Presiding for 33 years over the Arab world’s most destitute country must furnish a leader with the ability to shut out the loudest realities.
Economic and social evils could conceivably be ignored on the proviso that those in charge surround themselves with nepotistic henchmen and support pledges from gullible foreign administrations. But recent bloody escalation in Yemen’s three-month old popular uprising, even for a dictator as willfully misguided as Ali Abdullah Saleh, must test one’s powers for wanton ignorance.
He has already dismissed the daily gatherings of hundreds of thousands of protesters calling for his dismissal. He turned a blind eye when both western governments and the Gulf Cooperation Council implored him for an honorable departure. He even barely demurred when faced with widespread defections from high-ranking military officials and desertion by his tribe.
Saleh, instead of facing the glaringly obvious maelstrom he finds himself surrounded by, has spend his time spinning incredible yarns employed by other one-time Arab patriarchs as “proof” of the necessity for regime continuity.
This is a man who, in spite of fraudulently accepting billions of dollars worth of aid to counter Islamic extremism in his broken state, seeks now, in the middle of an overwhelming tide of popular discontent, to promulgate the same warning of Al-Qaeda ascendency as Gadhafi did when faced down by his own people. Saleh, it is not to be forgotten, has been accused by his country folk of allowing – some even say arming – Islamic militants to take strategic Yemeni towns as part of the elaborate fear mongering.
He has exhausted every avenue – legal and otherwise – to cling to power. He has even used the air force to kill fellow Yemenis. Every day, clashes get bloodier and support for his three-decade long iron rule dwindles.
Fortunately, not everyone has Saleh’s illiteracy when it comes to the writing on the wall and every former ally of his murderous regime has deserted him. The Yemeni leader may no longer seek to pave the way for his son to take the reins since the days of Middle Eastern primogeniture are over. The Arab Spring is not a happy hunting ground for blinkered dictators and the president of Yemen’s choice is no longer about whether or not to cling to power. That ship has sailed.
Saleh will fall; the irresistible momentum started by demonstration and solidified by international pressure and domestic volatility makes that fate certain.
His only remaining decision is whether to go under his own volition or be forced out under a coup. All that can be hoped is that Saleh opts to see enough of the picture to go for the former.