GCC’s volte-face supports Saleh’s re-election [Archives:2006/957/Opinion]

June 22 2006

Ali Al-Sarari
Talk has already begun in Yemen and states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) about qualifying Yemen to become its seventh member. It seems that the talk is serious, as it has been confirmed by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz and the GCC secretary general.

For many years, the Yemeni government has desired to gain admission to the GCC. Yemen's request was never officially rejected, but the GCC put Yemen on the waiting list for entry. That stance was a caused the Yemeni government much dismay and allowed some officials to release press statements that belittled the importance of the GCC and the benefits it could offer Yemen. The government-owned media tended to explain the GCC's by describing Yemen as a democratic country and the Gulf states monarchial.

To ease the emotions of the Yemeni government, the GCC opened its doors partially and allowed Yemen to join some of its minor institutions. Thereafter, the Yemeni government continued to search for any grouping of states that would accept it as a member. It has not found one group that welcomed it except for the quadrilateral group of the Horn of Africa consisting of Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen. All these countries are occupied with poverty and other crises and lack the ability to help themselves let alone others.

Nevertheless, the Yemeni government has continued its insistent efforts to join the GCC, using all means at its disposal to pressure it. Ultimately, the Yemen and the GCC reached agreement regarding the qualification of Yemen. However, there has been no agreement on the definition of qualification and no schedule for admittance.

The reasons behind the GCC's volte-faces

The Yemeni government has lately made a string of perilous retractions in the democratic approach; its record with regard to human rights violations, attacks on journalists, and the reduction of press freedoms. However, these negative changes in Yemeni domestic policy were not the cause of the GCC's new stand on Yemen's accession. As democracy was not the reason why of Yemen was not admitted in the past.

According to the NewsYemen website, American and British diplomatic sources have revealed that the two countries have advised the Saudis and the GCC states to “shoulder their responsibility in protecting Yemen against verified imminent failure.” The same sources mentioned that there were estimates pointing out that the “assistance of Arab countries did not achieve mentionable success in protecting Yemen against deep components of failure in the government of President Saleh.” The site indicated that the Yemeni Ministry of Planning said that Britain will double its assistance to Yemen next year. The website also mentioned that the British ambassador to Yemen appeared more “welcoming of the Saudi Arabia kingdom participation at the donors' conference to be held late this year.”

This is the first time for donors to meet with Saudi Arabia in an international gathering to discuss political and economic reforms in Yemen. NewsYemen has also mentioned that the “escape of the 23 al-Qaeda linked prisoners last February has led to [a rise in] fears of the international community” about Yemen's situation.

The GCC secretary general said in press statements published previously that Yemen already qualifies to enter the council based on its level of press freedoms. The GCC's conditions for Yemeni accession do not differ markedly from those drawn up by the Millennium Challenge Fund, financed by the American government, for the qualification of Yemen for aid. To date, Yemen has failed to meet its terms and American officials informed President Saleh last year in Washington that Yemen would not benefit from the Fund.

Thus, it seems that the real reasons for the GCC's u-turn towards Yemeni entry are completely different from those mentioned by senior Yemeni officials. Recently, Yemeni officials began to whisper in the ears of media officials that the GCC's terms include imposition of restraints on democratic practices and the limitation of political pluralism.

Of course, there is no proof that such demands are to be taken at face value. Rather, these purported demands seem to b fabrications of the Yemeni government.

Presently, the Yemeni government are would like to take advantage of GCC qualification for the purpose of the September presidential election. The idea is to use the qualification process to convince Yemenis to concede some of their freedoms in order to enter the GCC in return for greater material prosperity. No doubt the material deprivation that most Yemenis suffer from will push some to believe in the government's promises. According to official propaganda, President Saleh's re-election is necessary for Gulf rulers to open their treasuries to finance development in Yemen.

Ali Al-Sarari is a Yemeni Journalist and a well-known politician. He is the head of the information department at the Yemeni Socialist Party.