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Yemen's Saleh holds amid massive revolt
Thu, 28 Apr 2011 16:02:40 GMT
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Despite massive turnouts at demonstrations, sit-ins and protests throughout the state of Yemen, its despotic ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh continues to remain in power.

The following is a rush transcript of an interview with Chip Pitts, a political commentator from Dallas, discussing the issue in more detail:

Press TV: This deal is set to be signed in Saudi Arabia; it is being said that the Yemeni officials and opposition have travelled to Riyadh already to sign this accord, but the people on the streets are expressing their anger at this deal. Why are they being left out of this?

Pitts: I believe the reason they are being left out is because the power realities are the same people will remain in power. President Ali Abdullah Saleh still controls the military, and the brutal reality is that despite hundreds of thousands of people --including by the way hundreds of thousands of women being involved in these protests, a real first for the country and a remarkable and wonderful thing -- the levers of power are still firmly within the government's hands. I think the fact that the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council, allies like the US and so forth, have fallen away from the regime means that they need to make some change. But the opposition parties including the Joint Meeting Parties (the JMP) are part of the deal. Some students are coming on board, some of the members of the youth, some of the women, but the reality is that the real change that will come will require continued attention from the so-called “outsiders,” in other words: the Yemeni people themselves.

Press TV: The Saudis essentially do not want any reform obviously to come into play in a place like Yemen. However, the protests are continuing, so we are essentially back at a stalemate, and this deal hasn't really achieved much, has it?

Pitts: I wouldn't be quite so negative about it. I do believe that as with Egypt, this is a necessary but not sufficient step in the real reform that must come to Yemen. But it is part and parcel of the region. We have to remember that the military government is still in power in Egypt, and yet it is the continued pressure from the Egyptian people, the protesters, the youth that is continuing to foster change in that country. So we shouldn't underestimate what a significant step it is, but neither should we overestimate the change -- because the Saudis and the US, if they had their own way, would stick with the status quo.

Press TV: In places like Egypt and Tunisia we have yet to see the complete fruition of what people exactly wanted when they came out on the streets. They still don't have representative governments in either of those countries and their revolution haven’t “succeeded” according to many of us. So how optimistic can we be about a country like Yemen that does not have as many resources and as much money to go around as those two other countries?

Pitts: I think we can take heart, for one thing, from the studied ambiguity that is contained both in the documents and in the way that the opposition is handling this. It is quite clear that the opposition is not completely homogenous about this, they are heterogeneous, even the formal parties. And with the pressure from the students, for example, although immunity will be a part of the deal and it is going to be immunity that is granted by the parliament that is controlled by the current president, I do believe that overtime the situation has the ability to evolve. We’ve seen that in other repressive regimes ranging from the apartheid government in South Africa to the dirty war regimes in Latin America. At first there may be some sort of quasi-immunity but then the popular demands over time tend to result in a measure of accountability. And that could mean, as is happening right now with [former] President Mubarak and his sons in Egypt -- they are in jail. We actually have to realize that these popular demands, once a revolution like this starts, are difficult to contain. And the momentum can be very positive for accountability and for the rights that, after all, are spreading throughout this region in a wholly unprecedented fashion.

Press TV: Please continue Mr. Pitts.

Pitts: I believe that there is no doubt that the inspirational factor -- from what happened in Egypt and Tunisia -- is a hugely significant driver in places like Yemen, Syria, and Libya. We do have to take heart, I believe, and be cautiously optimistic that this new deal will at least put a stop to the killings. As tragic and despicable as the killings have been -- there have been maybe about 160 killed in Yemen thus far by the Security Forces -- that's reprehensible and demands accountability. We have to realize that's not as bad in a quantitative sense as the numbers killed in Syria for example. So I'm more pessimistic about what's happening in Syria as compared to what's happening in Yemen.

I do believe the prospect of a change in this President that has been there for more than three decades is hugely significant historically. It could be complemented -- if the cards align in the right fashion -- with an end to the most severe violence, such as the killings, the torture, and the arbitrary detentions.

Now that is not by any means a sure thing. But if, and I believe they will, the Yemeni people continue the pressure, and continue to stay in Change Square in the capital, and in other cities as they said they are going to do for the 30 day transition, and if they are able to have input into the deal, as some of the opposition parties said they are able to do, this could continue a very positive momentum. At a minimum, I'm hoping it will bring an end to the worst forms of violence that has been happening in Yemen for the last two months.

Press TV: The Saudi issue is very hard to speak about regarding Yemen, and with many of these uprisings and revolutions throughout this region. It seems they are very involved with everything going on within this region as they have interests in doing so.

Considering that factor and the Saudis are really intolerant towards any change actually occurring at their doorstep, especially as Yemen is a their Southern doorstep, if as you say the people stay out in the streets for this 30 day transition, will the Saudis accept that considering they have previously gotten involved with drones and strikes and even with troops in Yemen?

Pitts: Well, as powerful as the Saudis are in the region -- and without a doubt they are the six-hundred pound gorilla -- it's quite clear given the events in Egypt and the other countries, that this is beyond their control, and beyond the control of the United States, and that of any of the traditional superpowers or regional powers that have been focused only on stability and shoring up dictators who continue in power at the expense of the rights, the livelihoods, and the economic progress of the people.

We have a new movement for justice that is happening here. And the double standard is quite apparent. Saudi Arabia is brooking no dissent; it is intolerant and has used force in its own country to preserve the regime there, and is certainly doing so in Bahrain. Although they would probably prefer a different outcome in Yemen – they would prefer the status quo -- they recognize that the alternative of trying to manage the evolution as opposed to letting the revolution take its course is better strategically from their standpoint. I don't think they will be successful in that. I believe Martin Luther King's quote, “the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice” is happening before our eyes here.

I actually believe that long term, or perhaps in the medium or short term, we will see a movement for accountability, and holding President Saleh responsible for the corruption, and murder of his own citizens -- as Amnesty International has called for in their new report: “Yemen: a Moment of Truth” which came out just a few weeks ago. I think the forces are pretty unstoppable although they can be delayed . . . and what we are seeing is the Saudis attempting to delay progress and justice here.

Press TV: What about the US stance here? Considering we talked about playing with fire, the United States at the beginning of this revolution in Yemen there were a lot of articles in the US media about scare-mongering about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and how it may take advantage of this revolution etc... That seems to have quieted down a bit recently, and the US government as well, has not said much about this.

Technically if they are really fighting this War on Terror, Yemen seems to be the place they should be very involved in considering they have been speaking about Yemen for so many years now. How do you see the US stance in all this?

Pitts: Well, we have to be clear there is a national security interest of the US in Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is not a myth. The question is how the US handles that, and the approach to it --whether it overreacts via harsh measures with drone attacks and makes the matter worse, or whether it enhances true security.

Because Yemen for example is running out of oil and running out of water. They still have some natural gas, but they are the poorest nation in the Arab world. They are going to have economic problems no matter who's in charge. If those economic problems, political and cultural problems, are not addressed with the positive support -- not militarily, but the positive support, including help for aid and trade – from the international community, we are going to see a continued backlash and further instability in Yemen that is not in the interest of the Yemeni people, the regional powers, or the global partners that need to be engaged in helping Yemen overcome these serious hurdles that it has.

The US has actually, reluctantly I agree, started to be on the right side of history in this particular country's case, including by calling for a change of regime. They are calling for President Saleh to step down. I think that's to the credit of the US. It was late in coming but it's welcome now that it's here.

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