x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Let Saleh go quietly

The free pass given to Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has angered many but is a good deal for the country, an Arabic-language columnist argues. Other topics: moderate Islamists, and Palestinian unity

Yemen’s Saleh must be rewarded, rather than prosecuted, for consenting to leave office

In his opinion article for the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat, the columnist Abdelrahman Al Rashid commented on the wave of resentment that has overtaking Yemen since President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the GCC-backed deal granting him a safe exit from power and immunity from prosecution.

He said: “Amnesty International is irate because the deal provides for President Saleh’s resignation in exchange for a complete closure of his dossier.”

Amnesty’s point of view also resonates with opposition protesters. They argue that Saleh should be prosecuted for the crimes that were perpetrated under his watch in recent months.

“Personally, I still doubt that Saleh will ever forsake authority. I will only believe when I see him, along with his relatives and comrades, go away,” added the writer.

“He is elusive and has been known to lie on more than one occasion. He should in fact be rewarded if and when he decides to leave and not be prosecuted at all, for his departure would prevent a most destructive war.”

In fact, should Mr Saleh surprise the world and walk away, he would be the first Arab president to leave under this formula since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

His regime would fall with few casualties in comparison to what has been happening in Libya and Syria.

Talk of accountability and prosecution in the case of President Saleh is a luxury that Yemen cannot afford.

It is no easy feat to uproot a regime that has been reigning unchallenged for decades. Those who objecting to immunity must be reminded that in Yemen, as in Libya and Syria, getting rid of the president, whether by force or by persuasion, in practice generally means the toppling of the entire regime.

President Saleh, just like Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Al Assad, is the regime. He is the army, he is security, he is the government and he is the state.

Mr Saleh was able to survive an assassination attempt that kept him in a hospital in Saudi for months, while his regime managed to lose not even one street.

“Thanks to his forces and his security apparatus, Mr Saleh has the capacity to reign over Yemen for years to come. He wouldn’t shy away from exploiting tribal and sectarian differences to his benefit, which would transform the country into a battlefield where the biggest loser would be the Yemeni people,” the writer continued.

“Therefore, I believe that Mr Saleh’s consent to forsake authority and leave in return for immunity for himself and his comrades is a winning deal.

“It is time to turn over a new leaf, one that would otherwise be turned at a bloody cost,” he concluded.

Moderate Islamists are gaining ground

The West and Israel are paying the price of their longstanding animosity to Islamists, columnist Mazen Hammad opined in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

“Fortunately for the West and Israel, however, the Islamist parties reaping victories one after the other across the Arab world aren’t based on extremist concepts,” he said. “They are closer to the Turkish version of moderate Islamism that views Islam not only as a religion, but also as a cultural umbrella.”

The Moroccan Justice and Development Party (PJD) is the latest member of the club of moderate Islamist winners, which compels King Mohammed VI to appoint a PJD figure as prime minister.

The predominance of moderate Islamists has become a phenomenon of the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, the Islamist Annahda triumphed in elections last month. In Egypt the Islamic Brotherhood seems to be prevailing. In Libya, the Islamist movement has a substantial part in the new government.

The new Islamist electoral map of the Middle East, reminds us of many an Israeli analyst’s concern that the region might one day come under Islamist rule.

“Israeli premonitions aside, we must support and defend moderate Islamism,” the writer added.

As for moderation turning into extremism, that will depend on the West’s and Israel’s ways of dealing with the new reality.

Palestinian division?is not fully healed yet

The Cairo meeting between the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the chairman of the Hamas political bureau, Khalid Meshaal, ended with both parties agreeing to a “new political partnership”, columnist Hussam Kanafani noted in the Emirati dailyt Al Khaleej.

“That was the statement at the end of the second meeting since their reconciliation agreement last May. But the rhetoric doesn’t apply to the facts on the ground,” said the writer.

The first meeting didn’t differ from previous ones, especially in that it didn’t reach any definite resolution for any of the pending issues. It was merely a repetition of the first meeting in May.

While Hamas continues to veto Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister, President Abbas continues to insist on him especially in light of the financial siege imposed on the PA, which could be compounded if a new government takes over that doesn’t meet the requirements of the Quartet.

The meeting could be called an organisation of the division, rather than an end to it.

But the prolongation of the state of division doesn’t preclude some detente at the popular level. The political conflict is difficult to end at the moment, but some more unity can be shown at the popular level.