By William Tucker
Although the Yemeni popular uprising began near the beginning of the year, the various opposition groups have only now created a transitional council to replace the faltering regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. In the very recent past, the lack of a transitional council likely impeded negotiations over the removal of the current president and his ruling party. It is accurate to say that Saleh never would have agreed to sign any accord with the opposition movement in the first place. That’s not the issue, Saleh had no reason to trust the opposition to keep its word on amnesty, just as the opposition had no reason to trust that Saleh would step down. The two sides were at an irreconcilable impasse thus putting the onus on the opposition movement. Since the June 3 assassination attempt on Saleh, the president has been recovering in Saudi Arabia. With Saleh threatening to return to Yemen in the near future, the opposition likely saw their window of opportunity closing. In essence, the opposition was pushed into a shotgun wedding of sorts. This pressure actually allowed the Southern Secessionist movement and the Houthi’s to join the opposition umbrella under a National Transitional Council.
Yemen’s dynamism forces events to move slowly, but this may change in the short term now that the opposition is operating in a more coherent manner. Saleh has already responded to this development with expected derision – claiming that the opposition is nothing but a bunch of illegitimate highwaymen exploiting popular discontent. Frankly speaking, the president wouldn’t have addressed the existence of the council unless he viewed it as a threat. What this means is Saleh will try to return to Yemen posthaste to deal with the opposition, but the opposition will have to move fast to counter. Saleh still has loyalists in Yemen which the president will try to rally, however without a leader the loyalists will likely fracture under pressure both from the opposition and from other regional players. Of course, this is all predicated on the condition that the Saudi’s allow Saleh to return. With the opposition now acting more like a viable alternative to the Saleh government, the Saudi’s may not have a reason to allow for the presidents return. If this is indeed the case, which it appears to be, then the opposition must move to implement its own brand of bureaucracy to show that it is capable of governing. Any foot dragging at this point would only work to the detriment of the Transitional Council and possibly lead to future violence.