Yemen: a new transition plan

Efforts to resolve the political crisis in Yemen are now focusing on a transition plan proposed by the United Nations rather than the earlier plan put forward by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

AFP reports that President Saleh's party, the General People's Congress, has agreed to discuss the UN plan within the next few days. The plan, which was drawn up by UN envoy Jamal Benomar during talks in Yemen last July, has four key points according to AFP:

1. A handover of power by Saleh to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, followed immediately by talks on a transitional period ranging from three to six months.

2. The formation of a reconciliation government during the interim period.

3. Restructuring of military bodies.

4. Setting a date for a new presidential election and preparating for it.

This is broadly similar to the earlier – ill-fated – GCC plan. The main differences are that the UN plan involves a longer transition period and also includes military restructuring.

Military restructuring is important because key parts of the security apparatus are controlled by members of Saleh's family, thus posing an obstacle to political change. Saleh has been receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia since June, when he was badly injured by a bomb explosion in his palace. Vice-President Hadi is supposedly running the country in his absence but Saleh's military relatives have prevented him from fully taking charge. 

Placing the transition under UN – rather than GCC – auspices gives it added authority and may remove some political difficulties (at one point, Saleh was objecting to Qatar's involvement). Even so, the UN's plan is likely to encounter the same problems as the GCC plan – namely, that its implementation depends on goodwill and cooperation from Saleh, and up to now he has only been interested in procrastinating and prevaricating. 

It is not unlikely that Saleh will try to drag out any "transition" process until the official end of his presidential term in 2013. Constitutionally, he is not allowed another term after that though he could put forward his son, Ahmad, to succeed him.

Saleh now appears to have largely recovered from his injuries and it is widely believed that he is still in Saudi Arabia because the Saudis and/or Americans have been keeping him there – fearful that his return to Yemen would make the situation worse.

On Sunday, however, John Brennan, President Obama's counter-terrorism adviser (who has been heavily involved in discussions about Yemen) was quoted as saying that he no longer objected to Saleh returning home. 

According to the Yemen Post, Brennan said he "now felt comfortable enough" to allow Saleh's return, though he would not condone such a move either.

"I've told him that I do not believe it's in his interests, Yemen's interests or our interests ... to go back to Yemen," Brennan reportedly said.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 6 September 2011