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Yemen: Saleh's backflip hat-trick

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23 May 2011 17:21

'Dancing on the Heads of Snakes', the title of Victoria Clark's book about governing in Yemen, says much about last night's third refusal by President Saleh to sign a GCC-brokered agreement for him to step down in thirty days' time.

Saleh has gone through the motions of negotiating and even allowed an agreement to be written. But first he refused to sign it on 30 April, then he refused again last Wednesday before rather dramatically refusing at the last minute yesterday. At the same time, pro-Government demonstrators surrounded the UAE Embassy in Sana'a. Inside were the US, EU and most GCC ambassadors. They were later evacuated to the presidential palace for the signing ceremony that never was. 

In what was a smart move, the Qataris pulled their experienced regional negotiators out of talks with Saleh after Saleh's first refusal, obviously believing that the President was not serious about giving up power.

Conventional wisdom is that Saleh can't survive, but believes he can. His rhetoric about civil war and al Qaeda running rampant if he goes panders to those who still think he offers the best hope for stability. The growing opposition crowds and increasingly frustrated regional countries, as well as increasing rhetorical opposition from the West, seem to indicate that the writing is on the wall.

But like a boxer able to absorb his opponent's blows before launching a counterattack, so long as he retains the loyalty of the best military units and enough key tribes, he can't be counted out just yet.

Photo, of Sana'a Old City in Yemen, by Flickr user eesti.

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