Considering the off-putting reality, one fails to imagine a future scenario in which Yemen could avoid a full-fledged conflict or a civil war. It is true that much could be done to fend off this bleak scenario such as sincere efforts towards reconciliation and bold steps to achieve transparent democracy. There should be an unbending challenge to the ongoing undeclared US war in the impoverished nation.
Alas, none of the parties in Yemen’s prevailing political order has the sway, desire or the moral authority to lead the vital transition necessary. It is surely not the one proposed by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), but rather a homegrown political evolution that responds to Yemen’s own political, security and economic priorities, and not to the strategic interests of ‘Friends of Yemen’ being led by the United States.
Although it is much less discussed if it is to be compared to Egypt’s crippling political upheaval, or even Tunisia’s unfolding crisis, Yemen’s ongoing predicament is in fact far more complex. It directly involves too many players, notwithstanding al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the US bloody drone war that is unleashed from Djibouti among other places.
In the period between July 27 to August 9, 34 people were killed in Yemen by US drone attacks. The US government mechanically considers those killed al-Qaeda terrorists, even if civilians are confirmed to be among the dead and wounded. Most media qualifies such statements by describing the victims as ‘suspected militants’. International human rights groups and Yemen’s civil society organizations – let alone the enraged people of Yemen – insist on delineating the toll on civilians. Entire Yemeni communities are in a constant state of panic caused by the buzzing metal monsters that operate in complete disregard to international law and the country’s own sovereignty.
Frankly, at this stage it is hard to think of Yemen as a sovereign and territorially unified nation. While 40 percent of the country’s population is food insecure, and more are teetering at the brink of joining the appalling statistics, the country’s foreign policy has been long held hostage to the whims of outsiders. There is a lack of trust in the central government which historically has been both corrupt and inept by allowing non-state actors to move in and fulfill the security and economic vacuum.
Prior to the Yemeni revolution in Jan. 2011, the US was the most influential outside power in shaping and manipulating the Yemeni central government. Its goal was clear, to conduct its so-called war on terror in Yemen unhindered by such irritants as international law or even verbal objection from Sana’a. The now deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose family-controlled dictatorship of thirty years was the stuff of legends in terms of its corruption and self-centeredness, obliged. He too had his personal wars to fight and needed US consent to maintain his family-controlled power apparatus. Just weeks prior to the revolution, then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Sana’a. She applied gentle pressure to Saleh to dissuade him from pushing the parliament to eliminate term limits on his presidency, as if three decades in power was simply not enough. At the heart of the mission was the expansion of the counter-terrorism campaign in Yemen. The bloody US campaign involving the Pentagon and the CIA has been under reported. One of the reasons why the war was never classified as ‘war’ is because it was conducted under a political cover by Sana’a itself and sold as if it were military cooperation between two sovereign governments against a common enemy: Al Qaeda.
But reality was of course vastly different. Much of Saleh’s supposed anti-AQAP efforts were in fact channeled against the revolutionary forces and political opposition that had assembled together in millions, demanding freedom and an end to the dictatorship. What are the chances that the US didn’t know such a well-reported fact?
In fact, AQAP expansion was unprecedented during the revolution, but not because of the revolution itself. Saleh seemed to have made a strategic choice to leave large swathes of the country undefended in order to allow sudden AQAP expansion. Within a few months, al-Qaeda had mobilized to occupy large areas in the country’s southern governorates. This was done to strengthen Sana’a official discourse that the revolution was in fact an act of terrorism, thus quashing the revolution was more or less part of Yemen and US’s ‘war on terror.’ Despite the many massacres, the revolution persisted, but Saleh’s strategy allowed for greater US military involvement.
