The president of Yemen has agreed to step down from power in response to weeks of continuing protests against his regime, according to a government official.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has “favorably received” a five-point plan from opposition leaders that envisions his departure from by the end of the year and establish a smooth transition of power.
Opposition figures and Saleh have reached “an initial agreement,” said presidential spokesman Mohammed Basha.
“The president agreed to determine the series of steps he will take to leave power, with no inheritance, during a period of time that will not extend beyond this year,” the coalition of opposition groups stated.
The details of the plan may be subject to change.
Nonetheless, many anti-government protesters are not satisfied and demand that Saleh quit immediately.
“This is the people’s revolution, not the parties’,” a law student told the media. “This is the political path, and we’ve been down it before. We don’t trust Saleh to keep his word and we will continue to protest until he is gone.”
Demonstrations in the capital Sanaa have routinely drawn thousands of protesters, representing a wide swath of Yemeni society, including students, rural tribesmen, Islamists and others.
Meanwhile, the opposition has no clear plan of who (or what) should rule the country once (or if) Saleh actually resigns. Some opposition groups want a transparent democracy, some seek a socialist state, and others seek the return of the ancient caliphate.
“People haven’t thought about what happens after the revolution, said parliament member Abdul Kareem al-Islamy, who recently resigned from Saleh's General Peoples Congress party to join the opposition. We’re thinking about it now. We need a plan.”
One radical cleric, Sheikh Abdel Majid al-Zindani, has called for the establishment of an Islamic state
“We’re not interested in discussion,” said a tribe member who had protested against Saleh for days. “What we want now is democracy – real democracy and not the kind that is enforced by tanks and guns.”
Yemen may be on the brink of breaking itself apart, given the number of restless extremist groups it has within its borders, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; a rebellion by Shiite Houthis in the north; and a separatist movement active in the south.
“If there’s an opportunity for the south to secede, they may take it. The same for the Houthis,” said Islamy. “We don’t want a war. But not everyone in south wants secession, and if they can be involved in developing a new system they may not want to separate.”
This is precisely why Saleh loyalists want him to remain in power – to avoid a civil war.
Saleh has been in power for more than three decades and has been a key strategic ally of the U.S. in its battles against Al-Qaeda.