Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has flown to Saudi Arabia allegedly to sign a deal that would end his 33-year reign of power.
The agreement, brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) guarantees the president, his family and close aides will be safe and won't be prosecuted by subsequent governments after he steps down, Yemen state television reported Wednesday. Initially formulated in April, Saleh has agreed to sign the document and then backed out at the last minute three times before.
The president was seriously wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on his compound in June which sent him and ten other high-ranking ministers to Saudi Arabia for medical care. Several officials died in the attack, which was launched by tribal opposition forces. After spending several months recuperating in Riyadh from the attack, however, Saleh returned to Yemen, promising repeatedly but without a clear timeline to transfer power to opposition forces.
During the time Saleh was in Riyadh, Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi finally was toppled from power. Qaddafi, who insisted that prominent among the rebel forces were Al Qaeda terrorists, was killed by those same forces after he was captured, rather than held for trial. Saleh has been fighting off the encroachment of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for years, particularly in the south of the country. There are fears that his resignation may lead to a vacuum that could be filled by tribal war, anarchy or the rise of Shari'a law in a manner similar to that of the Taliban in Afghanistan
“He may be in Riyadh to sign the GCC initiative because pressure from the Gulf group and external powers has become too great,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Miliatary Analysis, told Bloomberg News in a phone interview.
Earlier this year, two other long-time Arab leaders -- former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – were also swept from power with the region-wide “Arab Spring.”
The GCC's foreign ministers are set to meet Wednesday evening in Riyadh.