Gone: Ali Abdullah Saleh is no longer the president of Yemen. He has joined other fallen Arab dictators in Saudi Arabia. (Marcel Mettelsiefen/Getty Images)
Yemenis know the score.
The man who's ruled their lives, and misruled the country, illegitimately, for the better part of 33 years--Ali Abdullah Saleh--is gone. He fled the country on Saturday for Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to get medical treatment after being wounded in an attack on his presidential palace. Don't expect the Saudis to let him out any time soon.
In Yemen, they're dancing in the streets. Saleh is the third Arab tyrant to fall and flee, following in the bootsteps of Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben-Ali in February 2011 and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak a month later.
"In Change Square," The Times reports, "the site of antigovernment protests since February, thousands of men and women sang, chanted and dance, and waved flags and signs. They claimed victory over Mr. Saleh, who had clung to power despite months of protest and violence. Some uniformed soldiers joined in the celebration."
Of course Saleh thinks he's just leaving to get a little medical attention. When tyrants fall and flee the country they once held hostage to their thuggery, they always say they're just going on a brief trip. On leave. On vacation. To get some medical treatment. Sure.
Remember the shah of Iran's message to the Iranian people on Jan. 16, 1979, the day he, too, fled with his tail between his legs? "As I have said before, I am going on vacation because I am feeling tired. First, I will go to Aswan, Egypt," Mohammed Riza Pahlevi, whom the press continued to refer to, rather stupidly, as the "shah," said in a statement the day of his flight. Then he went on to speak as if he was still in control of the chains. "With the vote of confidence, given in parliament today, I hope the government will be able to make amends for the past and also succeed in laying the foundation for the future.This work needs a long period of cooperation and patriotism in its utmost meaning."
Too late, old man. But it gets better. Or worse, depending on your needle's positioning on the irony meter.
"Our economy must start rolling again. We must have better planning for the future. I have no other words to say but: preservation of the present system and performance of duties based on patriotism." The clunky verbiage is the same provided by the Associated Press and published in The New York Times on Jan. 17, 1979. The Times carried a picture of a soldier kissing the tyrant's feet in Tehran, moments before he escaped, with his smiling wife at his side, as if she were going on just another trip--say, to visit with Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, as the pair so often did back in the good old days of high-power, sponsored thuggery. They left in their private 707, of course, and were greeted on arrival with 21-gun salute and red carpet in Egypt by that other tyrant, albeit a better, far-seeing one, Anwar el-Sadat--who paid for his better strategic eyesight with an assassin's bullets.
The Times at the time didn't hold back on its own irony meter when it reported about Pahlevi's arrival in Egypt, describing "the scene of am imperial autocrat who once reigned so securely over his wealthy country turning to a republican president of poor village origins for solace and support."
The Iranian tyrant was to stay at the deluxe Aswan Oberoi Hotel, on Elephantine, an island in the Nile. The hotel threw out 300 guests to make room for the man. He died a year and a half later in Cairo, but not before the Carter administration blundered by letting him into the United States, at the request of Kissinger of course, in October 1979. The American embassy was soon after assaulted, and Americans taken hostage for 444 days. Pahlevi left the United States on Dec. 15, 1979, for Panama.
Let Yemen enjoy its liberation from its own tyrant for a while, though the future in Yemen is no less sure than it was for Iran in 1979, though in Iran there was that one certainty: Ayatollah Khomeini, a man many times more bloodthirsty, more destructive, more ruthless than even Pahlevi, was on his way in 1979. No such blight necessarily awaits Yemen.