John Brennan, an adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, called Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh this morning to urge him to sign and implement an agreement that would allow the president to step down in exchange for his, and his family's, immunity. During the call, Brennan called the agreement the "best way forward" for Yemen.
The people who live in Yemen, however, appear to disagree.
“They don’t understand. We won’t accept political immunity for Saleh’s crimes against the Yemeni people. We will simply hold more marches and call for more civil disobedience,” Mohammed Bakil, a protester, told GlobalPost's Jeb Boone in Sanaa earlier this month.
Penned by the Gulf Cooperation Council — a political and economic grouping that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — the agreement has been hammered out by foreign governments, Saleh and the country's political opposition. But it did not include any representatives from the tens of thousands of protesters who have been camping out in Sanaa's streets since the middle of February.
Brennan told Saleh during the call that the agreement would pave the way for Yemen to become a more "secure, unified, and prosperous nation" and for the Yemeni people to "realize their aspirations" for peace and political reform.
The "aspirations" of the people are clear. They want Saleh to step down and then be brought to justice. Yemeni protest leaders have long said that the president should face trial for authorizing violent attacks on peaceful protesters, attacks that have so far killed more than 100 people. They said he should also face trial for the decades of corruption that are partly responsible for turning Yemen into the poorest country in the region.
Protesters have also said that the political opposition, known as the JMP and which is negotiating the agreement, does not represent the people and is, in fact, illegitimate. Parliamentary elections were supposed to be held last year but were delayed.
“I don’t know what gives the JMP the right to negotiate for the transfer of power. The current parliament is illegal. We have not held parliamentary elections and the parliament has no electoral mandate,” said Adel Al-Sarabi, a prominent youth organizer in the capital.
The United States, concerned primarily with the state of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates from Yemen, has sought to coax an end to the conflict.
During his conversation with President Saleh, Brennan called the agreement set forth by the Gulf Cooperation Council "historic," adding that all parties must refrain from violence and proceed with the transition in a peaceful and orderly manner.
Meanwhile, protesters have ratcheted up their demonstrators and are planning to widen the protest camp outside Sanaa University and to march on the presidential palace in the coming days.