November 25, 2011 12:38:40 am
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh,who agreed Wednesday to step down after a ferocious uprising,was perhaps the slipperiest leader in the Middle East.
When the top commander of American forces in the Middle East dropped by in 2010 to discuss Yemens US-backed campaign against al-Qaeda,Saleh happily promised to keep lying to his people and say that Yemeni aircraft not American were carrying out strikes against Islamic militants.
Just over a year later,as Yemenis protested for his ouster,Saleh promised the US he would sign a deal to step down. Instead,he sent a mob to besiege the US ambassador in an embassy,while at a ceremony at his palace he balked at signing on the excuse that the opposition leader was not present.
In fact,Saleh found excuses to back out of signing at least two more times. Even on Wednesday,the feisty Saleh was not prepared to go without a few digs at his critics.
It will take years for us to rebuild what was destroyed during the crisis, he told a signing ceremony. He called the events of the past nine months in Yemen as a grand conspiracy, a coup and a power grab. He said he was prepared to fully cooperate with the coalition unity government provided for in the deal,which gives Saleh immunity from prosecution.
Even being burned over much of his body and having shards of wood embedded into his chest by a June explosion that ripped through his palace mosque as he prayed was not enough to force him out.
Days after the assassination attempt,Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. In his first televised speech after returning,delivered wearing medical gloves over his burned hands,he barked that he never wanted power and would reject it in the coming days an odd phrasing that his aides later explained meant he was not stepping down any time soon.
He was one who could strike deals with Islamic militants and use their fighters to suppress his enemies while raking in millions of dollars from the US to combat the al-Qaeda. He could let large swaths of his impoverished nation fall out of his control. He could even try to take credit when Tawakkul Karman,a female leader of the protest movement won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize: His regime claimed it was the fruit of his promotion of women.
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