Unlike Egypt, the US military interest in Yemen is not merely done through buying loyalty with a fixed amount of money and sustaining a friendly rapport with the army. It is about control and the ability to conduct any military strategy that Washington deems necessary. And unlike Afghanistan, Yemen is not an occupied country, at least technically. Thus the US strategy regarding Yemen has to find a sustainable balance between military firmness and political caution. This explains the leading role played by the US in negotiating a safe path for the central government, army and the ruling party – excluding Saleh himself – to elude the uncompromising demands of the country’s revolutionary forces. To some degree, the US has succeeded.
Part of that success was due to Yemen’s existing political and territorial fragmentation. With Houthis controlling large parts of northern Yemen, the southern secessionist movement Haraki in the south, militant infiltration throughout the country, and a political opposition that has constantly lagged behind a much more organized and progressive Yemeni street, Yemeni society is much too susceptible to outside pressures and manipulation. The Yemeni revolution was never truly treated as such, but instead as a crisis that needed to be managed. The GCC brokered power transfer initiative was meant to be the road-map out of the crisis. However, it merely replaced Saleh with Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and set the stage for the National Dialogue Conference – underway since March 18. The transition thus far has been buttressed with the backing of the ‘Friends of Yemen’, so as to ensure that the process leading up to the elections that are scheduled for 2014, is done under the auspices and blessings of those with unmistakable interest in Yemen’s present and future.
It is barely helpful that Yemen’s supposedly united opposition is hardly that, and differences are widening between the coalition of the opposition groups named the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs). An example of that was publicly displayed following the army-led coup in Egypt on July 3. While supporters of the Islah Party – considered an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood – protested the coup, other coalition members and the Houthis greeted the news of coup with gun shots and public celebration. To make matters worse, the interim president Hadi congratulated Egypt’s transitional government for its post-coup role.
Even if the revolution is yet to reap tangible results in its quest for fundamental change towards democracy, the national mood, separate from Hadi and the opposition, is unlikely to accept half-baked solutions. Meanwhile, the militants are regaining strength and so is the US political intervention and drone war. All in turn are contributing to a burgeoning discontent and anti-American sentiment.
Between revolutionary expectations and less than mediocre reforms, Yemen is likely to embark on yet a new struggle whose consequences will be too serious for any disingenuous political transition to manage.
Most Western headlines about Yemen lately have focused on the “al-Qaeda threat” and “US drone strikes on suspected militants.” Unfortunately, neither give much credence to the real challenges facing Yemenis since former President Ali Abdullah Saleh transferred his powers to his Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on 27 February 2012 through a Gulf-brokered transitional plan.
The Gulf initiative was widely rejected among Yemenis as it did not fulfill the democratic demands of the revolution. The deal was more of an attempt to salvage the regime, yet some argue that it was the only option available. Sam Waddah, a Yemeni blogger, points out that “Yemenis in their revolution were not just up against Saleh and his regime, but also against the international community where major regional and international powers including the United States and Saudi Arabia backed Saleh up to the last minute.”
The initiative was viewed as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to subvert Yemen’s revolution and stop it from spilling across the border. The US worked behind the scenes and strongly backed the initiative after finding in President Hadi a suitable successor who would support their drone campaign in Yemen. US drone strikes have only intensified since Hadi assumed power and are causing popular outrage towards both the US and the Yemeni government as civilian death tolls mount.
Yemen’s 2011 revolution demanded an overall change in the economic, political, social and military spheres. Among the main demands of the 10-month revolution were the change of the regime, an end to Saleh’s corrupt family rule and the reconstruction of the army. According to the Gulf transitional plan, begrudgingly signed by Saleh on 23 November 2011, President Hadi will serve for an interim two-year period in which his main tasks will be the reconstruction of the military, conducting a national dialogue, drafting a new constitution and preparing for the 2014 elections.
