Foreign Policy Blogs

President Saleh’s August Speech: Analysis

About three weeks ago, President Saleh delivered a televised speech to the nation, in which he reassured his followers that he would indeed be coming back, his convalescence coming to a close.

His rather lengthy address put to rest rumors that the Saudis and the Americans had managed to exert enough political pressure on the veteran autocrat that he had agreed to prolong in stay in the KSA indefinitely.

But behind the best wishes for Ramadan and the smiles, what was President Saleh really saying?

Interestingly enough, Saleh started off by mentioning that he was currently with “his brothers, Parliament Speaker Yehia al-Ra’I and Prime-Minister Ali Mohamed Mujawar.” This is by no mean involuntary; being the shrewd politician that he is, Saleh does not do unintentional.

The attack on Saleh’s palace left most senior officials injured, government institutions in tatters, and the country in a state of limbo. The opposition used this opportunity to highlight the need for a transition of power.

By reminding Yemenis that his government was very much by his side, even though it was in a foreign land, Saleh clearly wanted to stress that he is still in the driver’s seat.

He went on to accuse “some political forces” of fabricating the “current crisis” in order to “reach power.” Saleh unconvincingly stated, “We welcome the opposition and tell them that ‘you can reach power through ballot boxes, not through coups, statements, denunciation, insults, or irresponsible speeches.”

This is a typical example of the schizophrenic rhetoric the regime has been using since the beginning of the revolution.

For one, Saleh still refuses to acknowledge that Yemen is being shaken by a pro-democracy movement clamoring for his demise, preferring to concentrate on the political aspects. The closest he came was when he accused his opponents (the revolutionaries) of plotting a “coup” while promising to discuss the situation in a democratic manner. I have to say I am getting confused. Who are these “political forces”? Who does he want to talk to?

Saleh then, with great grandeur, declared that he had “the responsibility of building Yemen, its unity, and the security of its land and people.” He even offered evidence: “We have worked over 33 years in our political program to fulfill the promises we made to our people: First, restoring the historic Mareb dam; second, extracting oil, consuming it locally, and exporting it; third, exploring gas, investing it locally, and exporting it; and fourth, generating electricity from gas in Mareb. “

However, he failed to note that, while his speech was being transmitted, most of Yemen was plunged into darkness, without any electricity. As for the “exporting gas” quote, Saleh sold it to foreign nations such as France at a never before seen discounted rate, for reasons that still escape most economists since Yemen is starved for cash.

In what was the “main course” of this speech, Saleh began his attack against al-Ahmar’s clan by accusing its members of highjacking the youth revolution. “You must know that they have seized your project. They have seized it by blocking roads in Al-Hasabah, the airport road, Amran Street and Al-Qiyadah Street. This is the civilized project of the new youth revolution. They have seized your revolution by assaulting state institutions, Yemen News Agency SABA, the Properties and Real Estate Authority, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Public Administration and the Yemenia Airways. They have also assaulted the Ministry of Interior and the Public Institution for Water.”

In all fairness, tribesmen loyal to Sheikh Sadeeq al-Ahmar really did attack those ministries. However they did so in retaliation to the shelling of Hasaba, a Sana’a district under the control of the Sheikh and because snipers had taken position on those buildings, terrorizing the local residents. Sheikh Sadeeq actually agreed to hand back the ministries back to the government upon the signature of a truce.

Saleh at this stage promised that he would meet the demands of the protesters, “we will meet your needs and we are ready to address them with a sense of national responsibility”. In a strange turn, the president then decided to blame the uprising on the Marxists and Secessionists as well as the Taliban…

So to recap, we have a tribal coalition whose aim in life is to destroy the demo-autocratic Republic of Yemen while Marxist-Islamists are deliberately rerouting the direction of the protests in order to create a new Taliban state! I’m so glad we cleared this up… Did I mention the southern secessionist and the Houthis?

At this stage of the speech, Saleh is now bombarding the al-Ahmar and the Opposition with insults, falling just short of accusing them of blasphemy against God. “You have deformed and hurt Islam, and you have bothered the citizens with your acts. You are several groups or factions under one party; you have salafists, jihadists, Al-Qaeda and Taliban.”

The dictator also reminded his fellow citizens that it was them who begged him to stay in the presidential seat back in 2006: “I wanted to leave back in 2006 but our great Yemeni people, men and women, forced me to stay. This is why we sacrifice, and will always do, for the sake of the glory and honor of every Yemeni.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Yemen’s history, Saleh announced in 2006 that he would not run for the president. He also simultaneously ordered all government personnel to assemble on Jamseen Street, coercing them into demanding that he, their beloved leader, extends his rule over Yemen.

The president also claimed that he had offered to hold early elections as to help solve the “crisis” but that the Opposition refused. “Here, they called for early elections, and then they rejected the invitation to early elections, demanding the formation of a national council, presidency council, and military council and demanding the path to be corrected before 2013. We are legitimate until 2013, and it is not the legitimacy of someone who wants to stay in power by force.”

In a surprising tirade, Saleh then accused “international forces” of conspiring against his regime and his country by using bribery and sabotage. “There were international forces paying the Yemeni people, both the government and the opposition. These superpowers include Egypt, Russia, China, and other Arab states. Nonetheless, this plan failed and righteousness and principles prevailed.”

Given that China and Russia have been strong defenders of Saleh’s right to exert force and stressed that Yemen faces an “internal issue,” those countries might wonder how they ever landed on that list.

Finally, the Yemeni president chose to thank his ever loyal vice-president Abdo Rabbo Mansoor Hadi, the “great struggler” as he called him.

Then he said this: “see you soon in the capital Sana’a.”

So what have we learn so far?

First, that President Saleh has no intention of ever leaving, at least not until his son reach the legal age required by the Constitution for a citizen to be eligible for the presidential elections. Given that Ahmed turns 40 in 2013, the timing is just perfect.

Second, the Opposition is an amalgam of bandits, traitors and terrorists which have bewitched the “good people” of Yemen. But still, he, the president and unifier of the land is willing to negotiate as long as the talks do not include early elections, reforms or transition of power. He is also ever so willing to surrender power, especially since he does not crave it.

Third, he is coming back whether people like it or not.



Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.