After months of flip-flopping on the question of his resignation, amid almost constant mass protests and armed conflict, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down on Wednesday, signing a deal with the regional Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that would transfer power to his deputy.
Saleh, who survived an assassination attempt several months ago and was forced to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia, signed the accord in the Saudi capital of Riyadh at a ceremony attended by host King Abdullah. King Abdullah heralded that the deal means a “new page opens in your history,” reported the Saudi Press Agency.
Under the deal, Saleh will remain in office for another 30 days before a power transfer to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi. At the same time, representatives from opposition groups and Yemen’s ruling party signed an agreement to end 10 months of “crisis in the country,” according to a statement from Saleh’s office.
Hadi will preside over a national unity government until elections take place within the next 90 days.
After he signed the deal, Saleh told state-run media that the United Nations and the GCC need to fulfill their obligations to aid Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, which has been ravaged by armed conflict in the capital and in the southern portion of the country.
The longtime autocrat had previously agreed on power transfer deals only to back away at the last minute. Saleh pandered to U.S. fears, claiming that he needed to stay in power to deal with armed insurgents, including al-Qaeda operatives who have taken over cities in the south.
However, it appears more likely Saleh will step down this time because of his poor health following the assassination attempt in his presidential palace, which left him with third-degree burns over much of his body.
They can sign all they want, until our demands are met we will not leave, we will not tire, we will not waver.
—Ahmed al-Ghorbani, protester
According to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke with Saleh, the president will travel to the United States to seek further medical treatment.
“He would come to New York after signing the agreement to have medical treatment. So if he comes to New York, I will be happy to meet him,” Ban said, according to a transcript of a press conference he held in New York.
Revolt to Continue
Even though the deal is a watershed moment in Yemen’s history, as Saleh has ruled the country since 1978, protesters gathered in the capital city of Sanaa’s “Change Square,” saying they would not stop demonstrating.
“They can sign all they want, until our demands are met we will not leave, we will not tire, we will not waver,” protester Ahmed al-Ghorbani told the Yemen Post.
Many of the protesters believe the next government, if Saleh actually does step down this time, would be headed by the same people who preserved the status quo under the longtime president.
“We will not let the criminals escape,” a protester who identified himself as Dr. Hamza told the Post. “Yemen needs to settle many scores before being able to move on.”
The Post’s Editor-in-Chief Hakim Almasmari said that for Yemen, “the worst is ahead” due to the country’s worsened economic situation, armed conflict in several parts of the country, and Saleh’s perceived stubbornness.Almasmari said Saleh has already developed “tactics and strategies” to remain in power and Vice President Hadi is “weak and fears the ruling” tribal families. As for the Gulf-backed deal, he adds, it is “more ink on useless paper.”
“Saleh will not hand over power peacefully, not today and not in the future. He has been in power for 33 years and feels it is his right to rule and no one else should object,” he writes.