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Yemen's Saleh Holds amid Massive Revolt

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TEHRAN, April 28 (ICANA) – 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.
Thursday, April 28, 2011 10:41:57 PM
Yemen's Saleh Holds amid Massive Revolt

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

Q: 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 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 of the power reality; that 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 hundreds of thousands of women being involved in these protests, the real first for the country, a remarkable and wonderful thing, the levels of the power is still firmly in the government's hands and I think it is the fact that the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council, allies like the US and so forth, have fallen away from the regime but they need to make some change. but the opposition parties 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, they Yemeni people themselves.

Q: 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 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 are continuing to foster change in that country. We shouldn't underestimate what a significant step it is but we should neither overestimate the change because the Saudis and the US, if they had their own way, they would stick with the status quo.

Q: 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 have succeeded according to many of us. So how optimistic can we be about a country like Yemen that do 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 contain in the document 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 as we have seen in other repressive regimes ranging from the apartheid government in South Africa to 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 it is happening right now with [former] President Mubarak and his 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 something that can be very positive for accountability and for the rights. After all are spreading throughout this region in a wholly unprecedented fashion.

Q: 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, Syrian and Libya. We do have to take heart 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 by the Security Forces, and 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.

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 complimented 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 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. 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 very positive momentum. At a minimum, I'm hoping it will bring an end to the worst forms of violence that is happening for the last two months.

Q: 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, 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. Any of the traditional super powers that have been focused only on stability and dictators that continuing power at the expense of the rights and livelihood of the economic progress of the people.

We have a new movement for justice that is happening here. The double standard is quite apparent. Saudi Arabia has used forced 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 recognize 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 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 tend to be delayed. What we are seeing is the Saudis attempting to delay progress and justice here.

Q: 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 of 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 culture are not addressed with the positive support, not militarily, but positive support including help for aid and trade with 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 by also 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 welcomed now that it's here.

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