He terrorized. He stole. He murdered. Then he got a deal that simply stated, “All is forgiven, keep your money, worry not about prosecution and lead a trouble-free life as long as you step down and let your country be.”
After ruling Yemen for 33 years, Ali Abdulla Saleh, like his fellow Arab dictators, faced an uprising from a nation that simply had enough, and while he saw Tunisia chase away their leader like a rabid dog, Egypt imprisoning theirs in a little box, and Libya slaughtering one of the most loony personalities of the century, it would have been normal for Saleh to believe that he was going meet a similar fate and that he should look for a plan to escape with the least damage.
What followed shocked the Arab World but was accepted as the best possible solution for Yemen: the political angels, in the form of six GCC Foreign Affairs Ministers, descended from the skies and handed Saleh a gift that criminals fantasize about in their jail cells, The GCC Agreement.
One would think that Yemen’s ex-president would be currently relaxing in a luxury yacht drinking a nice fruit cocktail somewhere off a tropical island wondering how he was able to stage the world’s biggest escape and go unpunished despite the guilty verdict handed to him by over 25 million people. A unique escape that is unprecedented for any dictator since the beginning of mankind.
But, boy, were we wrong…
Famously describing his 33-year reign as “dancing on the heads of snakes,” Saleh is shockingly still in Yemen facing the music for what could be his last dance.
One month after officially handing power to his deputy Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi through last month’s elections, Saleh seems to be showing withdrawal symptoms similar to those of a drug addict. So, today, we’ll explore each of these emotional withdrawal symptoms and validate them with Saleh’s actions ever since he ran out of his favorite drug: Power.
1) Anxiety and Restlessness:
Since losing the title of President, Saleh assumed the role of leader of his political party, the General People’s Congress Party (Al Motamar), a position that has been attributed to the President of the country for the last three decades. In doing so, Saleh is not only undermining the legitimacy of President Hadi, but is clearly sending a signal that he will not exit the political arena and will continue meddling in the affairs of the country.
On the 10th of March 2012, Saleh gathered a handful of his remaining supporters at the infamous self-named Saleh Mosque and gave a speech against the revolution, branding it a conspiracy against him, in addition to launching a scathing attack against Qatar, which has been a key player in brokering the GCC Agreement.
It was evident, however, that Saleh (a sucker for media attention), wasn’t his usual charismatic self. His sentences in some occasions were incomplete, his voice fading and shaky, his posture nervous and his inability to say three consecutive words without stopping for breath resulted in awkward silences filled with sporadic applause.
2) Volatile Mood Swings and Denial:
Reports surfaced in the BBC a few days ago that Saleh had ordered President Hadi to arrest the country’s Prime Minister, Mohammad Salem Basendowa, for referring to him as an “elderly man” and accusing his supporters of causing last year’s unfortunate Karama Massacre. President Hadi was most certainly not going to entertain the orders of a nuisance, who may very well be suffering of old age, by thinking that he could order a sitting president to take such absurd actions.
This was followed by Saleh ordering government Ministers (loyal to his party) to boycott a weekly cabinet meeting convened by Basendowa. This included the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Information and National Security.
President Hadi swiftly intervened to ensure that all members of the cabinet were present and the meeting went ahead as scheduled.
3) Hallucinations and Suicidal Thoughts:
It really does seem that Saleh, who is a self-branded master in political chess, still hasn’t come to terms with the fact that he has nothing but a few pawns left on his side of the table, and no longer has a place in the governing mechanism in Yemen (despite the fact that many of his relatives still temporarily control high military positions).
In the parallel universe his mind is living in, Saleh still truly believes that he is the supreme leader of Yemen, a hallucination that is not only disrupting the reconstruction of the country but also risks undoing all of the achievements of the revolution.
For one, his presence in the country could all but kill any chances of unity between the north and the south, the latter of which will not be convinced of Hadi’s intentions towards their inclusion in the governing system as long as Saleh is freely coming in and out of the presidential palace, not to mention delaying the reconstruction of the armed forces.
But most importantly, Saleh’s current position as the party leader raises the most critical question: Is Saleh trying to pave the way to return to power?
If so, then he is definitely suicidal!
If Saleh has any fantasies of implementing a Putinesque plan to return to power, then he is undoubtedly throwing away any guarantees for his safety. The GCC Agreement which granted him protection is only valid for crimes committed in the past. Any actions Saleh takes to inflate the threat of Al Qaeda, or cause tribal disputes, or even attempt to cause the disunity or failure of the existing government through his Ministers, will make the immunity he currently holds null and void.
This would naturally open the floodgates for those who want justice against him and would figuratively result in the upgrading of Mubarak’s hospital bed to a queen size mattress just to make sure it’s cozy for the two of them as they face concurrent trials.
This man’s ego may have propelled him to the top, but it seems like his gift is also a curse as it is preventing him from walking away with a deal of a lifetime or at least being domesticated into a regular citizen.
And so fades the music of the snake charmers, and the dancing comes to an end…