15 JANUARY 2011


How else would you make the world safe for Democracy?

And what's 30 years in the history of a country as ancient as Yemen -- one of the oldest countries on Earth, Felix Arabia as the Romans called it.

Felix, obviously, had long gone. Like Elvis, he had "left the building" since the Tenth century. Like Elvis, he also has many impersonators - local style. Former Lieutenant General, now President Ali Abdullah Saleh is one of them. He took over three decades ago after a mysterious assassination of another Lieutenant General -- a similarly hopeful impersonator -- who had taken over Presidential power but could not hang on for more than eleven months. By the way, "Generals" in Yemen are mainly for political decoration; it's tribal chieftans who make the big deals. Ali Abdullah depended heavily on his own tribe plus an increasingly active army Security apparatus. Oil was being explored. Big companies mixing politics with business were scouting the options. Intermediaries, some Arab names with internationally familiar sounds, were helping in ensuring the right arrangements with the right connections in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Sanaa. Despite occasional tension with neighbouring Saudi Arabia, it was discovered that the "Colonel-General" was very good for stability in the region.

Much shrewder than Saddam Hussein, whom he had supported in the 1990's Desert Storm, Saleh covered his greed as effectively as he extended his authority. A tribesman by background, he played internal forces to balance external pressures. He recruited Al-Qaeda locals to fight Southern rebels. His Deputy was -- perhaps still is -- the main liaison with those returning from Afghanistan who were accumulating supporters in Bin Ladan's country of origin. Their visibility was useful to negotiate more support -- and more funds -- from the U.S., particularly after the U.S.S. Cole attack which until today is not yet fully explained. The band of disgrunted Yazdis (now called Houthis) who belong to a religious sect closer to Shiite Islam was used to prod Saudi Arabia into more support, except that the conflict grew into a sub-regional conflict as nearby Iran could not resist a "carpet bargain" on the side. Saleh then clipped the wings of his ambitious Deputy in favour of placing one of his sons in line for succession. When asked if he could contemplate leaving the Presidency, he responded: "To whom would I submit my resignation?" Democracy, of course, could not outmatch such persuasive logic. To whom, indeed. Now he has started the New Year with obtaining a "parliamentary" decision allowing him to become President for life. No restrictions on his "very popular" re-election -- until one of his sons becomes ready to "accept" his resignation.

As opposition widens, obviously exploited by "Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula," antagonism against the autocratic government extends to outside powers that support it. That includes...guess who?

Meanwhile, not a sound was heard by any "Democratic" government anywhere. Nothing from those self-appointed guardians of democratic objectives. Nothing from the U.N. community very busy with the obstinate Laurent Gbagbo who has twelve years only in power while his predecessor had stayed 33 years.

The international community is up in arms about twelve years singular rule in Cote d'Ivoire. How about elsewhere? How about General Bashir in Sudan who has just made another "survival deal," or President Museveni in Uganda? Even a once applauded national liberation leader like Robert Mugabe has turned into an obstinate over-aged autocrat. How about that "Senior General" in Myanmar who hardly bothers to talk to anyone, let alone use his real name. Tunis President of 23 years Bin Ali indeed "reminded" his rebeling people of his 50 years of service (27 of them in Security Service). Hence, General Ali Abdullah Saleh is not alone in aspiring to perpetual power, particularly now after promising his visiting dignitaries that he would allow other participatory efforts -- in due course. He is entitled to claim like all the others in that they are essential in keeping the world safe for Democracy, until it is realized, hopefully not too late, that THEIR kind of Democracy is not safe for the world!