A recent buzz among tweeps following Yemen news has been the issue of Honorary President Ali Abdullah Saleh's plans to travel to the US. In a Press conference, Saleh declared that he is fine and doesn't need any medical treatment, he plans to travel to the US to be away from Yemen during the elections. (An election with one presidential nominee, since the parliament with 80 members present only decided to close presidential nominations and recommended Vice President Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi as the only candidate!) When asked asked later on, in the same Press conference, by a reporter why he would be going to the US, he replied that he would be going for medical tests and possibly undergo some surgery.
Just as confusing as his remarks was also the confusion regarding whether he was granted a visa to the US or not. @gregorydjohnsen tweeted:
NY Times editorial board says give Salih a visa nyti.ms/tmSE1M Washington Post says no visa wapo.st/sa8ep0 #Yemen
The US State Department's official account on Twitter clarified that the request was still being reviewed:
Despite contrary reports, US is still considering Pres. #Saleh's request to enter US for sole purpose of seeking medical treatment. #Yemen
A US presidential official said that Yemen's president Saleh could be granted entry to US but only for “legitimate medical treatment”. And many US editorials were justifying the reasons and perhaps paving the way for the State Department granting him access to the US, while a few highlighted how this could damage the US' image.
@alruwaishan tweeted the Atlantic's point of view:
Why Obama Shouldn't Let #Yemen's President Come to the U.S. - The Atlanticbit.ly/uwJlRt #Saleh via @AddThis
The article notes:
Saleh's presence in the United States would be perceived as confirmation that he is America's man, and was remaining so no matter how much he had been rejected by his own countrymen. The United States would thus share in whatever opprobrium or hatred was directed at the former strongman. Any suspicion that Saleh was continuing to manipulate events in Yemen from afar would be accompanied by the belief that the United States was intentionally letting him do so. These perceptions would foster the image of the United States being on the wrong side of the popular tide that is the Arab Spring.
@WomanfromYemen, a Yemeni/American activist living in Yemen, tweeted her objection to Saleh's visit:
its hard for me to say im against any person receiving medical treatment even if it's a dictator, but (1/2) #yemen
For #saleh it appears not necessarily about medical treatment (that he can get anywhere else) but to save face & flex muscles (2/2) #yemen
Height of irony: US officials admit to being duped by Saleh on AQAP intel, and at the same time they're validating his visa request. 1/2
What Atlantic and NYT miss: moving Saleh to US as a free man, w Ahmad Ali and other kids still in #Yemen , would NOT improve situation. 2/2
Many Yemenis say the US doesn't care about democracy in Yemen and that it stands firmly behind the brutal regime and Saleh and that all the State Department statements stating otherwise are mere rhetoric.
@Snemyllas, a supporter of Yemen's revolution from the Netherlands, tweeted what many Yemeni strongly felt:
@Yemen4Change @weddady @JNovak_Yemen It shows #US doesn't give a damn about Yemenis, that's what counts. The ICC should be his destiny.
@Yemen4Change, a Yemeni/American living in the US, tweeted:
@Snemyllas The #US is trying to repaint its image n the MiddleEast & granting #Saleh visa is step backward 4 the #US @weddady @JNovak_Yemen
@SummerNasser, a Yemeni/American activist living in the US who also rejects the visit, tweeted news reports on what could be the consequences of the visit:
U.S. decision on #Yemen risks worsening violence edition.cnn.com/2011/12/27/wor…
Yemeni-Americans or Yemenis living in the United States who have been brutalized by the Yemeni regime are in the process of filing a civil suit against Saleh said @alruwaishan:
Group Seeks to Bring Lawsuit Against #Yemen’s President When He Visits #USA for Medical Treatment undispatch.com/group-seeks-to… #Saleh
Mauritanian activist Naser @weddady says it all in his tweets:
Let's put it this way: Saleh is the last guest the US needs, lawsuit-prone, walking security risk, and a moral nightmare. #NoVisaForAli
A final question worth answering, had Mubarak, Gaddafi, or Bashar Al Assad requested a visa during the turmoil and killings going on in Egypt, Libya or Syria, would the White House have considered letting them visit the US, even if under medical grounds? I am sure the answer would be NO! Why is it any different when in comes to Saleh or Yemen?!
* This post was first published in Global Voices on Dec 30th, 2011