Earlier this week, Yemen became the fourth Arab nation to watch its dictator fall from power since early 2011. For more than three decades, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh held power. His presidency, which was frightfully long compared to the four-year term in the United States, ended on Feb. 21.
Millions of Yemeni voters lined up to vote in a very unusual presidential election. The election featured one candidate and only one way to vote. NPR and other news organizations may have called it an election, but it was not so much an election as a hand-off of power from Saleh to his vice president.
For those of you who have not followed the Yemeni revolution, I encourage you to do so. Unsatisfied with high unemployment, poor economic conditions and corruption in the government, protestors began to call for new leadership in January of 2011.
Violence has plagued the revolution throughout its course. The shooting of 45 protestors on March 18, 2011 in Sana’a was only the horrible beginning of a wave of violence in Yemen.
Months later, fighting in the streets erupted between Saleh’s supporters and protestors, the presidential palace was bombed and protestors occupying Ta’izz were massacred.
I believe neither Saleh’s supporters nor the opposition will have emerged from this revolution with bloodless hands. While I strongly support the protestor’s ability to defend themselves, the bombing of the presidential palace had far more serious implications for bystanders than Saleh and other intended targets. The path of nonviolence, promoted by Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, is far more powerful than any single act of violence. You reap what you sow, as King often said, and it is my fear that violence on the part of Saleh’s opposition will simply cascade into more violence.
As Saleh was treated for wounds sustained in the bombing of the presidential palace, he finally agreed to transfer power to his vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi. Under the Gulf Cooperation Council’s agreement, Hadi will oversee a two-year transitional period. The U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, believes that during this transitional period major changes must be made in the constitution and the military. Feierstein hopes these changes will help the country move forward. Elections will be held at the end of the transitional period.
Calling Hadi’s rise to power an election is by any means a stretch of the imagination. Hadi, referred to as Saleh’s deputy by The New York Times and NPR, has reaped the rewards of his service and is now in for what could presumably be another 30-year term. The world might say that Yemen is the fourth Arab nation to witness its dictator fall from power in the past year — I remain a skeptic.
In addition to Hadi, many of Saleh’s sons, nephews and supporters remain in power. Some will even retain key positions in state-run companies and the military, according to NPR’s Kelly McEvers. While the agreement satiated some of the protestors, many do not accept it. Insurgent groups in the north and separatists in the south of Yemen feel that the transfer of power has not addressed most of their concerns. Other protestors feel that the immunity agreement given to Saleh is unacceptable.
Peace has not yet descended on Yemen. The BBC reported that at least eight soldiers were killed at southern polling stations as protestors prevented people from voting. I sincerely hope the transitional period will give way to real, and necessary, change in Yemen. I hope Hadi will step down at the end of the transitional period. I hope in two years, a foundation will have been created to move the country forward to its goal of being a modern, democratic state. With the way things look in Yemen right now, however, hoping for these changes might be like hoping that the Patriots won the Super Bowl.