Despite intense diplomatic pressure from the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United States and the EU, and despite verbal undertakings that he would finally sign the Yemen "transition" deal, President Saleh battled through Sunday without letting his pen touch the paper.
Instead, he brought his own thugs and supporters on to the streets to protest against the agreement. Roads were blocked, citizens were intimidated by armed men and a number of foreign ambassadors, including those of the US and Britain, were temporarily beseiged by a mob at the UAE embassy. When it became clear that Saleh was not going to sign, the GCC's mediator flew back to Riyadh empty-handed – for a second time.
Meanwhile, Saleh insisted that he would only sign the document if opposition parties came to his palace to sign it in his presence (they had already signed it, very publicly, the day before).
Saleh then made a speech suggesting that the result of this impasse could be civil war – and if that happened it would be the fault of the opposition parties.
The next moves are anybody's guess, but the childish presidential antics on Sunday demonstrated – very visibly – that Saleh cannot be trusted and further diplomatic efforts will have to proceed on that basis. It is to be hoped that there will be no more attempts to salvage the "transition" plan. The idea of a phased resignation process for Saleh always looked unworkable and he has demonstrated beyond any doubt that he has no intention of going through with it.
It is also obvious that the longer he stays in office the worse the situation in Yemen is likely to get, and diplomatic processes should now be re-focused towards securing his immediate departure.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 23 May 2011