Yemeni President Saleh Steps Down; Influence Still Remains
December 3, 2011
By: Mark Hsen | Printer Friendly
On November 23, after 10 months of the massive popular uprising, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an agreement to immediately transfer power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi. As part of the deal, Saleh may retain his title and certain privileges until new elections are held, however Hadi is supposed to take over as interim leader. Brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the deal will officially end Saleh's 33 years in power.
While new elections are scheduled for February 2012, a tentative agreement between the ruling party and opposition leaders has decided that Hadi will be the only candidate. According to the Washington Post, Hadi will act as a transitional figure until the next election. Hadi has since appointed Mohammed Basendwa, a veteran politician, as prime minister. Plans to form a new unity government will split the cabinet evenly between members of the ruling party and the opposition. Voice of America reported that Saleh loyalists will control the ministries of defense, foreign affairs and oil, while the opposition will lead the ministries of interior, finance, and information.
The Washington Post reported that the deal has also granted Saleh immunity from prosecution, which has significantly angered protesters. The agreement was signed without the input from Yemeni activists or powerful regional groups. Both groups have rejected the deal because of the immunity clause and the lack of a requirement for a complete government overhaul. Protesters have felt that their revolt has been co-opted by political elites and foreign backers. On November 25, thousands of protesters took to the streets in opposition to Saleh's immunity.
Fearing the collapse of security within Yemen, the United States, other Western powers, and Persian Gulf leaders have aggressively pushed for the agreement. While protesters demand the removal of the country's elites, foreign powers fear their immediate removal would cause a significant power vacuum, which could allow terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda to exploit tensions.
Saleh has agreed to similar agreements in the past, but has backed out each time. It appears that Saleh has now agreed to cooperate due to the threat of personal sanctions. The New York Times reports that the United Nations Security Council has threatened to freeze his family assets and to ban personal travel. Saleh and his family are believed to have significant assets in bank accounts and real estate in the United States and Europe. In addition, the travel ban may prove to be a problem due to Saleh's serious injuries sustained during a June 2011 bombing on the presidential palace and the potential need for additional treatment abroad.
It is unclear how much of a political presence Saleh hopes to maintain. If he remains influential, it could further divide Yemen. However, more than a week after handing over power, Saleh still exerts significant presidential power and influence. Saleh has issued decrees, engaged with world leaders, and still maintains some control over security forces.
On November 27, Saleh declared a general amnesty for people who had committed "follies" during the uprising. According to the Washington Post, it was unclear whether his pardon was for his own forces accused of killing protesters or to fighters commanded by his rivals. Saleh did make an exception for those involved with the bombing on the presidential palace in June. However his announcement angered opposition groups who stated he could no longer make decisions.
For more on Yemen, please see:
Yemen's Saleh Clings to Power
The New York Times – Yemen's Leader Agrees to End 3-Decade Rule
The New York Times – Power Ceded, Yet President of Yemen Declares Amnesty
The Washington Post – Yemeni president hands over power, but little changes
Voice of America – Yemen Instability Stokes Terror Concerns
Voice of America –Yemeni VP Forms New Unity Government as Fighting Rages