now see no solution to the crisis beyond a protracted and devastating civil war as result of the savagery this past Friday.  Yet members of the ruling party continue to see things different and the membership remains confident President Saleh’s own initiative from August still provides the best way forward.  This is evident by the lack of defections from Saleh’s camp following the clashes this past Friday.  I can only assume that the plan drafted under the umbrella of a committee established by Saleh in late July to address amendments to the GCC Initiative introduced in April remains en force.  The ruling party assumes that even after the violence of the past week the president holds enough political capital to force the opposition to sit at the negotiating table.  The committee stands firm with the arguments they original resented against the transfer of power to the Vice President as unconstitutional, and second, arguing the provisions in the GCC Initiative to hold presidential elections within 90 days after Saleh stepped down remain unrealistic. The latter view gained unsolicited support from a report produced by IFES on June 7th, titled transitions in Yemen: An Overview of Constitutional and Electoral Provisions, where it argued much had to be done before any legitimate elections could be held in Yemen.  The committee agreed to a number of changes to the GCC plan under the guidance of President Saleh.

While Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, head of the 1st Armored Division, strongly condemned the acts of September 23rd and blamed Saleh for the savagery against unarmed civilians, the ruling party believes the opposition is has more to lose and will still be forced to accept negotiations along with the Joint Meeting Party (JMP) and tribal leaders and allies of the al-Ahmar family.  It is understood that the independent youth will never accept anything short of a full transfer of power beyond the hands of the president and his relatives, which has been the case from day one.  Yet, the more ‘realistic’ plan to be offered to the opposition, and diplomatic actors, was drafted to include seven steps: 1) an initial plan for de-escalation; 2) following the ceasefire we could expect direct dialogue; 3) an extensive agreement for de-militarization of the Capital; 4) the formation of a military council to oversee de-militarization and address the security vacuum; 5) a committee to pave the way for Parliamentary elections in six to eight months; 6) the new Parliament would address reforms and presidential elections would still be held in September 2013, and 7) President Saleh would delegate most of his authority to the Vice President until 2013.

None of this could actually move forward of course until the president announces a comprehensive amnesty retroactive to February, and seeing that Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahmar signaled a willingness to negotiate on Saturday September 25th we assume there is no talk of amnesty for the president.  In order to de-escalate the crisis it is understood the youth would have to abandon their positions across the country, now made even more difficult following the events of this past week. The opposition will not be able to guarantee demobilization on its own and if Saleh is to be taken seriously as the only ‘light of hope’ it cannot be achieved by force, as it is rumored to occur in the coming days.  Persons within the government and the ruling party mentioned in August that the amnesty would be a guarantee for all youth participating in protests across the country and that no one would be arrested or prosecuted.  No one mentioned the mechanisms guaranteeing such safety, and I am sure the youth and activists would live under constant fear of random arrests.  Without a legitimate body to serve as guarantor and capable of investigating violations of the amnesty the youth would not receive this as a credible offer.

President Saleh’s plan has plenty of support among ruling party members and allies, who also believe the GCC plan is completely unrealistic.  The ten main points contained in the GCC plan, from elections in 90 days to a new constitution before parliamentary elections, would be unachievable under a working government, never mind under a fractured coalition where the opposition has not presented to the people of Yemen or international mediators the ability to manage such transition.  Prior to leaving Riyadh President Saleh should have clearly expressed his views to King Abdullah and GCC officials denying his defiance of the Initiative but rather ‘considering the reality of the situation.’  His defiance is more directed at demands from the people on the street, who continue to be firm in their demand for Saleh to step down and be prosecuted along with his son Ahmed and nephews Yahya and Ammar Mohammed Saleh.

