Mittwoch, 28. September 2011

Thin hope for political change in Yemen

Yemen's unhappy ending. Sometimes, the bad guys win.
Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
by Charles Schmitz
Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
by Charles Schmitz

Foreign Policy, September 27, 2011
by Charles Schmitz

Back in June, when Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for Saudi Arabia for treatment of his wounds, most observers thought Yemen's political crisis would be resolved in favor of the political opposition and the revolutionary street protesters. If Saleh -- who was badly burned in an attack on his presidential mosque -- did not die, then he would at least be prisoner of the Saudis, who had been actively seeking his resignation. Few thought he would ever return. And inside Yemen, the pro-Saleh forces would be weak without the president, so it was a hopeful time for those opposed to Saleh's rule. A transitional government would oversee a new set of elections that would usher in a new post-Saleh era.

That was then. 

Over the bloody summer, the Saleh clan proved itself more than capable of holding on to its political position. The president's sons and nephews, who preside over key security and military positions, aggressively sought conflict. Sporadic fighting raged all over the country: in Taiz, in Sanaa, in Arhab, in Abyan, in Aden, and elsewhere.  

In Sanaa, most victims of the fighting were civilians. Saleh's supporters seemed to almost relish provoking the military defectors aligned with Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the top general who joined the "revolutionaries" in March and promised to protect them. 

The attacks on civilians not only sent a message to protesters, but also revealed the weakness of Ahmar's forces. Indeed, all the various groups opposed to Saleh's rule -- including Ahmar's 1st Armored Division, the revolutionaries in the streets, the forces allied with tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar (not related to Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar), and the political parties of the Yemeni opposition -- together appeared incapable of tipping the balance of power in their favor. There were no elections, nor was the opposition able to form a successful transitional government, despite attempts to do so. 

And Saleh did not die from his wounds. As a "guest" of Saudi Arabia, he recovered and over the summer was seen acting presidential -- meeting in the hospital compound with some of the other Yemeni government officials who were injured in the attack. 

Western officials tried to quickly manufacture facts on the ground by dealing with the vice president, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, as if he truly were the acting power in Yemen. Formally, Hadi was the acting head of state, but Ahmed Saleh, the president's son and commander of the Republican Guard, locked Hadi out of the presidential palace and forced him to work at home -- sending a clear signal about who was in charge. 

Hadi did prove useful to the Americans, however. With his military background and local connections, he was able to rally the local forces and turn the tide against al Qaeda's ground assault in Abyan governorate. Hadi promised his cooperation and assured the Americans that Yemen would not allow al Qaeda to take advantage of Yemen's crisis. Local reports from Abyan say that Saudi and American airdrops were critical in keeping the loyalist 25 Mika Brigade alive while it was besieged for three months by militants in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan. (Saleh thanked both the Americans and the Saudis for their support in the war on al Qaeda in a speech shortly after his return to Sanaa.) 

The Americans and Europeans wanted Hadi to go further and implement the Gulf agreement that called for Saleh to step aside one month after signing it and for a transitional government to oversee new elections. They wanted a political settlement that would resolve the crisis that was clearly feeding Yemen's instability and preventing the country from addressing its badly deteriorating economy. 

But Saleh's clan effectively prevented any political settlement, subjecting street protesters to live fire by snipers or random shelling, almost to show that it could act with impunity against its opponents. 

Read the rest of the article here.

Samstag, 24. September 2011

Salih's return

So, Salih took us all by surprise and sneaked back in the night before last while we were sleeping. He as yet has to make his "speech to the nation", which was announced for yesterday, but has now been delayed to September 26, when Yemen celebrates the revolution against the imamate of 1962. Salih obviously finds it fitting to deliver his speech, with which he will aim to put an end to this year's revolution, on this day. Meanwhile, he has made it more than clear that he is willing to reassert his power in Sanaa with all necessary force. He believes that as long as this city is his, the country is his. While we wait for him to make his speech, in which he will announce exactly how he is going to continue gambling away the lives of innocent Yemenis for the sake of his hold on power, I recommend you read this or this (there are several pages to this post).

And if you are feeling desperately cynical, I recommend you watch this. It has all you need to understand Salih's politics:

Samstag, 17. September 2011

The revolution at a crossroads

The following article is by far the best I have read on the "revolution" in Yemen, sind February. It is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in what is going on in the country.

Yemen's counterrevolutionary power-play
Foerign Policy, Septermber 16, 2011
by Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani

Observers of Yemen are often asked why the revolution there has taken so long and why it has been so inconclusive. The more basic question -- never asked, though inextricably tied to this -- is why an uprising started in the first place. 

