Yemen's Saleh Still a Decisive Factor in Yemen
Ali Abdullah Saleh's intent to return to Yemen and hunt down his would-be assassins proves his presidency isn't over yet.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 8/19/2011, 2:29 PM
Seriously wounded and forced into medical exile in Riyadh after a near-successful assassination attempt in June, Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh has proven a tenacious political survivor who has been underestimated by critics and rivals.
The recent bravura speech by Saleh leader suggests he not only plans to return to a country wracked by months of unrest, violence and economic misery, but that he's looking for pay-back in the process.
Saleh, visibly healthier than the gaunt, scarred figure who appeared in a televised speech five weeks ago, vowed Tuesday to come back and hinted he will track down those behind an attempt to assassinate him.
Not above dramatic flourishes, he ended his speech saying, "See you soon in Sana'a" — delighting thousands of supporters who gathered to watch him live on television in the Yemeni capital.
Even Yemeni critics who had written him off acknowledged that they might have jumped the gun.
"It was a surprise to all of us," said Abdul Gani Al Iryani, a political analyst and co-founder of the Democratic Awakening Movement, referring to Saleh's staying power.
"Saleh's weakness in the early stages of the revolution was exaggerated. We were all at fault in seeing him losing his grip," he said. "I think the new position of the president will be ‘I will transfer power only if the culprits of the assassination attempt leave the country simultaneously'."
Saleh's foreign minister told Reuters last month the government wanted to transfer power via new elections but that the timetable for the president to step down was not realistic.
The veteran leader's grip on power has dismayed many Yemenis who hoped he was gone for good when he flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment following a bomb blast at his palace mosque.
Yemen, an impoverished country of 23 million at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula has been in turmoil since January when protesters took to the streets demanding Saleh leave office.
Saleh has ruled since 1978, overseeing the unification of north and south Yemenin 1990 and installing many relatives in top posts, especially in the military and security forces. Saleh may be weakened, but he remains a powerful player.
"He won't be able to continue to rule as he did in the past, but he still has a significant base of power in which to come back to the country and, if not able to rule the country entirely, he's certainly able to prevent anyone else from ruling it," said Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen of Princeton University.
National Council Formed
Yemeni opposition groups and protest leaders formed a national council on Wednesday to step up pressure on Saleh to relinquish power.
Salem Mohammad Bassindwa, a top opposition figure, says youth groups and political parties named 143 council members to represent the people.
"This is a revolutionary council aimed at toppling the rule of the [Saleh] family and the remnants of this regime," Bassindwa said, and the council is "not an alternative to the government."