Six months on, Hadi and his interim government are still facing many challenges impeding the achievement of these goals. Among these challenges are the weekly, if not daily, suicide attacks and car bombs allegedly by al-Qaeda, the assassinations and assassination attempts of military and political figures, the continuous attacks on the power grids and gas pipelines allegedly by tribes in Mareb, the Hirak separatist movement in the South, the Houthi rebels in the North, the deteriorating humanitarian conditions, and catastrophic food and refugee crises gripping the country. However, thwarting Hadi’s attempts to advance on any of these fronts is former president Saleh himself.
Those who are not following Yemen closely might be amazed to know that Saleh still lives in Yemen’s capital Sanaa and has awarded himself the title of “leader” to replace the lost title of “president.” He still heads the General People’s Congress (GPC), the former ruling party that is a 50 percent partner in the current National Unity Government, and is thus constantly disturbing the transitional process through loyalist supporters. His family members still hold key military positions. Ahmed Saleh, the son of the former dictator, remains the leader of the Republican Guards and Yahya, Saleh’s nephew is still the head of the Central Security Force. Yemen is paying dearly for the Gulf plan, which did not ban Saleh or his family from participating in the country’s political and military spheres.
The Saleh family still plays a prominent role despite some efforts by Hadi to remove some members and loyalists from the military and governmental posts. Some argue that Hadi lacks the power or the will to remove the two men close to Saleh entirely from their posts. “The fact that these two forces [Republican Guards and Central Security] were the reason behind almost all the blood spilt in the revolution and yet their leaders are still reigning is beyond me,” says Luai Ahmed, an 18-year-old Yemeni student and activist.
In a blatant sign of defiance to Hadi’s decision to reconstruct the military, the pro-Saleh Republican Guards troops besieged the Ministry of Defense on 14 August, while the president was out of the country, killing five people and wounding nine others. In late July a group of policemen and tribesmen loyal to Saleh occupied the Ministry of the Interior and looted its contents, killing 15 people. According to a local report, Hadi himself has already survived six assassination attempts in only seven months in office.
Yemen is often touted as an Arab Spring success story that has deposed its dictator, but reality is Yemenis are still suffering from political instability, violence, electricity and water cuts, inflation, unemployment, and food shortages, all of which have only intensified in the aftermath of the revolution.
“The fact that people are more aware of their rights and the corrupt deals the previous government made, forces them to escalate their demands and put pressure on the government,” said Shatha al-Harazi, a political and human rights journalist.
Many Yemenis do not feel that substantial change has been achieved since the ouster of Saleh. The state has lost control over some areas of Yemen, and the military is divided and on constant standby for any possible confrontation. They feel the intense power struggle between the old regime and the current one. A Yemeni journalist who asked not to be named describes the situation in Yemen as dire and chaotic. “The likelihood of a successful transition is up in the air and similarly the possibility of a potential civil war or armed conflict is also there.”
UN Envoy to Yemen Jamal Bin Omar stated that non-military sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Security Council Charter will be imposed against any official who attempts to hinder the political settlement, including the freezing of assets and a travel ban. However, the empty threats by Hadi and the UN, repeated ad nauseum, have not deterred Saleh and his loyalists from seeking to undermine Hadi’s power and hinder the implementation of the Gulf plan which ousted him from power.
Unless Saleh’s family is truly dismissed from positions of power and international sanctions are immediately imposed on them, Yemen will continue to suffer from political instability and insecurity.
Noon Arabia is a Yemeni blogger, wishing to write under a pseudonym for personal and security reasons
Two apparent US drone attacks killed at least 10 people in Yemen on Saturday, while Yemeni government forces killed 15 others in a new offensive against insurgents, local and military officials said.
Two air strikes destroyed three vehicles and killed 10 people in the eastern oil-producing Maarib province and near the border of the southeastern Shabwa province, the Defence Ministry website said, without elaborating.
Yemen and Washington do not acknowledge US drone attacks as they undermine the idea of Yemeni sovereignty.
The government claimed those killed were militants but provided no evidence for this.
Local officials told Reuters the strikes were believed to have been carried out by US drones and up to 12 people were killed, including an Egyptian and two Saudis.
