Is Saleh’s return to Yemen imminent?

Is Saleh’s return to Yemen imminent?

There are mixed reports about the health of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh — recovering in Saudi Arabia from an attack on his palace earlier this month — and whether he’s planning on returning home to his embattled country anytime soon.

Reuters quotes a Western diplomat saying, "We believe he was seriously injured…. He is not coming [home] in the coming days, he is not coming [home] anytime soon."

Last week, an aide to Saleh gave CNN a different take, saying the president would return soon, possibly even last Friday. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but aides have told other news organizations that his health is improving and "he is receiving guests, giving instructions on day to day affairs in Yemen, including a power cut and fuel shortages."

And Bloomberg News reports that Saleh has shown no signs he is considering handing over power, despite Saudi and U.S. pressure.

Saleh is still signing official documents — he sent a cable yesterday congratulating Djibouti on its national day — and hasn’t officially appointed his deputy as acting president. There have been no public reports of negotiations on a transition, and Saleh’s party officials talk about punishing his attackers rather than ending his rule.

Bloomberg News spoke to advisors who have visited the president at the hospital in Saudi Arabia. They said he suffered burns to his face and underwent plastic surgery last week to repair the damage. He’s lost weight and his voice is weak, but he is alert and is in physical therapy. He could return to Sanaa by early July, one Yemeni official said.

Ahmed al-Soufi, another Saleh advisor, told al-Arabiya that the president would make a media appearance within the next two days, his first time since the attack.

So is Saleh truly on the mend and planning his return to Yemen?

Don’t count on it, says Bernard Haykel, a Yemen expert at Princeton University.

"Clearly he is in very bad shape or you would have heard him speak by now," Haykel said. "But he has a vested interest in showing he’s still active."

And the close advisors that keep promising a Saleh return any day now?

"He has a group of people who depend on him for their own survival," Haykel said. "They have a vested interest as well in maintaining the fiction that everything is fine and he’ll come back. I don’t think we should take at face value what that machine is saying. They are making calculations about their own survival."