Will he stay or will he go?
Yemenis and Yemen watchers have been wondering for nearly a year, since the mass uprising against President ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih began, whether he would entrench or decamp.
An unknown Yemeni captured the dilemma perfectly last May, posting on YouTube a photo-and-video montage of the president set to Katy Perry’s breakup song “Hot ‘n’ Cold.” The montage opens with two clips, subtitled in English, in which Salih declares that if the majority of the people want him to resign he will gladly do so, “No problem.” It then ends with tape wherein he asks, “Who wants the regime to go? This is bully talk (kalam baltaga)!” In between, Perry’s deep-throated soundtrack croons: “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes / Do you really want to stay? No. Do you really want to go? No.” “I should know that you’re not gonna change.” “You’re in when you’re out, you’re up then you’re down.”
It was funny and apposite in May 2011; in January 2012 it makes me both laugh and cry.
In May Yemen’s erstwhile benefactors in the Gulf Cooperation Council offered Salih a sweet deal whereby he would transfer presidential authority to his deputy, Vice President ‘Abid Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi, in return for immunity from prosecution for the crimes of his administration including the murder in March of over 50 protesters outside Sanaa University. Three times he promised to take the deal and reneged.
In June a bomb inside a mosque in the vast presidential compound left Salih so seriously burned and injured that he traveled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. Some imagined he was out of the picture. He returned to Sanaa in September, again promising to accept the GCC pact and then contradicting himself.
Finally in November, at a ceremony in Riyadh, Salih accepted a pen from a member of the Saudi ruling family who seems to have cracked a joke under his breath and chuckled as he put his signature to four leather-bound copies of a document. The following day he was back in the presidential palace declaring that the amnesty would apply to all his family and friends but not to the bullies and criminals trying to overthrow them. Next he announced he would travel to the US for medical treatment, or perhaps just an extended vacation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demurred; Salih stayed put. He vowed to remain active in politics.
Purely ceremonial elections pre-decided to install al-Hadi were scheduled for February 23. This week, after al-Qaeda militants stormed a provincial town, Rada‘a, Yemen’s government announced that elections might be delayed, and then reversed that declaration a day later. Meanwhile, the newly installed cabinet agreed to a sweeping immunity declaration for all regime members and then amended it slightly in preparation for sending it to a parliament still dominated by Salih’s General People’s Congress party.
Will he stay or will he go? Ask Katy Perry.