Whatever the current situation with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh; the man must be considered extremely shrewd and a master at dancing with snakes. This is not a compliment, but it stems from comparing the facts, and the reality that sometimes things are defined by their opposites. A mere comparison, for example, between Ali Abdullah Saleh and Bashar al-Assad, shows a big difference in the game of politics and the art of maneuvering.
The snake dancer, i.e. Saleh, has excelled in tormenting his opponents and procrastinating with his negotiators, whether Saudis, the Gulf, or the West. He also excelled in preventing a Yemeni mass consensus against him, for he played all his cards, legitimately or otherwise, but without allowing Yemen to slip into a genuine civil war. However, Yemen is still a candidate for this fate, even today and tomorrow. Saleh’s cunning, as I have already said, is not a compliment, but rather it is a reading of the facts, such as how he has been able to survive ruling Yemen for several decades, something that no one has done before in a country of great complexity, multiple crises, and potentially volatile hotspots. Above all this, Saleh is also a man who has recently come back from the dead. Following this, it appeared that he had genuinely understood the reality in Yemen, and that he was able to curb his personal feelings. In fact, he is a politician without feelings, a man fluent in living under pressure.
Al-Saleh attended Riyadh by himself; he did not send his deputy as he has done in the past, for he wanted to show that he was a man who makes sacrifices for his country. This is a political game, but there is also another significant matter here. The Saudi negotiators knew Yemen well, and they knew Saleh’s key territories and likely maneuvers. This is not to mention that the Saudi negotiating team was also calm and patient, a feature of the people of the desert, and therefore yesterday we saw the completion of the Gulf initiative agreement with Yemen. The question here of course is: Is this the end of the crisis in Yemen? The answer is no, but at least the fuse leading to the biggest explosion has been disarmed, regardless of where the next fire comes from. The Yemenis are facing a very long road, and the most important thing is for Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave the scene as soon as possible, because he is capable of making this a very rocky road.
As noted above, Saleh is very shrewd, from his arrival to power, his survival at the helm, and ultimately his departure. This characterization is not impressive, but for those who doubt Saleh’s shrewdness, they should compare the end of his reign to the end of three of his Arab predecessors, who left power earlier this year. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country, or was forced to flee, Hosni Mubarak ended up on a bed in a prison hospital whilst his two sons were incarcerated, while in Libya we saw the horrific end to Muammar Gaddafi, not to mention what happened to his family and children! Finally, compare Saleh’s initiative to the terms offered to al-Assad, and compare the tricks used by both leaders. Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the initiative and will leave the Gulf for New York, in order to receive treatment, without any international reservations. His plane will leave for America safely without any obstacles. Meanwhile, the moment the Gulf initiative was signed, France yesterday called for the need to provide safe humanitarian corridors in Syria, in order to protect the Syrians from Doctor al-Assad!
Therefore, as the proverb says: “Ask the experienced rather than the learned”.