The news today are not – as anticipated – about Salih's return to Yemen as had been announced by members of the ruling party as today marks the 33rd anniversary of his rule. Instead, although I suspect a connection there, what makes the headlines today is the establishment of a Transitional Council by members of the protest movement, listed below. The list of members is of course interesting in itself, but what I find similarly intriguing is:
a) How did this Transitional Council came to be established? Obviously, some prominent members of the protest movement came together to decide on them, but these are obviously not representatives of the protest movement. As the always excellent Laura Kasinof reports in her most recent article in the New York Times, some of the members of the Council seem to be surprised to find their name on the list. Also, other members of the protest movement do not seem to second the list of members: "'I would call this council Towakil and Khaled al-Ansi’s council,' said Adel al-Musanif, a graduate student, referring to Ms. Karman and the protest leader who announced the council with her."
b) Why now (and not earlier)? I suspect that the answer to the latter question is the announcement of Salih's imminent return to Yemen – a Yemeni friend told me only yesterday that he was hoping for Salih's return to Yemen as only this event would help reunite the protest movement, which became increasingly fragmented after the common denominator or common enemy, the President, left the country. (We might also speculate that this process might have contributed to Salih's decision to delay his return to the country.) In light of this, the announcement of a Transitional Council that is, according to a prominent member of the protest movement, Tawakkul Karman, "charged with leading the country during a transition period not to exceed nine months and with forming a government of technocrats" is an important step to counter the fragmentation process.
The Council will elect a leader from amongst its members, who will then establish his (shadow) government. It has also been set the task of selecting 501 members of a national assembly, which will work on the formulation of a new constitution (and which will hopefully be more gender sensitive than the Transitional Council). I put "shadow" in brackets as from the perspective of those who set up the Council, its members are now considered the new leaders of Yemen. I have just today read an article about the framing of social movements, which argued that "if movement activists interpret political space in ways that emphasize opportunity rather than constraint, they may stimulate actions that change opportunity, making their opportunity frame a self-fulfilling prophecy" (Gamson & Meyer 1996: 287). I would be pleasantly surprised if this turned out to be the case here.
On the council are 16 men and one woman. It includes politicians from the North and South as well as members of Yemeni civil society. At least one of those listed has been in exile for almost twenty years. The 17 members of the Transitional Council are:
ʿAbd Allāh Ḥasan al-Nākhibī (عبد الله حسن الناخبي)
ʿAbd Allāh Salām al-Ḥakīmī (عبد الله سلام الحكيمي)
ʿAlī Ḥusayn ʿAshāl (علي حسين عشال)
ʿAlī Naṣir Muḥammad (علي ناصر محمد)
ʿAydarūs al-Naqīb (عيدروس النقيب)
Ḥaydar Abū Bakr al-ʿAṭṭās (حيدر أبو بكر العطاس)
Ḥūriyah Mashhūr (حورية مشهور)
Jamāl Muḥammad al-Mutarrib (جمال محمد المترب)
Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Malik al-Mutawakkil (محمد عبد الملك المتوكل)
Muḥammad ʿAlī Abū Luḥūm (محمد علي أبو لحوم)
Muḥammad Saʿīd al-Saʿdī (محمد سعيد السعدي)
Muḥammad Sālim Bā Sindwah (محمد سالم باسندوة)
Muḥsin Muḥammad bin Farīd (محسن محمد بن فريد)
Saʿd al-Dīn Ṭālib (سعد الدين بن طالب)
Ṣādiq ʿAlī Sarḥān (صادق علي سرحان)
Ṣakhr Aḥmad al-Wajīh (صخر أحمد الوجيه)
Yaḥya Manṣūr Abū Uṣbuʿ (يحيى منصور أبو اصبع)
Of course, as interesting as the names on this list are the names not on this list, amongst them Yāsīn Saʿīd Nuʿmān, former prime minister of the PDRY (1986-1990), whose name was one of those most often mentioned when possible members of a possible Transitional Council were discussed. The next days will show how Yemenis will react to the establishment of the Council and its composition. Much of its legitimacy will rest on its broad acceptance among the protestors on Change Square in Sanaa, in Taʿizz, Aden, and nation-wide. According to Karman, the Transitional Council was established to "protect the unity of the country before it completely collapses", but as the opposition parties were not included in the establishment of this Council (nor any other influential political players) I am doubtful whether this goal will be achieved.
Gamson, William A. / Meyer, David S. (1996): "Framing political opportunity", in: McAdam, Doug et al. (eds.): Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings, New York: Cambridge Univ. Pr., pp. 275-290.