The GCC initiative is dead. I assumed it was dead the first time Saleh failed to sign it in early May. Apparently it had enough life to get rejected at the eleventh hour Wednesday of last week and then again this past Sunday.
The “negotiating a peaceful transition” phase is now passed. For months, Saleh’s plan has been to distract the Yemeni political opposition and the international community with false starts on talks of reform and power transfer. No one can take his flirtations with peace seriously now, and it appears he know this. Following his failure to sign the GCC accord on Sunday, Saleh warned of civil war. Circumstantial evidence indicates he may be trying to fulfill his own prophecy.
An excellent, clear overview of events in Yemen since Sunday can be found here. In short, an armed conflict between the State and the most prominent family in Yemen’s largest tribal confederation, the al-Ahmar family, threatens to quickly escalate the situation in Yemen. The thousands of demonstrators camping out in “Change Square,” unconnected with this outbreak of armed conflict, fear that their efforts towards peaceful revolution will be drowned as factions in the country move toward open conflict.
Who shot first between the State and the al-Ahmar family is unclear, but Saleh has made it hard to resist placing the blame on him. His political endurance rests on the narrative that Yemen is a fractured state prone to armed conflict and that he is the only man capable of holding it together. Months of peaceful protest against his rule have no doubt frustrated him and his narrative. Since the beginning of these protests, tribesmen and generals have withdrawn their support for the government and announced their support for the protest movement. More importantly, they have resisted violent provocations to respond in kind and in so doing confounded Saleh. Tribesmen checked their guns at the door to "Change Square;" defected generals vowed only to protect protesters and have had only limited engagements with government forces.
Now it seems Saleh is set on initiating the civil war he has all along predicted. A representative from the mediation council that sought to smooth tensions between the state and the al-Ahmar family on Tuesday night said that Saleh did not take the discussed cease-fire seriously and declared that complete responsibility for the conflict rests on the president. Other reports indicated that government forces also bombarded the defected general's army division. Saleh no doubt hopes to drag him into the conflict as well.
In a sad attempt at pandering to the United States, Saleh again suggested Yemen would turn into an al-Qaeda refuge if he left. The truth is that it's the instability caused by Saleh's staying that will enable al-Qaeda.
It’s hard to see what Saleh is hoping to gain from this. The deal brokered by the GCC contained immunity for the president, his family, and close aids. He stands to face a much worse fate now. Perhaps it is the arrogance that comes from decades of survival that makes him defiant. All of his predecessors were assassinated or ousted through coups. Saleh has convinced himself that he can "dance on the heads of snakes," and perhaps he views this situation no differently than other challenges his faced. I'm no expert, but I believe he is gravely mistaken.