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Qais Ghanem, MD Headshot

It May as Well be the First Day of Arab Spring

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No one would be surprised if I said that during the past six months or so, I had numerous discussions with some intelligent and well informed friends about the ongoing Arab Spring. And while everyone agrees that the Arab Spring simply had to happen eventually, most are pleasantly surprised at how early and how quickly it happened.

But more recently, many of these same friends have been more concerned about the negative developments taking place in the wake of this momentous revolution. As one might imagine, my friends point to the success of the Islamic groups in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the rule of the militia in parts of Libya, and the daring military successes attributed to Al-Qaeda in Yemen, now ruled by a coalition of two main groups, one of which was nothing but the arm of its deposed dictator.

When Assad is eventually killed or pushed out of Syria into Iran, I anticipate that some people will lament his departure, while pointing to the resultant Sunni-Shiite strife which is likely to occur, mainly as the settling of scores. There are early signs of the rats jumping the Assad ship, a phenomenon that has a habit of snowballing once it starts.

I try to point out to such friends that all these complications notwithstanding, we now have a changed situation which is better than the status quo, which also has the potential to improve, now that decision making is being shared by more than one single person or family. All revolutions, from the Bolshevik to the French to the American one against British rule, went through horrendous and violent stages of correction, and maybe over correction. It's the nature of any monumental change which involves large populations. At least now, we have the opportunity to establish justice and human rights and the rule of law, even if it was partially Sharia, hopefully only very transiently.

In all the Arab countries which have gone through this upheaval, one factor was or will be crucial: the complete removal of the elements of the previous corrupt and cruel regime. Just as it was unthinkable that Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi would be left in any position of power, Maher Al-Assad will not be spared, let alone given any role in running the country.

This is where Yemen has been the exception. Not only did party chief Ali Abdulla Saleh get away with scott-free murder because of the ridiculous terms of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) accord, but his son and nephew are wielding enormous power, with the blessing of the United States, which is using the highly inflated threat of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as its justification for keeping them in power. The Yemenis, in my opinion, will not be able to turn a new leaf while Saleh's henchmen, whether military relatives or civilian ex-ministers, wield power and escape the accountability and justice that must be meted against them.

Therefore, talk about unity and moving forward and reconciliation is quite premature, and will not occur until Saleh's thugs lose their positions of power. That will not happen any time soon, if ever. Unity between the different regions of North Yemen will be extremely difficult, even if it is forced at the end of a bayonet, and or by bribing key individuals.

True unity with South Yemen will be impossible until its people see justice for all the crimes committed against their families, officials, infrastructure, and property. The appointment of a southern prime minister, and the so-called election of a southern president will not alleviate their resentment, as they continue to recognize such individuals, and others like them, for what they are -- remnants of the Saleh regime, almost totally powerless, still taking orders from Saleh and his son and nephew, who remain in the country, wielding enormous power, without fear of retribution because of the Saudi-GCC brokered agreement.

As recently as March 20, the BBC Arabic program reported that after Prime Minister Basindwah criticized former President Saleh for releasing Yemeni soldiers known to have shot dead peaceful demonstrators, Saleh sent former prime minister Abdul-Kareem Al-Iryani to President Hadi, ordering him to have PM Basindwah arrested. To his credit, as the BBC reports, Hadi refused to arrest the Prime Minister. However this incident confirms the extent of meddling in government affairs by Saleh, as long as he is in the country. It is also reported by the BBC that those members of the coalition cabinet, who belong to Saleh's People's Congress Party, for example the foreign minister, were ordered to boycott the cabinet meeting called by PM Basindwah.

It is true that today water and electricity are partially restored, and that no one is being killed. This is no different from Yemen a year ago, before the huge demonstrations in Tagheer Square. In other words there has been no fundamental change; and what is worse is that Yemenis do not see any prospect of a way out of this impasse. In a chat with a cousin of mine in Sanaa, I was told that people are expecting "war" any minute now.

In any situation of uncertainty, conflict, albeit low grade, lack of food and services, and disintegration of infrastructure, there are always those very few opportunistic millionaires and potential millionaires who will make a killing without regard for the starving millions. They are the ones who have the ears of the Yemeni media which, with very few exceptions, has been government controlled.

So, do not be surprised to hear of huge new contracts, investments, and potential jobs. Knowing what we know about the level of corruption in Yemen, it is a foregone conclusion that millions will be made by a happy handful of Yemenis, and they are not going to rock the boat, are they?

And so, in Yemen, the sacrifices made by the thousands of students and other martyrs will have been in vain, due to the intransigence and megalomania of Ali Abdullah Saleh, and all those who consciously chose to support him, be it his minister of national security, foreign affairs, or information. It is only a matter of time before the killing recommences, and this time it will be on a more vicious scale, as Saleh reclaims his throne.

If the United States truly cared about democracy in Yemen, it would make certain that Saleh and his clique physically leave the country, never to return, reminding them of what a wonderful deal they have been given, despite the documented crimes they perpetrated against the Yemeni people for three decades.

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