Yemen’s president of 33 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, finally signed up to a GCC-backed political transition plan on 23 November.
Saleh may well become the fourth Arab head of state to be unseated in 2011, although this is by no means a certainty. Regardless of whether he does finally step down or not, his departure will do little to improve stability in a country racked by poverty, food and water insecurity, and a complex series of internecine tribal, political, familial and regional rivalries.
The GCC deal effectively gives Yemen’s loose parliamentary opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), a greater role in the day-to-day running of the country and sets out a timeline for new presidential elections in 2012. In the view of many Yemenis, the JMP is part of a stagnant elite, which is almost as much to blame for the lack of development, widespread corruption, and lack of social mobility in Yemen, as Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC).
The 2011 uprising was not led by the traditional opposition. It was started by young protesters with little in the way of political affiliations, whom the JMP later backed. Many protesters say that the deal does not address their demands for a new political order based around a Westminster parliamentary system with reduced presidential power. They say it will simply allow for the maintenance of the country’s status quo.
If the youth movement’s demands have been largely ignored, then the calls from southern secessionists and federalists have also fallen on deaf ears during negotiations, as have the claims of Houthi tribesmen, who are pushing for greater independence.
If the protesters’ demands are not met, they will remain on the streets of the country’s major cities. If southerners and Houthis’ concerns are not addressed, the country could yet still tip over into civil war, with Saleh more than likely to be pulling the strings in Sanaa exactly as he has done for the past three decades.