Even with the president outside the country, seeking medical treatment for severe injuries, the activists fear that they could lose the gains they have achieved and that Saleh’s regime could continue in his absence. Late Wednesday night, after the government announced that Saleh’s health was improving, celebratory gunfire and fireworks erupted across Sanaa in an apparent show of strength by Saleh’s loyalists.
Other centers of power have emerged in recent weeks, including influential tribal leaders who head militias; defected military leaders; and Saleh’s sons and nephews, who control much of the security forces and, in effect, are shepherding his authority in his absence.
The activists’ threat to install a provisional presidential council was an attempt to bolster the influence of the Yemeni street. They also denounced the opposition political parties that had been negotiating unsuccessfully with Saleh for a handover of power before the Friday attack on the presidential palace that sent the Yemeni leader to Saudi Arabia on Saturday for emergency care.
“We would like to announce that the JMP is part of the regime that we are seeking to remove,” said Tawakkol Karman, a prominent activist leader, referring to the Joint Meeting Parties, a coalition of six opposition groups. “In any new government, if the JMP is part of it, our revolution will continue.”
Many activist leaders think the traditional opposition parties are just as tainted as the president’s supporters. Throughout his 33-year rule, Saleh, one of the Middle East’s master political tacticians, has co-opted his adversaries through a system of patronage, leaving the political opposition weak and divided. Senior opposition leaders have businesses and other sources of wealth that depend on the benefaction of the government.
Two paths to a new Yemen
The activists want a complete overhaul of Yemen’s government, without any remnants of the past; they also want Saleh and his relatives who wield power brought to justice. But the JMP, concerned about insecurity, has pushed for a more gradual transfer of power.
It prefers a proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of Yemen’s neighbors led by Saudi Arabia. That plan calls for Saleh to officially hand over authority to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself and his relatives. The vice president would then create a transitional unity government, including members of Saleh’s ruling party, that would govern until elections were held.
Many youth leaders have rejected the GCC proposal, which has deepened their suspicions of the JMP. They think the JMP is aligning with the Yemeni street as a way to gain political power.