Dear Abu Bakr,
We have known each other since 1960, when we were medical students at the University of Edinburgh. Since then your two fine sons have been my close friends and nephews. In the '80s we worked together to establish the faculty of medicine of the University of Sanaa. You climbed the ladder rapidly, and deservedly, and became the vice-chancellor of the university. I recall that you were very popular among those thousands upon thousands of university students, and certainly a household name. That was in 1987.
Those were the same youthful students who now, one generation later, throng Taghyeer Square and the university compound, in droves. In the meantime your path gradually switched to politics, and eventually, the plum job of foreign minister, to which you brought your obvious talents of intelligence, common sense, the ability to dialogue, a phenomenal memory and good command of English; qualities which your president was happy to make use of, to prop up his regime, which has now lasted 33 years. Your involvement occurred in a very insidious manner, and seemed to be assured for life.
In the meantime, the Arabs have woken up in 2011, and not a moment too soon. The tsunami of democratic change is thankfully upon us, and is unstoppable. And like Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz, Hosni Mubarak and Habib Al-Adli, Muammar Gaddafi and Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, other dictators and their ministers will vanish. I happen to know that you initially thought that what might come after Saleh could be worse, and that you would be able to help bring about change, without bloodshed, because initially you had the trust and respect of both sides. But the excuse of "Apres moi, le deluge!" has been there for centuries, since Louis XV.
However, in my view, you grossly underestimated the phenomenon of hereditary entitlement to the "throne", which was vehemently, and even violently espoused by Udai in Iraq, Saif-Al-Islam in Libya, Bashshar in Syria, and now Ahmad in Yemen. This was sufficient, on Sept. 18, to cause the murder of 26 peaceful young protestors, and the massive injuries to another 300, not only with bullets but also with heavy weapons. This was a clear sign of the desperation of the regime, of which you are part, whether actively or tacitly or reluctantly.
This is what I predicted, well before the Arab Spring began, in my novel Final Flight from Sanaa. And thus you find yourself trapped, having given your total loyalty to a cause that is bound to lose, if not now, then soon, notwithstanding any Saudi tanks rolling onto Yemeni soil. I hope that you will choose wisely. I know what I would have done, but cannot presume to know what is best for you. Either way it will be a difficult and potentially dangerous decision.
To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox said. Believe me when I say that writing this has also been a painful decision, provoked by the sight of the two Yemeni doctors on TV, who might have been the two of us 30 years ago, clamoring for medical equipment and ambulances and international help to save their blood-drenched young patients.
Qais Ghanem, MD