Yemenis Find Consensus On Saleh's Need To Go
DAVID GREENE, Host:
Officials in the nation of Yemen say the country's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left the hospital in Saudi Arabia. He was severely injured in an attack on the presidential palace back in June. Yemen has been in turmoil for the past six months. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have marched through the streets demanding the president's ouster. There has also been considerable violence involving a fractured army, tribal fighters and Islamist militants. NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Yemen's capital of Sanaa covering all of this. Hi, Kelly.
KELLY MCEVERS: Hi.
GREENE: First, what are the expectations that the president might now return to Yemen?
MCEVERS: Well, this is a million-dollar question. I'm sorry to use a clichÃ©. But I have talked to officials, I have talked to diplomats, I've talked to opposition leaders, I've talked to protesters and asked them this, and their honest answer is it's anybody's guess. You know, the acceptable reason for him being in Saudi Arabia was that he was recovering from this really nasty attack on his palace mosque back in June. He was severely burned, severely injured. But now that he's out of the hospital, everyone's kind of asking, well, then why are you still in Saudi Arabia?
GREENE: And if he did come back, how does that change the dynamic?
MCEVERS: Well, here's a guy who three times agreed to sign a deal that would see him transition out of power in exchange for immunity, you know, so he didn't end up in the docks, in court, like Hosni Mubarak did, Egypt's former dictator, last week. And three times he backed out, you know, and one of them sort of violently here in the capital. So again, if he comes back, does he come back as president? Does he come back and then sign a deal? Does he sign the deal in Saudi Arabia? These are the questions being asked right now.
GREENE: You spent some time, as I understand, traveling throughout the country, which I know that in itself is not an easy task. Where have you gone, and what have you learned?
MCEVERS: I did a kind of loop to Yemen's kind of three main cities, Sana'a, the capital, Taiz in the center, and Aden in the south. So, you know, you're driving around these neighborhoods where you see shops and houses burnt out, shot out. You know, I remember driving by one army barracks where the wall, it looked like it had 1,000 bullet holes in it, and then, you know, left the capital and was immediately sort of thrown into these beautiful soaring mountains.
You know, it's the rainy season, these green terraced fields. And I'm thinking, oh, you know, these people must be kind of removed from politics. And then I'm driving through this pass and I see painted on the side of this mountain where the words (foreign language spoken) which basically means get out, you murderer.
MCEVERS: And this is a rallying cry for the protesters. And it became really clear from that and from my travels that this is the one thing that people in Yemen agree on, the majority. They want Saleh out. The question, of course, is how does it happen and then what happens after that.
GREENE: You know, one of the questions we've been asking about a lot of the countries in the region, you know, Libya, Egypt, after months of, sort of all this news, what are people in each of these countries fighting for? In Yemen, beyond getting the president out, is there a sense for what people want, feel they deserve?
MCEVERS: It's interesting. You know, in Egypt and some of these other places, you had a single focal point for the protest movement. You had a square in Yemen. It's the squares. They're literally more than, I think, 20 squares across the country, so I've been stopping at these squares and talking to these people and asking them that very question.
And so the answer varies. Some people want just Saleh out. Some people say, no, it's got to be his sons, you know, everyone from the regime. Other people say even if there are new elections, we won't participate. So I mean, there's a whole gamut.
And what's so interesting about these protestors is that in some ways, because they've set up these committees and they're doing some of this work, they've gotten closer to that which they went to the streets to ask for in the first place, which is a kind of self-government.
The problem is that can't last forever. As the stalemate goes on and as the threat of violence continues, the state will continue to crumble, and they won't be able to fill in the blanks.
GREENE: Been speaking to NPR's Kelly McEvers, who's talking to us from Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. Kelly, be safe. And thank you.
MCEVERS: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.