Last Updated: Fri Sep 23, 2011 17:54 pm (KSA) 14:54 pm (GMT)

Muna Khan: I wish I was wrong on Yemen

Over 400 protestors are said to have been killed in Yemen since the violence began in January. (Photo by Reuters)
Over 400 protestors are said to have been killed in Yemen since the violence began in January. (Photo by Reuters)

This is one of the times I am not happy to have been proven right.

When President Ali Abdullah Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for treatment in June, almost everyone I knew said that was his end. However it panned out ─ a watered down GCC agreement that gave him immunity from prosecution or his sons playing a role in the new administrative set up ─ his rule was, in effect, over, or would soon be.

I was sure it wasn’t, though I wavered with colleagues who were convinced that Saudi Arabia wouldn’t “allow” Saleh’s return, certainly not as president. After Saleh’s second, or third or fourth, “I won’t sign this GCC-powered deal” about turn, pretty much everyone knew that the man wouldn’t go quietly but very few expected he would return in the dramatic manner on Friday.

I admit I didn’t expect him to return like that, or in the midst of bloody violence in Sana’a, but given his tendency to pitch himself as a knight in shining armor ─ Yemen will fall apart without me ─ it’s not that surprising.

In a post on Friday, Gregory Johnsen ─ who has written extensively on Yemen ─ reminds us that Saleh resolved conflicts in the past using a strategy “to deflect, set up two opposing sides, and then swoop in at the last minute to save the day.”

In the past, much of the international community did not care about the blood that Saleh was responsible for shedding because they feared the demons that Saleh said threatened their existence (namely al-Qaeda). The threat of al-Qaeda in Yemen has largely been exaggerated by Saleh and his removal does not mean that a new administration will not address the terror outfit’s presence in the country as it threatens Yemen’s security first and foremost.

As for Saleh trying to convince the world that the current spate of violence is not about protests as much as battle for power amongst armed militia, this is simply hogwash. Undoubtedly there is a real threat of the country heading to civil war but Saleh’s return doesn’t mean a change in direction away from war ─ it almost guarantees civil war.

As we wait for his address to the nation tomorrow, and analysts wax eloquently on the likelihood of a smooth transfer of power, we can rest assured knowing that the outcome is unlikely to immediately alter the lives of the one in three Yemenis who go hungry every day, according to a recent report by the British aid agency Oxfam.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen should be getting more attention in the press and should be of great concern to the international community as it presses on Saleh to step down ─ immediately and unequivocally. This is the only way out. Of that I am absolutely sure.

(The writer is a journalist at Al Arabiya and can be reached at

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