It was the latest in a series of reported drone attacks on militants in the south of the impoverished Arab country who exploited mass protests last year against then-President Ali Abdallah Saleh to seize large swathes of territory, including Zinjibar, the capital of restive Abyan province.
Last week, the US Defense Department said Washington had resumed training Yemeni armed forces, after a suspension during the political upheaval that ousted Saleh.
In a sign of growing lawlessness after more than a year of unrest, Bulgaria’s ambassador to Yemen escaped with minor injuries on Saturday after masked gunmen opened fire on his car in the capital and tried to kidnap him, a Western diplomat said.
US officials said this week they had thwarted a plot by the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to arm a suicide bomber with a non-metallic device, an upgraded version of the “underwear bomb” carried onto an airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
About two dozen people have been killed in attacks by the Yemeni army and US assassination drones in southern and eastern Yemen.
The Yemeni Defense Ministry said on Monday that the army shelled suspected militants in the southern province of Abyan.
The attack occurred near the city of Loder late on Sunday, killing 13 people.
At least three others were killed in an airstrike on several vehicles in a remote desert region in the eastern province of Marib, the Yemeni Defense Ministry said.
Also on Sunday, a strike by a US assassination drone killed three people in the southern province of Shabwa.
Local sources said that four more people lost their lives when a Yemeni jet attacked their vehicles in Loder.
About 275 people have been killed in fighting and airstrikes in southern Yemen over the past two weeks.
The government says the goal of the attacks is to foil potential threats by al-Qaeda — a claim that has not been independently confirmed.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, stepped down in February under a US-backed power transfer deal in return for immunity after nearly a year of mass street demonstrations demanding his ouster.
His vice president, UK-trained Field Marshal Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, replaced him on February 25 following a single-candidate presidential election backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Hadi will serve for an interim two-year period as stipulated by the power transfer deal.
On April 6, Hadi dismissed nearly 20 high-ranking officers, including the commander of the country’s air force, Saleh’s half-brother Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, but did not replace Saleh’s son, nephew, and other allies, who head important military units.
So far, Al-Ahmar has refused to step down from his post.
Currently, Saleh’s eldest son Ahmed commands the elite Republican Guard, his nephew Yehya heads the central security services, and another nephew, Tariq, controls the Presidential Guard.
Yemenis have repeatedly staged demonstrations across the country to demand the political restructuring of the country and the dismissal of members of Saleh’s regime from their government posts.
As secret and unaccountable US and British drone strikes continue in remote corners of the globe, closer to home (but firmly behind closed doors), the drone industry continues to research and develop a drone-filled future.
Over the past couple of weeks, protesters in the UK and the US have gathered to turn the spotlight on the increasingly secret use and development of armed drones. In Bristol, at the beginning of April, the great and good of the drone industry came together at the Annual International UAV Conference to be met with a good-natured, noisy protest. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic at the Creech Air Force base, members of the faith-based group Nevada Desert Experience delivered an ‘Indictment for the Violation of Human Rights’ to the commander of the base. At each demonstration protesters were arrested and jailed.
But it’s not just protesting against the drone wars, that can bring serious trouble. Pakistani human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who represent victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan is being denied a travel visa to enter the US to speak at a conference organised by Code Pink and others. Speaking from Pakistan by telephone, Akbar told the Guardian:
“Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the US government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world. The CIA, which operated the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have a right to know.”
However it is Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye who is suffering the most for exposing the drone wars.
In 2010 Shaye revealed that an airstrike that took place in al Majala, Yemen in December 2009 killing 14 women and 21 children was launched by US drones, not the Yemeni air force, thus embarrassing both the Yemeni and US authorities. Later, Shaye also interviewed AQAP leaders including Anwar Al-Awlaki challenging them about their methods.