When the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and began to spread in the region, I did not think the conditions in Yemen were ripe for it. Indeed corruption, inequality, and the callous disregard for law were much worse in Yemen than any other country in the region. However, the conditions usually viewed as prerequisites for revolution -- a large and mobile middle class, a strong civil society, high literacy rate, and internet penetration -- are all non-existent. Yet the state does benefit from an historical accident, the adoption of a multi-party system in 1990 as part of the unity agreement between South and North Yemen. Twenty years of multi-party experience and the attendant mobilization skills of politicking made it possible for Yemeni activists to launch the revolution. Unfortunately, the absence of a broad middle class and a dynamic civil society has stunted the movement's momentum. The revolution has gradually transformed into what is largely an elitist struggle for power. 

In February, the revolution was in its purest form, an escalating popular protest not controlled by political parties or political factions. Activists demonstrated a degree of national unity rarely witnessed in Yemen. But the Joint Meeting of Parties (JMP), the main coalition of opposition groups, was reluctant to participate in the protests. As a result, youth in squares across Yemen cried out, "No partisanship and no parties. It is a youth revolution." 

Junior partners in the JMP, especially the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP), were more forthcoming in support of the revolutionary platform from the start. Meanwhile, the Islamic party Islah, the main opposition faction, which until recently had an alliance with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was hesitant to commit until the revolution gathered pace. They had the most to lose by openly challenging the regime. Islah eventually joined the youth in full force and successfully maneuvered to control the organizing committee of Al-Taghyeer (Change) Square in Sana'a and was instrumental in setting up many provincial protest squares. It's worth noting that the exception to Islah dominance played out in al-Hurreyah (freedom) Square in Taiz, Yemen's third city, which came to be referred to as the heart of the revolution. 

From then on, the slogans and the rhetoric of the protestors came to represent the voice of the JMP rather than the youth. A notable example of this shift in rhetoric is the attacks on the General People's Congress (GPC), the nominal ruling party which lacks hard power and which the masses do not perceive as a primary adversary of the revolution. Islah's disparagement of the GPC is seen as a self-serving tactic, a ploy which they hope would lead to disbanding the GPC and thus giving Islah a real chance of gaining a majority in post-revolution elections. 

The situation transformed in March after the massacre at al-Karamah where snipers shot dead 54 unarmed youth and injured many more. That horrific event led to mass defections within the regime, the military, the bureaucracy, and the ruling party. 

General Ali Mohsin, Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahmar, and Sheikh Abdul-Majid Al Zindani were the most notable converts to the revolution. Mohsin, the second-most powerful person in Yemen, was Saleh's closest ally. As Saleh succeeded in concentrating power around him and his closest relatives, Mohsin was sidelined and, in turn, became Saleh's greatest competitor. Al-Ahmar inherited the powerful position of the Paramount Sheikh of Hashid Tribal Confederacy from his father, the legendary Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, whose approval of Saleh was sought by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia before it agreed to install Saleh as president in 1978. Moreover, Zindani is the most popular and best-known Yemeni hard-line cleric with links to Osama Bin Laden. A leader of Islah, he was Saleh's ally against Islah moderate leadership in the past few years. 

Read the full article here.

Mittwoch, 14. September 2011

UN report on the revolution in Yemen

Report of the High Commissioner on OHCHR’s visit to Yemen


A delegation from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) visited Yemen from 28 June to 6 July 2011 to assess the human rights situation in the country. As a result of nine days of extensive meetings and consultations with representatives from the Government and civil society in the cities of Aden, Sana’a and Ta’izz, the Mission observed an overall situation where many Yemenis peacefully calling for greater freedoms, an end to corruption and respect for rule of law were met with excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by the state. Hundreds have been killed and thousands have suffered injuries including loss of limbs.

On 18 March 53 persons were reportedly killed in Change Square in Sana’a, an incident which lead to the resignation of a number of Ministers, Ambassadors, members of parliament, of the Shura council (the Upper House) and of the ruling party, and the defection of General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar who vowed to send his troops to protect the peaceful demonstrators in the square. In another major incident on 29 May in the city of Ta’izz, after a riot and a brief kidnapping of security officials, “Freedom Square” was forcefully cleared by Government security officials, burning tents and killing dozens of demonstrators. Tribes claiming to protect protesters sent armed supporters to the square and occupied certain public buildings.

