Successful ouster of Tunisia’s autocratic president Ben Ali and unrelenting unrest on Cairo’s streets in Egypt are forcing the heads of Arab states to offer advance promises to their people to prevent possible unrest against their rule. Jordan president has dismissed his cabinet on Tuesday after protests. Yemeni president has also offered a series of concessions to the opposition, workers and unemployed youth.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen said Wednesday that he would not seek re-election when his term ends in 2013. The announcement was a rather stunning concession to protesters and another reverberation of the popular anger that has rocked the Arab world in recent weeks. Saleh said his son would also not seek power either. Yemeni protesters are asking for reforms and a smooth transition of power through elections.
Mr Saleh has been in power for a longest period of 32 years and is a strong alley to the US. The announcement came a day before the planned protests in Sana, Yemen’s capital. “No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock,” Mr. Saleh said Wednesday in a joint session of Parliament boycotted by the opposition. The opposition called to observe a “day of rage” on Thursday, February 3. The organisers are expecting larger turnout than the last week demonstrations.
Saleh asked opposition to cancel their planned demonstrations on Thursday and invited them to resume talks on holding elections that were stalled in October 2010. He heeded to an opposition’s demand to postpone elections in order to prepare better voter records. However, several opposition parties are skeptical of Saleh promises and decided to go ahead with protest plans. His promise of not contesting for another term in 2005 was changed after one year.
Meanwhile, Mr Saleh is trying to organize pro-government protests by facilitating transport to the nearby rural people, who are supposed to be supporters of the president. A few hundreds of supporters of Mr Saleh are reported to arrive already to the city’s central square in order to occupy the center even before the arrival of opposing protesters on Thursday.
Yemen, the poorest Arab country, is troubled by a rebellion in the north and a struggle for secession in the formerly independent south. It is also said to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda extremists. Yemen’s citizens are said to be highly armed. Many people are said to live on just $2 a day. Offering a goodwill gesture to the youth, Mr Saleh ordered setting up a fund to provide employment to university graduates. He ordered increase in social security coverage, increased wages and lowered income taxes to woo the protesting people.
The US provided $250 million military aid in last five years. It encouraged Mr Saleh to hold talks with the opposition in order to stabilize the country amidst growing dissatisfaction and unrest among the population.