We're told this morning that Yemen's president and official opposition bloc, hemmed in by Western pressure, have agreed to sign a Gulf-brokered deal today in which Ali Abdullah Saleh would step down within a month and usher in new elections in exchange for immunity from prosecution, potentially putting an end to three tumultuous months of bloody protests against Saleh's three-decade rule. Reuters has confirmation from an opposition official, Al Arabiya from a Saleh adviser. Big news, right?
Here's the problem: We've seen this before. In the face of popular protests calling for his immediate resignation, Saleh has gradually moved up his departure date from 2013 to 2011 in what we called his "shrinking self-imposed deadline to step down" back in March. In April we reported--in a post eerily similar to today's--that Saleh had agreed to a Gulf-mediated deal to relinquish power within 30 days, only to see the agreement unravel at the last minute.
Analysts are equally skeptical. "I won't believe it until I see it," Shadi Hamid at the Brookings Doha Center tells Reuters."Saleh is notoriously stubborn." On Twitter, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen has been pounding away. Is it that time of the month again?" he asks, pointing out that "30 days is a long time for Salih to maneuver" and that Yemen's official opposition leaders, who would be signatories to the deal, don't speak for the protesters in the street, who want Saleh to stand trial and depart right away. A Yemeni opposition official tells CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom that Saleh has 24 hours to ink the deal but that he'll "find a way to not accept the proposal by the deadline." Yemen-based activist and researcher Atiaf Alwazir adds, "an image just popped in my head of Saleh pulling petals off flowers.. 'will i sign, or not sign.'" Jeb Boone at the Yemen Times, meanwhile, makes a sales pitch: "If you still think Saleh has any intention of signing the GCC deal, I have some snake oil I want to sell you."
Update: The skeptics appear to be right. According to Al Arabiya, Gulf mediator Abdullatif al-Zayani left Yemen's capital, Sanaa, today after negotiations between the regime and the opposition failed to sign the accord.