08/18/2011 11:10 EDT | Updated 10/18/2011 05:12 EDT

Good News From Yemen -- at Last!


The revolution of the Yemeni people, initiated by the youth movement six months ago, has reached an important landmark yesterday, with the announcement of the composition of a national council formed democratically to hasten the demise of the 32-year-old Saleh dictatorship.

The published list in English, containing 143 names, is at last a crucial landmark in this struggle, reached on the same day that President Saleh threatened, from Saudi Arabia, to return to his fiefdom to resume his dynasty. It also comes at a time when his circle of support is steadily diminishing, although not all the rats have jumped ship. His immediate family such as his sons and nephews still control the major segments of the armed forces. A few prominent members of his cabinet continue to give him vocal support. Among these are Abduh Al-Ganadi, Minister of Information, whose job is to spread the Saleh line, and Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has been travelling around Europe acting as the apologist for the regime, and the wily Abdul-Karim Al-Iriani, a former prime minister, who manages to remain on the fence whenever he can. The last two are known to this writer.

So, why is this a promising move? Firstly, the selection appears to have been made through a democratic and transparent process. Secondly, the number is large enough to be reasonably representative of the 23 million Yemenis, and hopefully not too unwieldy during discussions. Thirdly, I happen to recognize a few of the names on that list, some from my old school, and know them to be people of experience, fairness and integrity. Finally, the list contains a number of women, such as the now famous Tawakul Karman who led the student demonstrations since day one. There should have been many more women of course, but in this strongly patriarchal country, it is a good start.

There is also one more factor that has nothing to do with the elected council, namely the actual start of the trial of Mubarak, the narrowing noose around Tripoli and the slowly coalescing international outcry against Assad. Saleh knows, or should know, that even if did manage to return to his throne of Sanaa, he runs a significant risk, in the long run, of spending the rest of his life behind bars. The few ardent supporters in his cabinet should be mulling that too.

Will it achieve anything? I have no doubt that the group will be attacked by so many agents of the regime. There will be significant differences of opinion within the group about the direction and speed of action to be taken. A few will be enticed to leave and to join the Saleh camp, or simply abandon the group. Whoever emerges as the leader, whether Dr. Yassin Saeed Noman or others, will need to make timely decisions that may seem to be autocratic. In the milieu of tribal Yemen, which has never known democracy, anything is possible.

Nevertheless, this is the beginning of the end of the absolute and brutal rule of one family, and a move which should be supported by those who wish Yemen and the Yemenis well. These do not include that other major dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, who will view the emergence of grass roots democracy next door with utter panic.