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US welcomes Yemen's dictator to the Ritz-Carlton

Jesse McLaren

February 6, 2012

While the US justifies its escalating threats towards Syria and Iran on the basis of human rights and democracy, its royal treatment of Yemen’s dictator reveals its true intentions.

On February 5, Yemeni-Americans protested the arrival of the Ali Abdullah Saleh to New York. Protesting outside the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel, the Yemeni American Coalition for Change, said: “We are outraged and disgusted with our government’s decision to grant the dictator temporary haven and diplomatic immunity. We demand with a unified voice that that these hotel chains respond to what the international community has classified as the work of war criminals.” One protester was arrested for throwing his shoe at Saleh as he emerged from the hotel.

For 33 years, Saleh ruled Yemen with an iron fist, backed by the West. France sold $57 million of arms in 2004, and the US $66.5 million of weapons from 2005 to 2009. This repressive apparatus maintained deep levels of inequality, where child malnutrition and the percentage of people living on less than $2 a day reached 40 per cent. Then came the economic crisis, which raised unemployment to 35 per cent.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt inspired the people of Yemen to fight back. As part of the Arab Spring, they have organized mass demonstrations, protests, and street battles for more than a year, which have driven Saleh out of the country. In June an assassination attempt seriously injured him, and he was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical care. In September he returned to Yemen, but is now is in the US for more treatment.

Permanent revolution against imperialism

Like in Egypt, protests drove the dictator from power and are continuing to fight against the dictatorship, which the West and its regional allies are still propping up. The Gulf Cooperation Council—a group of Western-backed dictatorships including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain—proposed a transition plan for Saleh to leave with minimal disruption to him or his regime. The United Nations Security Council—including countries who armed Saleh and the other Arab dictatorships—endorsed the proposal, which guarantees immunity for Saleh and his family, calls for an end to protests, and requires opposition groups form a coalition with Saleh’s ruling party.

While Egypt is still ruled by Mubarak’s regime, Yemen is ruled by Saleh’s vice president, Abd al-Rab Mansour al-Hadi, and policed by the Republican Guard controlled by Saleh’s family. As in Libya, some opposition figures, like General Ali Moshen al-Ahmar, were in the Saleh regime until just a few months ago and are eager to support a plan that maintains their power.

Despite the ouster of Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafi and Saleh, the issues at the heart of the Arab Spring remain—repression, unemployment, and inequality. It is increasingly obvious that the same Western powers who armed those tyrants are continuing to support their regimes—from selling weapons to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt, providing luxury care to Saleh, supporting former Gaddafi elements in Libya, arming Saudi Arabia, and supporting its military initiatives in Syria and Bahrain.

Western imperialism will never bring democracy or human rights to Syria, Iran or elsewhere. Instead we need to support genuine liberation movements across the region, and stop our own governments from interfering.

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