Yemen: The GCC steps in

President Salih has accepted an offer from the Gulf Cooperation Council to hold talks between himself and the Yemeni opposition in Saudi Arabia.

Opposition parties seem less enthusiastic about the idea – not surprisingly since three of the six GCC members (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman) have been actively trying to suppress opposition movements on their own territories.

Although Saudi Arabia – like the United States – now appears to have concluded that Salih's regime cannot be salvaged, it is probably hoping to manipulate the transition in ways that are favourable to GCC and American interests, as well as minimising any knock-on effects for the kingdom.

Writing in the Lebanese Daily Star, Mai Yamani says:

"The reality is that the United States has known for weeks that it cannot save Saleh’s regime. Its concern for Saleh’s political survival is closely linked to its guardianship of the Saudi regime, which fears that ferment in Yemen could give Saudi Arabia’s own Shiite, Zaidi, and Ismaili populations dangerous ideas about democratic reform – if not threaten the very existence of the Saudi state. After all, Saudi Arabia’s southern tribes and Yemen’s northern tribes are historically the same people, while the Shiites in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province are protesting in political harmony with the Shiites of Bahrain.

"Not surprisingly, Saleh has tried to reach for the familiar Saudi lifeline, sending his foreign minister to Riyadh to plead for the sort of help the Saudi king provided to Bahrain. But the Saudis, having backed Saleh financially, and having sent troops to Yemen in 2009 to help him wage a war against the Houthis, now consider him beyond saving. Instead, they are betting on potential new alliances within Yemen to deal with events in the unpredictable neighboring country."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 6 April 2011