Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was presented with a proposal on Thursday that would have the embattled leader step down within 30 days in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
The proposal came from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Abdullatif Al-Zayani, who met with Mr. Saleh in Sanaa to deliver the latest bid to end nearly three months of political deadlock. The president has not yet responded, and it's unclear whether he'll accept.
According to a Yemeni government official, the plan is based on an American and European initiative known as the 30-60 Plan. It offers immunity for Saleh and his family if he selects a new deputy, transfers executive powers, and resigns within 30 days. Elections would be scheduled to take place 60 days after Saleh’s departure.
That the GCC is led by Saudi Arabia, Yemen's largest donor and the only country to contribute direct budgetary assistance, adds pressure on Saleh. While this is not the first GCC attempt to negotiate Saleh's ouster, the new proposal may gain traction because it would allow him to select his successor in addition to having immunity.
“I believe the 30-60 plan is the practical way to transfer power,” says Mohammed Qahtan, a spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties, a coalition of the country’s opposition parties.
“We have accepted giving immunity, and we have made a significant sacrifice by accepting that the president will transfer power to a deputy of his choice. The only condition that we have made is that this deputy is not a member of his family,” adds Mr. Qahtan.
The GCC initiative, which is not the first attempt to negotiate Saleh's ouster, comes amid mounting economic and social tensions throughout the country. The local currency value has plummeted since protests began in January and a gas crisis has left many unable to cook food or fuel vehicles. More than 100 antigovernment demonstrators have been killed in a series of brutal crackdowns by Saleh’s regime. Three demonstrators were killed in clashes with security forces as recently as Tuesday.
Already the most impoverished nation in the Arab world and home to the region's most active Al Qaeda franchise, Yemen's rapid deterioration in recent months has led members of the international community to seek a swift resolution to the crisis to prevent further destabilization.
The country’s turmoil was discussed Tuesday within the United Nations Security Council. Although the 15-nation council failed to agree on a unified statement, German Ambassador Peter Wittig told media that most members expressed support for the GCC's efforts.
But will Saleh agree to step aside?
Even if the international community and opposition members are ready to embrace the latest plan, there is little indication that Saleh himself is prepared to step aside.
"We will continue to resist ... undaunted and committed to constitutional legitimacy, while rejecting plots and coups,” Saleh told a crowd of supporters on Wednesday.
"Those who want the chair of power have to get it through ballot boxes,” he added.
For months, the president has oscillated between conciliatory and defiant. On Thursday, he stated that he welcomed GCC efforts to resolve Yemen’s crisis, according to the state-run news agency, Saba.
The ruling General People's Congress party will issue a response within 24 hours, according to a government press statement.
Regardless of whether Saleh accepts the proposal, it may not bring an end to protests in the capital’s sprawling tent city known as Change Square.
“We see this as direct foreign intervention into Yemeni affairs,” says Adel al-Surabi, a leader of the student coalition credited with initiating the protest movement. “We’re not interested in exchanging one ruler for the next, keeping a system where all power stays in the hands of one man. We want a parliamentary system, and we will continue until we achieve it.”