Has the wily tribesman of Yemen finally run out of ways to dance on the heads of his snakes?
If ruling Yemen is like leaping from vipers, as is his favorite comparison, then Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president who has ruled since 1978, has proven more adept at most in dodging the poison.
But with the country fast heading toward social and economic collapse and facing huge and sustained street protests against his rule which began in January, Saleh has reportedly authorized his deputy to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition.
Saleh issued a decree on Monday that gives Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, Yemen's vice-president, "the necessary constitutional authority to negotiate" the peaceful handover of power, according to state news agency Saba.
The decree gives Hadi the power to sign on Saleh's behalf the so-called Gulf Initiative, which was proposed by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).Hadi can "agree on a time-frame ... sign and follow up with the implementation", according to the decree.
Saleh also reportedly authorized Hadi to begin preparations for early presidential elections to be carried out under regional and international supervision.
The GCC deal stipulates that Saleh step down within 30 days and pass power to Hadi, who will then form an opposition-led national government and arrange presidential elections in 60 days.
Saleh has been recovering in Saudi Arabia since a June 3 assassination attempt when a bomb exploded inside his presidential compound killing the speaker of parliament and seriously injuring Saleh and several senior officials.
Saleh had promised to return from recuperating in neighboring Saudi Arabia to Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, in recent weeks, but the reported deal appears to indicate the long-time ruler of Yemen may not be returning to his homeland any time soon.
The opposition, however, was swift to reject Saleh’s proposal, wary of similar promises to abide by the GCC proposal which Saleh had previously agreed and then repeatedly backed out of at the last minute.
"The youth protesting for change in squares around the country are ignoring the regime’s comments and will not be bothered by this tactic, which only seeks to buy time for President Saleh," Mohammed Qahtan, spokesperson for the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) told GlobalPost.
“The JMP will not be involved in dialogue with this regime and we will continue to peacefully escalate the political situation until the Yemeni revolution prevails.”
Saleh’s refusal to so far sign the proposal has angered the plan's Gulf sponsors who, along with many in the international community, fear that a collapse of political order in Yemen could pave the way for groups linked to al-Qaeda to overrun the country.
The GCC plan, proposed last spring, calls on Saleh to step down as president of Yemen and hand over all constitutional authorities to the vice president. In exchange, Saleh would receive amnesty from prosecution for himself and his family.