In August 2010, Shaye was kidnapped from his house by Yemeni security forces and disappeared for a month. He turned up in detention after being beaten and was sentenced to five years imprisonment for associating with terrorists. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have campaigned for his release, and it looked as though in February 2012 he was about to be freed. However a few days before Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to step down as President, Obama called him to “express concern” at the news that Shaye was about to be pardoned. Shaye release was immediately halted and he remains in prison.
- Why Is President Obama keeping a journalist in prison in Yemen? (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
- Obama’s personal role in a journalist’s imprisonment (federaljack.com)
- Obama and Shaye: Will the White House Explain its Actions? (motherjones.com)
- Is Barack Obama a Murderous Sociopath? (motherjones.com)
- Pakistani Lawyer Representing Victims of Drone Strikes Prevented From Speaking in U.S. (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Cluster Bombs: Still Legal, Still Lethal (conflictofconscience.wordpress.com)
The Pentagon has for the first time confirmed that US forces are operating inside Yemen, after a group of American officers came under attack in south of the Arab country.
Yemeni militia claimed on Friday that they had killed a CIA officer in an exchange of fire in the southern city of Aden “after tracking him and determining he was cooperating with the Sana’a government.”
A pentagon spokesman in Washington denied the report of the death but confirmed that a US security team in Aden had been attacked, claiming the team members suffered no injuries.
A Yemeni security official had also confirmed that a gunman had fired several shots at a vehicle carrying US security officers without injuring anyone.
The admission by the US Department of Defense came following numerous previous claims by the US government which denied the deployment of ground troops to Yemen.
The US had for decades propped up the regime of Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh who recently handed presidency to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansur al-Hadi after a single-candidate election shored up by Washington and Riyadh. Hadi is a UK-trained field marshal.
Protesters in Yemen continue to demand the removal of the regime which abounds with officials from the Ali Abdullah Saleh-era.
- Bomb blast hits anti-US rally in Yemen, injures 22 (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Ali Abdallah Saleh has not tired of playing the al-Qaeda card to retain any toehold of power in Yemen well after he was ostensibly reduced to an honorary president by the Gulf Initiative.
Sanaa – “Either me, or al-Qaeda” has long been the message Saleh has sought to press home.
He did that last May in the southern governorate of Abyan, when he ordered security forces in Zinjibar to keep the town gates open and mount no resistance against an invasion by hundreds of armed men. The regime later said they belonged to al-Qaeda.
Saleh was at it again last month, shortly before his departure to the US for medical treatment, though the stage-management this time was dire.
A tribal sheikh named Tareq al-Dahab, who wields considerable clout within his heavily-armed and famously fierce clan, descended on the town of Radaa, 170 km southeast of Sanaa in the governorate of al-Bayda. Units of the Central Security Forces and Republican Guards deployed in the vicinity but put up no resistance.
With nothing standing in their way, Dahab and his men moved into the town as though on a picnic or hunting trip. They went on to occupy it completely and proclaim an Islamic Emirate.
The group proceeded to the main al-Ameriyah Mosque, where in between performing sunset and evening prayers, Dahab delivered a sermon. It featured a pledge of allegiance to Nasser al-Wuhayshi and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, respectively the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Dahab also announced a number of administrative decrees. In a bid to curry favor with local people, he ordered gasoline station owners to slash fuel prices to what they had been before the outbreak of Yemen’s youth-led popular revolution last year.
The gunmen then made for al-Ameriyah Castle, an ancient fort overlooking the town. But they did not stop there. Over the course of the next two days, Dahab and his fighters took over the rest of the town, including the central prison, where they released all the inmates.
According to Yemen’s Deputy Information Minister, Abdu al-Jundi, the jailbreak was intended to recruit more members for the group. Weapons were given to any convicts who were willing to join. That was denied by Dahab, however, who issued a statement claiming he had only freed two of his own followers from the prison.
