Saturday, February 5, 2011

More Dangerous than Serpents

By Ghassan Charbel
This commentary was published by al-Hayat on 04/02/2011

The Arab world is going through Egyptian days par excellence. Egypt’s veins are initially linked to the veins of the [Arab] nation, in regard to politics, economics, tourism, songs, books, and films. When Egypt changes, dreams, winds, or interrogations awaken. It is why the Egyptian uprising got more attention than the “Jasmine Revolution”, but without minimizing the importance of the first message. Egypt has a particularity that cannot be denied; any great change in it definitely leaves its impact on the balance of forces in the Arab world and the region.

It is natural to have different interpretations on the dimensions of what Egypt is currently witnessing. It is too early to determine the limits of the change that has begun. It is the start of a labor that doesn’t allow yet to read the topography of Egypt after turning the current page. It is also too early to determine the impact that can be left by the winds that are launched by the Egyptian days on the regional level. What is certain is that what is happening deserves a careful reading by both the ordinary Arab citizens and the party or state officials.

I paused at the latest statements made by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Their timing implies a close follow-up of the Egyptian days and events; a follow-up that has led to conclusions and decisions. Amidst the calls of the opposition for the days of anger, the President appeared honest and decisive in subjects where he usually avoided honesty and decisiveness.

Saleh said: “I will not be arrogant, and I will offer compromise after compromise for the sake of national interest”, assuring that he will accept what is reached through dialogue with the opposition. He clearly stated “There is no extension or passing on of the presidency”, and confirmed the non-organization of the legislative elections next April, thus yielding to the request of the parliamentary opposition.

This means that the president will not be a candidate [for the elections] at the end of his current mandate in 2013, and that he will not try to bring a parliament that renews his mandate or passes on the presidency to his son. The effect of the Egyptian days is apparent here, including the danger of introducing a parliament whose legitimacy is not recognized by the people or is considered to be flawed.

Yemen is facing great challenges: poverty, the fragility of the state in the face of tribes, the Huthi rebellion, the awakening of the independence tendency among Southerners, the terrorism of al-Qaeda, corruption, and the spreading of weapons. Ali Saleh has managed for three decades this complex game with the brilliance of someone who is aware of the sensitivities and knows how to play with them. He takes away and brings closer; he makes allies and enemies.

Lately, it seemed that the game had become more dangerous, and that the world had changed and no longer allowed some of the methods of managing this game and of sharing its merits. The Egyptian days showed the danger of using the constitution to maintain the situation as it is. They also revealed the limited ability of the security forces when people march on the streets, as well as the difficulty of using force in front of TV cameras and in light of the communications revolution.

Two years ago, I asked the president about the difficulty of ruling in Yemen, and he replied that “it resembles dancing on serpent heads”. A year ago, I asked the same question, and he answered: “The serpents have turned into a type of snakes”, assuring his confidence on being able to tame them. Two days ago, the president came out to try to cut off the road to the storm, and stated that renewing his mandate or passing on the presidency to his son is very unlikely. Perhaps his follow-up of the events of the Egyptian days made him see those who are more dangerous than the serpents he was used to taming. They are young people whom the Internet empowered and made them feel capable of launching change, under the slogan of bread, freedom, and dignity. They are the Egyptian days.

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