Up until this past Friday the opposition had their backs against the wall, they either escalate to full direct military conflict or acquiesce to sit at the same table with Saleh.  At this point, the president’s plan would not grant the opposition the same offer as in early February of a shared government until Parliament elections are held.  He will insist on the current care-taker government, under Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar, to oversee his conflict resolution plan.  As we await President Saleh’s first address to the people of Yemen, tentatively scheduled for Sunday September 25th (a day before celebrations of the 1962 Revolution) we already witnessed the usual moves by Saleh of offering a cease-fire while continuing to engage with force on the day of his arrival.  His first step was to address the cease-fire between the opposition’s military forces and government security forces led by his son Ahmed and nephews Yahya and Ammar, which in reality led to a violent strike against protesters and al-Firqa in order to attempt to regain lost territory around the streets of Sana’a.  We now expect Saleh to speak on Sunday and an olive branch once again in order to gain the support of diplomats once again.  Who would sit with Saleh at this point is beyond reason.  Saleh will naturally aim for direct negotiations with his former confidant Gen. Ali Muhsin, and while the JMP would be tempted to have either Mr. Mohammed BaSundwa, president of the National Transition Council and former head of the National Dialogue Committee, or someone like Abdul Wahab al-Ansi, Secretary General of the Islamist party al-Islah (less likely a candidate since he always remains in the background) they will risk political suicide in the eyes of the youth.  In any case Saleh will instantly oppose Mr. BaSundwa, even tough he served as Ambassador to the United Nations and was Foreign Minister under Saleh in the 1990s.  General Ali Muhsin has already indirectly expressed his objections to engaging Saleh as consequence of Friday’s clashes and especially after a blatant attempted assassination following his defection in late March of this year.  But since Saleh will never sit with any member of the al-Ahmar family after all the animosity from Shaykh Hamid al-Ahmar and his eldest brother Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahmar, Ali Muhsin appears as the only logical actor to sit with Saleh, which may ultimately have to include Shaykh Sadeq keeping with Yemeni political tradition.  This meeting will undoubtedly have to take place at the house of Vice President Abdo Rabo, which now lies within the perimeter secured by forces loyal to Ali Muhsin following last Sunday’s clashes.

Having overcome the most difficult steps, which may likely be aided by US and UK diplomats who often meet with Gen. Ali Muhsin, the second most difficult step would come when the committee is formed to oversee de-militarization of the capital.  The most difficult step will remain asking the youth to accept such rapprochement. Mistrust on both sides will be the most difficult obstacle to overcome once the decision is made, considering the regime’s atrocities against unarmed civilians since March and the fact that al-Firqa maintains nearly 40,000 soldiers and militia within Sana’a’s borders.  To this we add the protesters’ heightened mistrust of the regime, and if Ali Muhsin were to ever agree to de-militarization it would leave protesters absolutely vulnerable if they remain within protests squares around the country.  The opposition will lose further credibility in the eyes of the youth who already believe they will only protect their own interests.  The response to Saleh’s overture will depend on whether the opposition wants still wants to risk civil war or prevent further atrocities, which it can later claim as their virtue for saving hundreds of lives.  Ali Muhsin, the JMP and the al-Ahmar family will only save face if they become the primary mechanism to guarantee full amnesty and prevent violations until final solutions are in place.

It is believed that once the primary confidence building measures are in place the remainder of Saleh’s plan will allow for a “peaceful” process toward holding elections.  A remaining obstacle will be opposition from the youth to the fourth point in Saleh’s plan, a military council, which would include direct participation by Saleh’s son and nephews.  This point is in no doubt in response to US concerns over control of the armed forces and assurances the regime will not allow subversive elements to gain safe-haven anywhere in Yemen.  How this military council will incorporate officials who defected still remains unclear. Ali Muhsin has already expressed his assurance to Western diplomats he will remove himself from all military service once transition begins, yet we still don’t know at what exact point he will do so and what his role would be in a post-transition Yemen.