By the time the Mission had arrived in Yemen the picture that was emerging in the major cities was of a number of separate, but at times intertwined, struggles taking place. One comprises peaceful demonstrators calling for change in a similar fashion to their counterparts in other parts of the region. Another is an increasingly violent struggle for power between President Saleh and his supporters on the one hand and armed opponents, including alleged elements of Al-Qaeda, on the other. Yet another comprises political opponents, including recent defectors, who are publicly renouncing the resort to violence and seeking a resolution that would bring about regime change.

The Mission noted that the Yemeni Government had lost effective control of parts of the country and within the major cities, where armed opponents appeared to have de-facto control. The Mission also observed that among those seeking to achieve or retain power some have deliberately sought to collectively punish and cause severe hardship to the civilian population by cutting off vital access to basic services such as electricity, fuel and water. The Mission notes the danger that the protests might become increasingly radicalized and more violent in response to the excessive use of lethal force by the government, and the growing involvement of, and intimidation by, armed elements within the demonstrations. In essence violence has led to more violence and it is a tribute to the street protesters that they have sought to maintain their peaceful character despite the heavy price in loss of life and in severe injuries that has been paid thus far. On the other hand, the Mission is alarmed by the deteriorating humanitarian situation, which is negatively affecting most Yemenis, but in particular the poorest and most vulnerable, such as children, IDPs and refugees. Isolated acts of sabotage cannot account for all the suffering witnessed by or reported to the Mission throughout the country and the availability of electricity, fuel, cooking gas, water and other basic services should not be misused to punish the entire population. The Mission is of the view that calls for investigations and prosecutions will be undermined unless urgent measures are undertaken to ensure the independence and integrity of the judiciary and to provide them with sufficient resources. Additionally, given the lack of confidence by many Yemenis in the judiciary to conduct impartial investigations into human rights abuses there is a need for international, independent and impartial investigations to take place.

Read the full report here.
Read more on Yemen's humanitarian crisis here.

Samstag, 10. September 2011

Yemen's humanitarian crisis continues

Yemen's future is being made now
September 10, 2011
by William Lambers

More than 110 malnourished children under the age of five were enrolled and treated at the outpatient therapeutic program, while 38 suffering acute severe malnutrition were admitted to the therapeutic feeding center in Saada’s Al-Jumhori Hospital in August 2011. According to a rapid assessment conducted last year, 45% of under-fives in some parts of Saada are suffering from global acute malnutrition. This is one the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. (Ali Ghailan/UNICEF Saada/August 2011)

White House anti-terrorism advisor John Brennan spoke to reporters yesterday about the growing threat of Al Qaeda in Yemen. According to Laura Rozen’s report, Brennan warned, “Anytime there is a power vacuum, as in Somalia, and Yemen, Al Qaeda is attracted to it.”

Yemen is still in turmoil with protesters demanding that long-time President Saleh step down from office. The hope is now for a smooth, peaceful transition of power.

But the truth is that Yemen’s future is already being made, away from the protests and political halls. In fact, every day that small children in Yemen do not get proper nutrition, they are a step closer to lasting physical and mental damage. No society can advance under such a scenario.

The political crisis needs to get resolved quickly and peacefully. But Yemen clearly needs more. Child hunger takes center stage.

In Yemen, malnutrition among children was a huge problem even before the political turmoil started. About half of Yemen’s children are chronically malnourished. In the Sa’ada governorate of Northern Yemen, years of conflict between the government and rebels has taken its toll on children. Child malnutrition rates are extremely high.

The political unrest in the capital, as well as the fighting in Southern Yemen, have made the situation even worse.

Yet there are things the international community can do to bring some relief and allow Yemen to catch its breath. This would be to set up a child feeding program that would cover all cases of malnutrition with special foods like plumpy’nut. Right now, all children are not able to receive food as there is low funding for aid agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Programme. Relatively inexpensive interventions like child feeding have not received enough attention.

A full supply of plumpy’nut, for instance, would be a rescue line for Yemeni children to get them through the first 1,000 days. This type of interim aid is crucial so you can move on to building longer-term food security after a successful intervention. For example, there needs to be a national school lunch program with the idea of reducing malnutrition among children and getting them to school to complete an education. The ministry of education in Yemen and the World Food Programme once worked on a school feeding program with a take-home ration element. It was cut because of low funding.

But this is the kind of plan that if enacted on a wide enough scale could bring significant change and hope to Yemen. We can take action now to help Yemen as it resolves its political crisis and fights Al Qaeda. There is no better place to start than with the future: the nation’s children.

This article first appeared on Blogcritics.

