Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, was rocked by overnight clashes between government forces and anti-regime activists that killed 8 civilians and injured 27.
Ten months of mass protests have killed more than 1,480 people, devastated the economy, and created deplorable conditions. The Arab League has failed to ostracise Yemen’s ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for 33 years. After revoking Libya’s Arab League membership, Arab nations are reluctant to do the same with Yemen and Syria because of internal divisions on how to handle the issue. Any change in Sanaa will only come once the Arab League decides to suspend Yemen and Syria's memberships and isolates them from the Arab world and the larger international stage.
As protesters marched through Sanaa’s Change Square, they shouted criticism against the United Nations for failing to urge Saleh to step down. As violence intensified, UN Security Council members considered a resolution to urge Saleh to relinquish power under a peace plan designed by neighboring Gulf states. Nabil al-Arabi, head of the Arab league, said “I call on President Saleh to expedite signing the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which the Arab League supports.” The initiative was outlined earlier this year to end Yemen’s political crisis through a peaceful and swift power transfer. Saleh claims that he is ready to step down but wants to ensure power is put in safe hands. This is a political tactic designed to smother anti-Saleh sentiments, and he has failed to sign the plan in the 5 months since it was proposed.
The Arab League must focus on actions, not words. For instance, the League debated for hours the question of suspending Syria’s membership, but deep divisions among the 22 nations are making it harder for the approval of the proposal, which requires two-thirds support. Failure to suspend Syria’s membership highlights the weakness of the League and gives Saleh another glimmer of hope as his loyalists continue to violently suppress anti-regime activists. Unlike in Libya, Syrian resolutions have failed to halt Assad’s regime from killing protesters. If the League falters with Saleh, the international community may see the same human rights dilemma in Yemen. Interestingly, Yemen was among those who refused to suspend Syria’s membership. Deliberating for hours will not prevent Saleh’s loyalists from killing protesters who are only seeking justice and equality. The League’s silence will increase egregious human rights violations by Saleh loyalists.
The League needs to take the same stance it did with Libya, which was a turning point in ostracizing Gaddafi’s regime. However, military intervention should not be on the agenda, as such drastic actions would only entangle international forces already embroiled in Libya. The League has decided to engage in talks with Syria, and perhaps Yemen, in the next 15 days. If negotiations falter after the allotted time period, the League will reconvene. However, it seems that the League’s political divisions will make it hard for any concrete negotiations within 15 days. Suspending Yemen’s membership will isolate Saleh’s government and allow for a much-needed civilian transition to power. If the Arab league fails to act in the case of Yemen, the coming months may witness violent crackdowns on Yemenis protesters akin to Assad’s blatant disregard for human rights.