Salih returns to Yemen, but probably not the best public relations to photograph him in front of an exit sign

In a move that took almost everyone by surprise, Ali Abdullah Salih returned to Yemen Friday from his recuperation stay in neighboring Saudi Arabia. It is not clear which Ali Abdullah Salih returned. Is it the one who has promised at least four times to abide by a GCC-brokered sweetheart deal that would give him immunity if he agrees to step down? Is it the Ali Abdullah Salih who was badly burned and almost killed in a bomb explosion last June and was considered unlikely to ever return to Yemen? Is it the father who cannot control his succession-mongering son and relatives from trying to kill off any possible opponents to their eventual takeover? Is it the Ali Abdullah Salih who has survived dancing on the heads of snakes for over three decades? Could it even be Ali Abdullah Salih the peacemaker, calling for negotiations?

In a way it does not really matter. Yesterday it is estimated that some 4 million Yemenis took to the streets all over Yemen protesting his regime and any attempt to perpetuate it. To be sure there are still some supporters, but the overwhelming majority of Yemenis have demonstrated, quite literally, that it is time the Arab Spring blossom into a new political system in Yemen. Meanwhile, it seems all the sides jostling for power are more interested in self promotion than love of their country. The cowardly attacks of the Republican Guard on the protesters will only make these regimists all the more hated. The battle for Sanaa is bringing life to a grinding halt in the capital city and taking the life of far too many innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. All of Yemen is suffering.

Ben Ali and Mubarak are gone; Qaddafi has virtually exited from the scene and Bashar al-Asad is finding his brutal policies a liability never before experienced. As these dictators fall by the wayside, does Ali Abdullah Salih really think he can just forge on for another two years? If he truly cared for his country, he would have signed the GCC agreement the first time. But then if he truly loved Yemen and was a statesman rather than a self-serving bully, he would not have milked the economy and duped the people for so many years. In recent years he pulled out the dictatorial alibi that a strong man like him could keep the radical Muslims at bay. And it worked, as the United States propped up his regime with training, weapons and funds. But Washington’s policy has been as bad under Obama as it was under Bush: a failure to realize that support for a dictator only serves as recruitment for terrorism and fosters resentment from people that otherwise would not be against America. The United States has squandered whatever good will was given over the years in development aid.

The protests will continue and none of those vying for power will be able to stem the tide of change. Salih and his family are no longer wanted, the powerful al-Ahmar clan is not wanted by anyone but his partisans, the few radicals calling themselves al-Qaida are not wanted by virtually everyone. But if it takes yet another 4 million to get the point across, it will not be long before that will happen. Meanwhile we all wait to see who this returned Ali Abdullah Salih really turns out to be. Perhaps there is a statesman left in him after all. If only he would believe the hype his machine created about him, his return would be for the best. But what will happen next is now the 4 million dollar question.