Dahab later released a video recording of himself proclaiming that “the Islamic Caliphate is coming, even if we must sacrifice our souls and our skulls for its sake!” He pledged to liberate the entire Arabian Peninsula, after first “bringing about the rule of Islamic sharia in Yemen in line with the wishes of the people.”
Meanwhile in Sanaa, the military commission set up in accordance with the Gulf Initiative to oversee ending “armed manifestations” in urban areas convened. It reviewed efforts to get barricades dismantled and armored vehicles taken off the streets of the capital and of Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz. The Commission issued a statement applauding the progress made in this regard and announced that a fact-finding mission would be formed to look into the developments in Radaa.
But local tribal leaders had other ideas about what needed to be done.
Conditions in the town had deteriorated sharply, the security forces having disappeared after allowing Dahab and his fighters to take over. People were out on the streets guarding their homes and shops with whatever weapons they had at hand.
Particularly alarming was the presence of all those freed convicts among the gunmen. Many of the released prison inmates had committed revenge-killings, or been convicted of serious crimes such as rape, murder, and armed robbery. They included 165 men who had been formally sentenced to death.
Local sources said that Dahab’s men did not enter the town en masse, as media reports suggested, but collected there over a period of time. Local sheikhs repeatedly approached the authorities about the growing numbers of armed strangers appearing in the town, but their complaints went unheeded.
The sheikhs met to consider the situation and decided to issue an ultimatum. Dahab and his followers were given three days to leave Radaa, or be expelled by force. Dahab requested an extension to allow for negotiations with the sheikhs on a mutually-acceptable solution without having to resort to arms. Eventually, under tribal pressure, he agreed to pull out his men, in exchange for the authorities acceding to a number of demands he put forward – notably the release of his youngest brother Nabil from the Political Security Prison in Sanaa.
A bigger surprise was sprung by another brother, Khaled al-Dahab, when he revealed in remarks to the press that Tareq al-Dahab had long worked closely with Saleh’s national security apparatus and his former interior minister. The question was immediately raised whether Dahab was truly affiliated to al-Qaeda or had been acting at the behest a security agency.
Al-Dahab has never been outside Yemen and his name has never been linked to al-Qaeda or its operations. His only connection to the group is that his sister used to be married to Anwar al-Awlaqi, the radical preacher believed to be a leading light of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who was killed in an American drone strike last year.
Hilal conceded that the group does operate in nearby areas and in other parts of Yemen – unlike many opposition supporters, who deny that al-Qaeda exists at all in the country and claim it is a fiction invented by Saleh to serve his purposes. But it was clear from the way Radaa was taken over that the group involved was connected to Saleh’s regime, he said.
“He wants to cause renewed confusion in the country and take it back to square one,” Hilal charged.
Another journalist, Khaled Abd al-Hadi of the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party newspaper al-Thawri, agreed that it was unreasonable to deny that al-Qaeda had established a permanent presence in Yemen.
But he said that the regime was playing a major role in developments, and al-Qaeda was seeking to exploit the breakdown of security in the country to extend its control to new areas.
This could have grave consequences, he warned. The group could try to move on Dhamar to the northwest of Radaa, a town inhabited mainly by members of the Zaydi sect and home to a Zaydi religious center. That would be seen as launching “a clearly sectarian war,” he said.
“There are armed Zaydi tribes in Dhamar province, fierce fighters. They are will not stand back in the face of any attack on them,” he said.
The suspicion that Saleh has a hand in such schemes is widely shared. Even an official of Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, speaking to Al-Akhbar on condition of anonymity, charged that prior to departing Yemen, Saleh had taken a number of measures “as part of an attempt to plunge the country into chaos.”
This despite the immunity he received from prosecution for anything he may have done during his 33 years in office.
Meanwhile, the alarm has been raised about the reported arming of GPC members, especially in Taiz and the city of al-Dalei south of the capital.
Informed sources say the main immediate objective is to foil the early presidential elections scheduled for February 21, in a bid to take Yemen, as Hilal put it, ”back to square one.”