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Ace in the Hole
Marked aggravation of Yemen’s military and political life shows how unpredictable is the situation in the country. The problem, however, does not fully relate to public disaccord. Political processes conveyed to state and people of Yemen from outside acquire more importance
Автор: Eugenii Pastukhov
Локация: Almaty
Номер: №19 (56) 2011

Compared to dramatic destinies of deposed Arabic leaders, including fugitive Ben Ali and lynched Qaddafi, the Yemen President Ali Abdallah Saleh demonstrated enviable composure, since the very beginning of revolutions in Arabic countries. He strived to keep control of situation by all means.  In doing so, he did not just cling to power, like some of his colleagues but strived to make political opponents conform to his conditions.

That is exactly why he agreed to approve the truce plan offered by mediators from neighboring Gulf of Persia monarchies on 25 April, at the time he faced a serious threat of loss of power. Please be reminded that according to initiatives from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Saleh was supposed to delegate power to national unity government and resign. Mediators guaranteed personal immunity, as well as immunity of all numerous relatives and close companions.

Yemen President’s decision to voluntarily give up the power was evaluated by many of those concerned as the way out from the political dead-end the country found itself in. Throughout whole spring, situation in Yemen was more complicated than in Syria and Libya, where army and opposition fought each other. Please note that Saleh’s traditional rivals from Yemen separatists of the South and Shiite clans of the North were active participants of common unrests.  Many top ranking public officials and diplomats turned backs on Saleh.  Brigade General Ali Al-Ahmar, Saleh’s step-brother joined opposition and became its leader.  So, even related tribes from the Hasheed Tribal Union abandoned him.

In spring, the Yemen leader faced a complicated choice: resign, likewise did Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubaraq in Egypt or fight till the end, like did Qaddafi. Saleh chose his own option.  Small wonder, that all people of Yemen and those concerned were elated with the news of 25 April. Their elation was not long, though.  Soon, Saleh categorically announced there was nobody to delegate the power to and promised to cruelly repress rioters.

It is obvious Saleh substantiated his reconsideration.  Most likely, he managed to seek out support from a part of the military force and tribal leaders, which success strengthened his standing in the society.  Owing to that, Yemen achieved unstable balance in May, when armed opposition was not capable to depose the President and the President was not in position to finish repression of opponents. Similar situation in Libya was resolved with NATO aviation and military advisers.  Malicious tongues claim those advisers did not only plan defense of and attacks on strategic Libyan cities, but took their parts in the battle.

Yemen situation drastically worsened on 3 June.  It was then that Saleh and some top ranking officials were injured during an explosion in the presidential palace. The Yemen leader was urgently evacuated to Saudi Arabia.  Because Saudits were the ones to lobby peacu initiatives, Saleh’s departure was evaluated by many observers as the commencement of the Yemen power change operation. Attempts to form the Yemen National Council, last summer confirm that.

Idealistically, the National Council was supposed to reflect the whole political pattern of Yemen and become a coalition of various organizations, including separatist South and members of still ruling National Congress. The new political body was supposed to take over the role of a transitional government, prepare and perform elections of the parliament and the President.

Saleh, who was in Saudi Arabian hospital could not spread his influence on the situation in the country and practically put up with the thought he would have to fulfill promises of 25 April.  But September attempt to create the National Council failed, - for the same reason, as always before, when the country attempted to form the common national political organization. The problem lies in specific pattern of the Yemen society, where important roles are plated by traditional Tribal values and interests.  And the construction of any political formation will inevitable run into Tribal realities. With weak public administration structures, Tribal elites were the ones to keep the power and the influence. For example, Ali Salem al-Bayed, the Yemen Socialist Party Secretary General was influential among Sheikhs of Yemen’s second most powerful Tribal Union Waqeel. President Saleh, in his turn, always relied on loyalty from related and allied Hasheed Tribal Union, country’s dominating tribal association.

Given above, it appears that Yemen political struggle always had to conform to social constitution specifics. Saleh, for example, had to seek compromise between interests of his mother clan and requirements of other major tribal unions. Before winter 2011, fortune loved Saleh.
Meanwhile, ability to seek and establish compromise is not the strongest point of Al-Aqmar Clan, one of the most influential opponents to Saleh. The reputable Sheikhs of that clan are leaders of the Islah Party, which party hoped to take over initiative in the newly formed National Council.  That caused dissatisfaction of other political groups of Yemen, - they felt themselves unjustly deprived.  South, for example, acquired less than 50% of seats in the parliament, which fact was a rough violation of earlier made agreements.