The most important issue for the youth is reform, and it appears as the major task.  Yemen has not had a full voter registry since February 2009.  Many of the youth protesting today were under age and will instantly demand access to the electoral process.  IFES also commented on the state of the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCRE), which was a primary source of conflict in December 2010 when Saleh appointed a number of judges without consulting the opposition.  If security were to return to the entire country and ensure safety of polls and transport of ballot boxes following the elections there still remains the problem that poll committees need to be appointed and staff trained, in addition to training local and international observers.  None of this could be accomplished within the 90 days set by the GCC initiative.  Once the committee is in place to begin work on elections, whether parliamentary or presidential, dates must be set and a number of benchmarks met before legitimate elections can take place.  This will also test the credibility of the opposition in the eyes of the independent youth as the opposition’s dedication to democracy will definitely be tested.  This process may take six to eight months, and the thought of such a long period will continue to worry the youth who believe Saleh will pull another ace from under his sleeve in order to prolong his term in office or guarantee his son’s succession in 2013.

The prospect of president Saleh remaining in office until 2013 will lead to a demoralized youth movement which has proven its resolve over the past eight months.  The movement has revitalized each time following clashes with government forces, and proven they do not fear death or clandestine persecution.  Yet, if the opposition sits with Saleh to negotiate a deal short of removing him from office, they ill feel as though all their efforts would have been in vain as they do not see anything at all positive from an electoral process including Saleh and his regime.  The youth will also question the credibility of the plan drafted by the ruling party concerning the authority and power of Vice President Abdo Rabo. The Vice President has disappointed all in the opposition, and some in the care-taker government, for his lack of authority during Saleh’s absence.  Abdo Rabo is also perceived as having given into the power of Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh and his cousins Yahya and Ammar.  The reality of any deal negotiated by the regime and the opposition clearly indicates that Abdo Rabo will remain without real authority and power under a military council and an interim coalition committee drafting the electoral procedures in the coming months.  President Saleh will still have the ability to influence the military council, as commander-in-chief (a position difficult for him to give up), and the elections’ committee, as head of the ruling party.

Prior to September 23rd it was difficult to imagine the opposition rejecting Saleh’s olive branch under such scenarios.  Without a doubt Saleh will once again publicly offer dialogue to the opposition and if they reject such offer, the opposition will risk losing any credibility they have left in the eyes of Western diplomats who are desperate for final solution to the crisis. Saudi Arabia is however a different story.  By rejecting dialogue they would all then be risking their own lives during direct military conflict beyond the numerous ongoing proxy battles around Sana’a and Taiz.  The only way the opposition would retain some credibility with the masses will be if they were to organize the National Transition Council as a legitimate entity truly safeguarding protesters under full immunity and acting against the regime in cases where violations take place in full view of the public and with international collaboration.  Anything short of this will seal their political suicide in the eyes of the independent youth.  On the other hand, Saleh has a much tougher road to travel as he attempts to de-mobilize the streets occupied by his opponents.  His first step would have to be a public address to his own supporters in the streets of Sana’a to withdraw and allow only government forces to oversee security.  This would mean Saleh will have to appease many of his tribal supporters already used to nearly eight months of sustained financial contributions.

Saleh’s return to Sana’a has proven many correct on predictions of his vengefulness, but he is now forced to prove to his allies that he can end the crisis.  Friday’s events ultimately destroyed Saleh’s image as the responsible head of state willing to contribute to the stability of the region and Western interests.  Relations with the youth after so many deaths will be irreparable.  Saleh knows that political and financial support from Saudi Arabia will never be sufficient to avoid Bin Ali’s or Hosni Mubarak’s fate, especially since all Western diplomats from the start rejected the immunity clause within the GCC initiative.  If he is to retain what ever legitimacy he has left in the eyes of Western diplomats, President Saleh simultaneously must rein in his son and the rest of the regime, de-militarize the capital and other cities, complete the defeat of terrorist elements in the southern provinces of Abyan, Lahj and Shebwa, and fully engage a credible process that delivers as many of the demands from the youth as possible.  Anything short of this will definitely etch his political obituary in stone once and for all.

Activists and protesters on the street will object to this analysis in full, but reality in Yemen still adheres to traditional modes of positioning and both sides look after their own interests, not the people’s interests.  For those of you who follow Yemeni history remember al-Sabaeen (70 days) when Sana’a was besieged by Royalists forces and all retreated at the end.

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.