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Government supporters carry posters of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a rally in Sanaa yesterday. Tens of thousands of Yemenis squared off in street protests for and against the government uring an opposition-led 'Day of Rage'.
Government supporters carry posters of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a rally in Sanaa yesterday. Tens of thousands of Yemenis squared off in street protests for and against the government uring an opposition-led 'Day of Rage'.

Yemen's Saleh faces opposition still not ready to govern

Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime in Yemen will not fall easily, analysts say, in part because he plays his opponents off against each other.

SANA'A // As protests rage in Egypt, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has some reason to feel secure. His opponents want reform, not revolution.

The storm of change has no doubt hit Yemen as the unified opposition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), promised to continue protests until Mr Saleh gives in to their demands for political reforms.

His offer on Wednesday to stand down when his term ends in 2013 failed to stop tens of thousands of people protesting in the capital yesterday.

Sana'a has in recent weeks been the arena for anti government protesters, chanting slogans that opposition leaders thought would be impossible prior to 2011. To dampen down the crisis, the ruling party has tried to organise pro-government protests, but failed to gather more than 1,000 followers.

The opposition has refused to sit at the same table with what they call "the corrupt regime of Saleh" since the latest national dialogue to discuss political reforms broke down in October.

But for all its posturing and rhetoric, the opposition in Yemen cannot be compared to any other in the Arab region as Mr Saleh has worked hard to keep strong links with their leaders.

On numerous occasions, party leaders have openly opposed him during news conferences, only to sit with Mr Saleh later in the day behind closed doors.

Experts believe that opposition parties are still not ready to govern and there is no obvious successor to Mr Saleh.

Unlike Tunisia, Yemen's six opposition parties are united under the umbrella of the JMP, however, Ali Jaradi, the editor in chief of Yemen's independent Ahale newspaper said the situation could quickly change. "Currently, the JMP is uniting the opposition against one person, which is Saleh." But when he is "out of the picture, disputes among them will start due to them being from six differently ideological political parties".

The Yemeni political analyst Mohammed al Khaberi said the goal of Yemen's largest opposition party, Islah, is not to rule but to change the regime and ensure a transparent government. All other JMP parties want the opposite, and are craving the seat of the government. They see Islah as a brick wall standing in front of their political ambitions.

"President Saleh will use this point against the Islah and most likely bribe other opposition leaders with high ranks in government in return for splitting from the JMP," said Mr al Khaberi.

Over the past two years, the ruling party, the General People's Congress, has desperately tried to split apart the JMP coalition. During a speech earlier this month, Mr Saleh called on the Islah party to participate in the April parliamentary elections saying that the other JMP parties, which have only one or two seats, were not strong enough to participate. Islah has 47 of 301 seats in parliament, and the JMP opposed the election in April because it was called before an end to the national dialogue on reforms agreed with the president.

Opposition leaders confirmed that Mr Saleh offered smaller parties in the JMP positions in the government if they joined his side. A month earlier, Mr Saleh promised the Socialist party the majority of seats in southern Yemen if they withdrew from the JMP. As expected, the party refused.

Hasan Zaid, the secretary general of the Haq Party, said Mr Saleh prefers to deal with each party separately to exploit their differences. The president has called him numerous times, he said, and tried to persuade him to join his coalition.

"Even if we refuse to sit with him alone, he calls us. Saleh tries to keep a strong relationship with opposition leaders even if they differ in opinion, and that is why his rule will not fall easily."

Sources close to Mr Saleh have said he is in shock at how quickly Mr Mubarak lost control of Egypt. The president knows that if a ruler as powerful as Mr Mubarak falls he, in Yemen, would stand no chance if the people revolt.

Mohammed al Saadi, Islah's deputy secretary general, said Mr Saleh should learn from what has happened to other leaders in the region - and that the president's hubris may lead to his downfall.

"Look at where Hosni Mubarak is today. No one can withstand the power of the people. People are demanding justice and will get what they demand."

Now as all eyes are on Mr Mubarak, Mr Saleh is praying that his Egyptian counterpart does not fall.

If Mr Saleh was to fall, the JMP, with its lack of experience in governing would soon understand what Mr Saleh meant in 2009 when he compared governing Yemen, with all its problems, to dancing on the heads of snakes.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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