As the result, South leaders refused to participate in National Council. Later, some other, minor parties followed Southerners. They probably all felt nervous about the fact that Al-Aqmar Clan and Islah Party strived to become the politically dominating force of the post-Saleh Yemen.  It implied that Al-Aqmars would be in beneficial position at start, thus automatically ensuring success in struggle with other clans for resources. Another factor was of significant disturbance.  As experts say, the present majority of Yemen’s Armed Forces is comprised of Al-Aqmar Family guerillas. The commanders are all from Hasheed Tribal Union and Sheikhs of the Union ar the same time commanders of military detachments.

That is probably why the al-Aqmars were so impudent and challenging. The Islah leaders demonstrated readiness to ignore interest of other Yemen political organizations, and tribes and clans behind those organizations and proposed their own view on Yemen’s further political development. In virtue, they offered replacement of present regime with the one of their own and thus only confirmed that it was liberalization and democracy the opposition fought for, but Saleh’s deposition.

Yemen society waiting for changes, likewise did Tunisia and Egypt did not appreciate such potential future. Another factor against Al-Aqmars is that many concerned parties outside Yemen do not support the power regime scenario offered by said family. Rather illustrative is Saleh’s sudden return in autumn.  29 September, Saleh announced in an interview with Washington Post and Time that he was ready to proceed to exercise his authority, while his key opponents were in their key posts: “ If we delegate power to them, it will mean coup.  If we delegate power and they stay in  their offices and proceed to make decisions, it will be very dangerous.  It will lead to a civil war”.

Saleh’s homecoming is, undoubtedly, the indication that exterior forces are not interested in the acute complication in Yemen, because in the case of the opposite Riyadh would never allow the President outside.  Consequently, Yemen now is at stalemate – Al-Aqmars control the major part of Armed Forces, whilst Saleh is protected by Republican Guards, Yemen Army’s elite commanded by his Son Ahmad and Special Forces headed by Nephew Yaqiya. Saleh’s opponents’ control of some Security structures explains the positional character of the armed conflict and inability of both sides to defeat opponents.

On the other hand, the armed conflict in Yemen may not last for a long time.  Peace initiatives from Saudi and Qatar rulers were all aimed at stopping Yemen from degradation to civil war. In the second half of October, after relatively quiet period, the conflict again resulted in the bloodshed. Events in the capital reminded of full-fledged army operations with the use of artillery, armor and Grad Valley Fire Systems. Given that, the UN Security Council approved a Resolution dated 21 October, appealing to all parties of the conflict, and President Saleh, especially, to immediately reach agreement of peaceful delegation of power on basis of initiatives from the Gulf of Persia monarchies. In other words, in six months, the world community again insisted that Saleh and his opponents fulfill agreements made in spring.

Another peculiar feature of the situation is that Washington that inspired UN to approve the same resolution, now does not demand Saleh’s soonest resignation, as it was on 25 May, when Barak Obama said “Saleh should immediately give up power”.  Besides, White House keeps the eyes closed on activities of a big US Public Relations company Norves and its UK branch Botinger, which entities actively work to create Saleh’s positive image in the eyes of the Western community.

It would be logical to suppose Washington feared collapse of Yemen as the result of worsening clan struggle. Please be reminded that the robust criticism of Saleh, as well as demands to resign were communicated by the US President immediately after attacks by loyalists on Al-Aqmar troops of 23 May.

At the same time, West appears not so comfortable with the strengthening of Al-Aqmars, after Saleh’s medical evacuation to Saudi Arabia. In both cases, complication of the Yemen political struggle would lead to unpredictable result. Threat of the country collapse and division into clan territories looks terrorizing both in the eyes of the USA and Yemen’s neighbors. In such case, Yemen will follow the sad example of Somalia with all consequences. The Yemen destabilization also opens up the doors for exterior forces that may seek satisfaction of their own interests in the country. For example, Iran may support Yemen Zeidit Shiites in the north of Yemen.  Zeidit Shiites are traditional opponents to Sana and Saudi Arabia.

Washington and Riyadh, undoubtedly, find it prudent now to freezes the situation in Yemen and seek out a new supporting point. So far, they are kept inside a magic circle. If support is rendered to Al-Aqmars, i.e. its Islah Party and controlled part of Armed Forces, then Saleh’s autocracy may get replaced by one of Al-Aqmars and there will be no guarantee their regime will not be more autocratic. The National Council history showed Islah would not pay due courtesy to political opponents.  In case, support is rendered to Saleh protected by high combat capacity Guards and Special Forces headed by his Son and Nephew, respectively, then observers will have to admit the Yemen transformation failed. That, in its turn, will arm Bashar Asad of Syria and Ayatollahs in Iran with an additional argument justifying their willingness to proceed to rule.

The traditional Yemen tribal elite also found itself in some kind of a trap. Now they have to seek ways to truce, as in the opposite case the political struggle will worsen and lead to a systemic crisis resulting in the country collapse.  And the worst thing is that, as recent important events associated with Yemen showed, not only Yemen politicians made political decisions.


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