Wounded Yemeni ruler makes first television appearance since assassination attempt

Laura Rozen

Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh appeared in a recorded television broadcast yesterday for the first time since he was badly wounded in an assassination attempt last month.

But if Saleh's goal in stepping before the cameras was to demonstrate his determination to return to power after receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, the photo op may have backfired. Yemeni citizens couldn't help but  note the startling transformation of the leader's physical appearance.

The interview showed Saleh, seated, with "both of his arms … bandaged," Nasser Arrabyee and J. David Goodman wrote in the New York Times. The Yemeni leader's arms "did not move," the reporters noted. "I underwent eight surgical operations," Saleh explained in the televised interview.

"Terrorists and elements connected with terrorists targeted me," he said. "But we and the Yemeni people will stand firm, and we'll face the challenges … We welcome the partnership and dialogue with all political parties and all forces, but in the framework of the Constitution."

Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Saleh's motivation for the appearance was somewhat puzzling.

"I'm not sure if I would go on TV like that," Boucek told The Envoy in an interview Friday. "It's the first time we have seen him since the assassination attempt." Even though various Yemeni regime officials have insisted in recent weeks that Saleh plans to return, the interview strongly suggested the severity of his wounds would entail a lengthy recovery.

Anti-government protests have subsided since Saleh's departure for medical treatment, Boucek said--but also noted that Yemen still has no clear roadmap for political transition in the interim.

Still, he said, it's striking that the Yemeni regime hasn't "collapsed" any further, as many predicted would happen back in January, at the outset of the antigovernment protests there. Nor has the country been plagued by violence, he said.

"Violence is not the way to solve problems in Yemen," Boucek noted. "People try to avoid it."