A new chapter in Yemen’s history
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has signed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, agreeing to hand over power after 33 years.
“I never wanted to keep power to myself,” said Saleh. “It’s the other parties that chose to become the opposition and now we are back to sharing power.”
However, he added that what is happening in Yemen today is unconstitutional. “How can you say this is a peaceful transition of power after so many people have been killed. Why didn’t we do this from the beginning?” he asked.
After three times refusing the Gulf deal, which was offered in April, and with many Yemenis loath to believe he would really sign, Saleh put his name to the GCC initiative at 7pm on Wednesday Nov. 23, 2011 in Riyadh.
“The signing per say is not what’s important, rather its good intentions and serious work though a true partnership to rebuild Yemen,” said Saleh after signing.
“We are relying on the support of the GCC, mainly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the UN to help us in the rebuilding process. We want them to supervise and be witness to the implementation of the initiative.”
Members of both the ruling GPC and the opposition Joint Meeting Parties were present to sign the transfer mechanism, which will see power handed to Saleh’s Vice President Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi within 30 days and early elections within 90 days.
However, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, said that Saleh would be flying to New York for medical treatment rather than returning directly to Yemen.
Jamal Benomar, UN special envoy to Yemen, who has been in the country since November 10, was also present. “This is a historical day for Yemen and a time for social cohesion and establishing security and stability in the country,” he said.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, added: “Now Yemenis have to put everything behind them and work for the future.”
While there were celebrations in Change Square where anti-government protesters have been camped since February, many still reject the GCC deal because of the immunity it offers Saleh and his regime.
“We did not go to the streets for 10 months and risk our lives for Saleh’s regime to share power with the JMP [opposition coalition],” said Waleed Al-Amari a protestor in Sana’a’s Change Square. “This signing is a political agreement between the ruling party and the opposition party and we will remain in the squares until our revolution is successful.”
Other protesters are concerned by the lack of change in the military system. Bassam Al-Asbahi, also in Change Square, said that this agreement is not useful because “the military is still in the hands of his [Saleh’s] relatives.”
He added that he is worried because every time the president signs something a war follows.
Recent days have seen marches, online campaigns and even the burning of ID cards in protest of the Gulf deal. On the day of signing itself protests were seen across Yemen in cities such as Sana’a, Taiz, Aden and Hodeida, which were all affected by the uprising.
Taiseer Al-Samee a journalist from Taiz feels optimistic about the signing and says this is a new chapter for Yemen. “This will save Yemen from collapse and will put an end to the bloodshed. With Saleh now gone the modern state building will begin.”
What this agreement really means
The signing of the Gulf initiative allows Saleh to remain as president albeit in an honorary role since his powers have been delegated to his deputy who did not attend the signing ceremony.
It also allows Saleh to leave power in a way that does not subject him to international prosecution. A tweet immediately after the signing mocked the agreement saying “Unlike Ben Ali, Saleh gets to travel around the world.”
A presidential election is to take place within three months yet both the signing parties have already agreed on a common candidate, Vice President Hadi, who will oversee Yemen’s transition.
The opposition will lead the new government, which will be formed with 50 percent coming from the opposition and 50 percent from the ruling party and a suggestion of having a 20 percent quota for women.
The transition period, which could last between three months and two years, will deal with long standing issues such as the Southern Movement, constitutional reforms, the Houthi rebellion and a decentralized federal system.
The restructuring of the army, although an integral demand of the protesting youth, may not be a priority in the transition phase.