|photography by Abdulrahman H. Jaber|
Yemen rises up against its mini-dictators
The Guardian, January 5, 2012
by Abubakr al-Shamahi
In the current state of confusion in Yemen, with the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his family attempting to retain control behind the scenes even though he is officially due to leave office in February, Yemeni protesters have a new tactic.
A "parallel revolution" of anti-corruption protests and strikes is seeking to remove the mini-dictators – Saleh's lieutenants who are in charge of the various state institutions and the bloated state bureaucracy.
Ten months after the start of anti-government protests, and with the country's future steeped in uncertainty, Yemenis are determined to ensure that real change is the fruit of their sacrifices.
A dictator's power comes from having the ability to surround himself with a loyal group of henchmen, the faithful minions who will ensure that power remains in the hands of the leader. Without such followers it is impossible to rule dictatorially.
Over his 33 years at the helm, Saleh has managed to build an effective network of partisans, people who aid him in controlling the various branches of the state, and yet also know that they are only in their position because of their loyalty to Saleh.
In turn, Saleh allows these men to get rich and to run their institutions as personal fiefdoms. These corrupt officials have siphoned off millions, most likely billions, in a country that is ranked as the poorest in the Arab world. This nouveau riche group are busy building villas and mansions on the edge of Sana'a, Yemen's capital. In the meantime, the city is running out of water because of mismanagement and poor infrastructure.
Weak state institutions mean that officials can get away with many illegitimate practices. Contracts are given out to friends and family, or simply the person willing to grease officials' hands with the most money. Yemen's oil and natural resources industry – its main (but dwindling) source of income – is notoriously corrupt, with oil revenues under-reported and educational scholarships from oil money going to the children of high officials.
The Yemeni mini-dictators abuse their power in other ways. There have been reports of military officers running "personal prisons" and taking money from officers' salaries.
One protester at a government office in the city of Taiz said his boss had put a gun to his head only the week before. The boss, at first confused, and then angry, was barred from entering the building by the protester and his colleagues.
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