For possiblities in regard to making donations for Yemen, read my blog post from July.

Samstag, 3. September 2011

Hamid al-Ahmar and the revolution

This is an excellent article by Sudarsan Raghavan on Hamid al-Ahmar and his role in Yemeni politics.

In Yemen's struggles, sighs of tribal clout
Washington Post, September 3, 2011
by Sudarsan Raghavan

SANAA, Yemen — Hamid al-Ahmar is not a member of Yemen’s ruling party or its military. He holds no formal position in its opposition movement. Nor can he claim the authority of a religious leader.

Yet Ahmar is anything but a mere observer in the seven-month-old populist uprising to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He is a billionaire, a scion of the country’s most powerful tribal family, and he is using his money and power to assert a role in a new Yemen.

He has bankrolled protest marches in 10 provinces, providing everything from microphones to transportation. He commands tens of thousands of tribesmen, including a heavily armed contingent that guards him day and night. His tribe’s clout has bought him access and influence; now it is providing Ahmar with a power base, one that has brought fresh energy to the revolution but has also spawned more violence and chaos.

“I am living with this revolution, day by day, hour by hour,” the 43-year-old said in an interview inside his opulent mansion.

Perhaps more than in any other country in the Middle East, the bonds of the vast extended families known as tribes occupy a central role in Yemen, a country ruled by two rival groupings, the Bakeel and the more powerful Hashid.

But Yemen is hardly alone in the region being riven by tribal loyalties; tribes are a factor in Libya, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and across the Persian Gulf. In some ways, they play a role just as important as the government, military, clerics and the opposition, injecting another unpredictable dynamic into the turbulence of the Arab Spring.

The Ahmars are blue bloods in Yemen’s tribal society.

Hamid al-Ahmar’s late father, Abdullah, headed the Hashid tribal federation, to which Saleh’s tribe also belonged. Abdullah al-Ahmar also headed the country’s largest opposition party, Islah, and served as speaker of parliament. Hamid’s elder brother now heads the Hashid federation.

In Yemen, tribes make up the central social unit, and their power has only grown in recent years, while Yemen’s central government has proven incapable of controlling much of the country. Most Yemenis depend on their tribes for jobs and other services.

To help maintain his power during more than three decades of rule, Saleh turned again and again to the Ahmars, in a symbiotic relationship not unlike his bond to Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen, the country’s most powerful military leader — one in which all parties chose to overlook their differences.

In return for help from the Ahmars and Mohsen, Saleh gave them wide latitude to “run their affairs with informal armies, courts and economic empires” and made “direct payments from the treasury to the . . . tribal and military constituencies,” then­U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski wrote in a 2005 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

This year, following the deaths of 52 protesters by snipers loyal to Saleh, the Ahmar clan and Mohsen broke with the president and openly expressed support for the uprising.

‘A fiery combination’
As a child, Hamid al-Ahmar played with Saleh’s sons and nephews. In high school, Ahmar started a tourism company, using family money. He earned an economics degree at Sanaa University and spent two summers in England, where he studied English. He also studied the language in the San Francisco Bay area for four months while visiting one of his nine brothers, Sadiq, who was training to become a pilot.

His business holdings include Yemen’s largest cellphone company, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Baskin-Robbins franchises, a supermarket chain, and an influential satellite-TV network that has been critical of Saleh’s government.

To his supporters, Ahmar represents Yemen’s future: a young, modern businessman with the willpower to guide a nation gripped by poverty and Islamist extremism into a more stable era.

But to his detractors, including many youth activists who sparked the revolution, Ahmar is a living testament to how tribal-backed power has suffocated the Middle East’s poorest nation.

“There is a part of the people who like Hamid al-Ahmar,” said Ali al-Jaradi, editor in chief of al-Ahali newspaper, one of the largest in Yemen. “There are others afraid of what he represents. He’s from the president’s tribe. He’s a part of the old order.”

Unlike his father, though, Hamid al-Ahmar has shown no loyalty to Saleh. As a member of Yemen’s parliament since 1993, he is a senior leader of the opposition party, known as Islah, and he first called on Saleh to step down in 2005 — six years before the uprising that began this year.
“I don’t hate him personally. I hate his way of running the country,” Ahmar said, adding that Saleh’s sons and nephews should also leave power.

His increasing influence did not escape the attention of American diplomats. “Hamid al-Ahmar has ambition, wealth and tribal power in abundance, a fiery combination anywhere but especially in Yemen,” then-U.S. Ambassador Stephen A. Seche wrote in August 2009, in another of the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Read the full article here.