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'Saudi Arabia revels in Saleh defiance'
Sun, 01 May 2011 09:35:00 GMT
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A soldier stands guard over the Yemeni protesters
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has rejects a deal brokered by the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council to step down.

In an interview with Press TV, William Beeman, professor from the University of Minnesota, explains that the Yemeni president has rejected the deal as Saudi Arabia tries to divert the uprising from spreading into its own borders.

Press TV: I'm sure you've heard reports that President Ali Abdullah Saleh rejected to sign the initiative introduced by the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. Do you think this is just a setback or is the deal over?

Beeman: Well, I think that President Saleh never really thought he was going to have to leave. He thought there was going to be some last minute situation that would allow him to stay.

I also believe that he thought that the [P]GCC initiative was going to be, largely, cosmetic. That is, he was going to sign something, the protests would die down, and somehow he would be able to stay or leave for a little while and then come back. He's been very reluctant to give up power.

The difficulty is that the [P]GCC, which is headed by Saudi Arabia, is very much afraid of instability in Yemen.

The Saudis, above all, are very concerned about instability on their southern border. They've had difficulty with the northern Yemeni tribes for many, many years already. And they're afraid that if the government falls apart with its extreme authoritarian rule, they would face a lot of security problems on their southern border.

In particular, they're concerned with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It's not a very large operation but one of the things that's very important is that al-Qaeda is targeting the Saudi royal family.

One has to remember that the family of Osama bin Laden all came from Yemen. There are many people in Yemen who are very much opposed to the Saudi royal family.

It is a difficult situation. How do you preserve stability in the face of the fact that President Saleh is so unpopular and is causing riots throughout the country by people who are opposing him?

Press TV: Basically, when the protesters said that Saleh cannot be trusted to honor the deal in the first place, were they right?

Beeman: I think they are basically correct. I think that he was never sincere about honoring this agreement. It could be that he demanded some additional concessions from the Saudis.

I think the truth is he expected that he would sign this agreement and that it really wouldn't mean anything, he would still somehow be able to keep control over Saudi Arabia. This is, obviously, not going to happen. His rule is really over in Yemen.

It's very important that there are protests going on in Aden right now. We forget, sometimes, that Yemen was divided into northern and southern territories. Southern Yemen was communist for many, many years and they were directly opposed to the north and to the ruling people in the north. So, it's not surprising that there's a lot of protesting going on in Aden right now.

Press TV: Things don't seem to be in Saleh's favor given the events that are taking place. What is his contingency plan, basically?

Beeman: I really don't know. I think that Saleh expected to retire and have his son take over the government and have a continuation of the current regime. Clearly, that particular plan is completely out.

The fact that he fears a coup from his own generals tells you that he has very little support in his own country. I don't even know who in the military, right now, is supporting him.

But the difficulty for Saudi Arabia is that they don't know who would succeed him either. And so, we're facing a period of real instability.

If they can't persuade him to go along with this plan, and I think the Saudis have some idea about who they would like to impose stability in Yemen after Saleh leaves, we're facing the possibility of a civil war in Yemen which would be awfully dreadful because Yemen is a poor country on the Arabian Peninsula. And it's certainly not going to be good for the population of the country or for stability of the region.

Press TV: An analyst stated that if this deal proposed by the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council doesn't offer a solution, then violence will completely engulf the already impoverished country, as you've just said. Basically, are there any other alternatives for Yemen, at this point?

Beeman: We don't see any leaders stepping up even in the opposition. We haven't been able to identify anyone who has the ability to lead the opposition in any positive direction. I think the world is casting about for someone who might fulfill that role.

But, the problem is, of course, that President Saleh has been in power for 30 years and he has ruthlessly suppressed all of his opposition. What I have been expecting is that some Yemeni individual who has been living outside of the country would, eventually, step up and try to mount a reform movement from outside.

Press TV: What about high-level defectors, for example General Ali Mohsen Saleh? Will he try to step up and play a leadership role now?

Beeman: Perhaps. Again, it's a matter of being able to communicate with people inside the country and being able to coalesce forces and bring order to the opposition.

Right now, the opposition is striking in many, many places. It just seems to be protesting, it doesn't seem to have any direct positive direction.

I wish I had a more comprehensive idea of what's going on, but I think that we're all in the same boat in looking at this particular situation.

We have a president who won't leave, and it's really going to be dangerous for him because if he doesn't leave he might very well be shot. And external forces, the Saudis are trying to impose some degree of order and not succeeding.

And we have internal conflict in Yemen. The northern tribes, the people on the central plateau and [the people from] southern Yemen; all three of whom have hoped to try to maintain domination of the country after President Saleh leaves. And I'm certain that his regime is not long for this world.

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