Yemenis Celebrate President Saleh's Departure

Originally published on June 6, 2011 3:36 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Welcome to the program.

ABDUL GHANI AL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: How significant is it that President Saleh has left Yemen? I mean, is there a question that he will be back?

GHANI AL: I do not think so. The day he was attacked he was meeting with his top lieutenants to agree on signing a peaceful transfer of power deal sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

MONTAGNE: So he was signing that initiative. You know, he took family members with him and appears to be gone forever, although his sons still control Yemen's military and intelligence services. They're still there in Yemen.

GHANI AL: That is correct. They are still here. But they'll have to probably leave their jobs in the framework of political agreement between the two parties.

MONTAGNE: Between what parties?

GHANI AL: It would be the ruling party and the opposition coalition. It would organize the peaceful transfer of power from the ruling party and from the president to a national unity government.

MONTAGNE: Yemen's vice president is now in charge. What is his reputation? Does he actually have much power? Can he stay in charge?

GHANI AL: Not really. I think that the son and nephews of the president will not take his orders. But he is generally respected by both the ruling party and the opposition.

MONTAGNE: So does that make him a force for stability for the near term?

GHANI AL: I think that the parting of the president reduced the risk of a civil war. I think the military tension is still there, but it will dissipate as soon as a political agreement is reached.

MONTAGNE: And will that unity government in theory be made up of the powerful tribes that had just recently begun fighting, I mean, with weapons against President Saleh?

GHANI AL: No. The agreement actually does not recognize tribes as distinct entities. There are tribal leaders who are members of political parties, and they will probably stay in that capacity.

MONTAGNE: Saudi Arabia's playing a big role in what's going on there in Yemen, or at least it has tried to do that, because it has a great interest in peace on the Arabian Peninsula that they share. What is the best case outcome from the Saudi point of view?

GHANI AL: Well, the Saudis are interested in maintaining stability. We share a very long border with Saudi Arabia. And if instability takes place in Yemen there will be a mass exodus of refugees into Saudi territory, which would, of course, destabilize it.

MONTAGNE: Just one last thing. When I began I said that there are people celebrating out in the streets. Tell us about yesterday when the news came that the president left and then today. What is going on there?

GHANI AL: Yesterday, I was in the square and people were dancing and singing and cheering. It's all over the city, not just in the square. I got to a checkpoint manned by security personnel loyal to the president, and they were cheering as well.

MONTAGNE: And today this celebration's still going on?

GHANI AL: Yes. The celebrations are still going on. And there's quiet in the city. There's no violence. And it was funny that as soon as the president left (unintelligible) service was resumed. So that was a good omen for the people to celebrate.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

GHANI AL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.