Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Saturday that he will soon be stepping down from power, relinquishing his position to someone chosen by the people in elections.
“I reject power and I will continue to reject it, and I will be leaving power in the coming days,” Saleh said in a speech on state television. He will not do so, he vowed, until elections have taken place.
Virtually everyone familiar with the situation in Yemen, however, believes this is merely the latest of Saleh’s many shrewd lies meant to maintain his dictatorial power. Through many months of anti-government protests and international pressure to step down, Saleh has previously promised to step down at least three times, while also calling for elections that never came.
“This is new propaganda from Saleh before Yemen is discussed at the security council,” Mohammed al-Sabri, a spokesman for the opposition’s political coalition, told Reuters. “Four months have passed since he said he accepted the Gulf transition deal, so what is stopping him? He doesn’t even need a few days to do it.”
In fact, Saleh’s aides qualified his statements after the speech, saying he would not step down unless a power transfer agreement is reached. “Saleh will not step down unless the GCC power transfer proposal is signed. He will not leave power if the proposal is not signed,” government spokesman Abdu Ganadi said.
This latest flimsy announcement is probably no different than previous broken promises, although its frankness can be attributed to a political maneuver based on the desire to ease pressure ahead of a briefing to the United Nations Security Council by UN Yemen envoy Jamal Benomar. Getting by the most immediate political obstacles, as Saleh surely understands, could be enough to stay in power.
Furthermore, the United States has tempered their calls for Saleh to step down ever since the successful assassination of US citizen Anwar al Awlaki by US-operated Predator drones. Obama administration officials heaped praise on the Yemeni government immediately following the Awlaki killing, knowing full well that a democratic change in Yemen’s leadership is likely to put checks on US domination of the Gulf country and restrictions on breaches of sovereignty like drone attacks.
Meanwhile, the massive popular demonstrations against Saleh’s rule continue to be met with harsh repression by the government, with continued support from the US. This should make it clear that Saleh’s recent words to relinquish power are just words, not being backed up by actions.