Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Riyadh will decide the fate of Ali Abdullah Saleh – and of Yemen

Ginny Hill

Mar 23, 2011

The outcome of army and ministerial defections will reflect the internal politics of Yemen's patron, the House of Saud

Passion for change in the Arab world is spreading to Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has dominated national life for more than three decades. More than 75% of the population was born after he came to power in 1978. He was once a skilful manipulator, but now the political tide has turned against him. His latest offer, to stand down at the end of the year, comes too late to appease either his political enemies or the Yemeni people. Saleh is on his way out. The only questions now are the timing and the manner of his departure.

The duration and nature of President Saleh's administration embody the country's fundamental problem: the lack of political legitimacy. Decades of patronage-based politics, designed to appease the military and tribes, have undermined the institutions of the state. One informal assessment of spending on the military – a behemoth of corruption and patronage – runs at four times the official outlay on public services.

As a result, Yemen's human development indicators run parallel with many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The economic crisis, faltering value of the currency and plummeting oil production are symptoms of graft, incompetence and mismanagement.

Protagonists involved in the three main national security challenges – the southern separatist movement, the northern rebellion and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – all frame their struggles in terms of social justice.

Until the start of this year many Yemenis were resigned to living with an unresponsive political system that seemed only to serve the interests of the elite. But the country's new pro-democracy movement is inspired by the regional groundswell of popular protest that is overturning so many assumptions about the Arab world.

Demonstrators have been camping out in the centre of the capital, Sana'a, for nearly two months, calling for freedom, democracy and justice. The latest press release from the civic coalition of revolutionary youth rejects "tyranny and the monopolisation of power and wealth".

However, as popular support for the revolution gathers momentum, long-standing competition within the ruling elite is coming into open view.

This week's decision by the army chief, Major-General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, to support the pro-democracy protestors triggered a wave of high-profile resignations from ministers, ambassadors and army commanders. Mohsen's defection came after years of growing tension with President Saleh, whose son and nephews command elite security and intelligence units that receive military aid and counter-terrorism training from the US administration.

Another competing faction within the elite also goes by the family name of "al-Ahmar" – which means "red" – although they are not related to the general. Until his death from cancer in 2007, the family patriarch, Sheikh Abdullah, was the main conduit for Saudi Arabia's influence in Yemen, distributing cash stipends to the tribes. His eldest son, Sadek, now leads Yemen's largest tribal confederation, the Hashid grouping. Sadek's brother Hameed, a telegenic business tycoon, is said to bankroll the grassroots activities of the Islamist opposition party, Islah.

Hameed and his brothers have declared their support for the people's revolution, and they stand poised to exploit the imminent power shift. An alliance between Mohsen and the al-Ahmar brothers looks increasingly likely in the weeks and months ahead.

Yemen's pro-democracy activists are alert to the risk that their popular revolution will be treated like a game of musical chairs where the key players within the existing regime simply swap positions. Demonstrators are promising to hold out for a peaceful transfer of power to a civilian authority, a new constitution that boosts the role of parliament and a federal system of government.

Saleh has imposed a state of emergency and appealed to the Saudi royal family to mediate a political solution to the current crisis, but there is a strong chance that Riyadh may decide to cut him loose. In recent years the Saudis have allegedly spent billions of dollars trying to help Saleh "stabilise" Yemen – and all the while their frustration has been mounting.

Riyadh has two clear priorities in Yemen: border security and a reliable partner in the campaign against al-Qaida there, which harbours several Saudi nationals on Riyadh's "most wanted" list of terrorist suspects.

In the short term the Saudis may be the only ones who can persuade Saleh to stand down swiftly and spare Yemen's citizens the trauma of civil war.

In the longer term Saudi support will be decisive in a patronage-based society that is rapidly running out of oil and cash. During a recent research trip to Riyadh, I asked an adviser to one senior prince if the Saudis would be willing to tolerate democracy in Yemen, in return for future financial support. "We don't care what they do, as long as it's stable," he replied.

However, Riyadh's ruling elite is also composed of competing factions, and Yemen's pro-democracy campaigners fear the political trade-offs that are likely to follow if more conservative elements within the House of Saud gain the upper hand in dealing with President Saleh's eventual successor.

Source: The Guardian

Yemen shuts down Al-Jazeera

Sana'a, Mar 23, 2011- AUTHORITIES in Yemen, which has been hit by two months of anti-regime protests, overnight closed down the offices of Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite news channel said.

The Doha-based television, in a strapline on screen, said its offices in Sanaa were closed and press accreditation withdrawn of its staff in Yemen, which has heavily criticised the channel's coverage of the unrest.

Yemen, which has also accused Al-Jazeera of bias in favour of the demonstrators, last Saturday ordered two Al-Jazeera correspondents to leave the country, saying they were working illegally and had acted unprofessionally.

The order came a day after loyalists of embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime gunned down 52 pro-democracy protesters in Sanaa, provoking widespread international condemnation.

Among those shot dead was Yemeni photojournalist Jamal al-Sharaabi, who worked for independent weekly Al-Masdar, media rights groups said.

In March 2010, Saleh's ruling party warned the authorities could shut down Al-Jazeera, accusing the network of lack of objectivity in its coverage of an earlier round of unrest.

Shi'ite rebels step up attacks in Yemen, down government MiG

CAIRO, March 23, 2011 - Iranian-backed Shi'ites have resumed their revolt amid growing unrest in Yemen.

At least 20 people were killed in fighting between the Yemen Army and Shi'ite rebels in the bloodiest battle in months. The Shi'ite fighters, who belong to the Iranian-backed Believing Youth movement, assaulted a key military installation in the Jawf province.

At one point, the Yemen Air Force sent a Russian-origin MiG fighter-jet to bomb the Shi'ites. But the aircraft was downed by Shi'ite gunners, an assertion acknowledged by the Yemeni military.

"The Houthis [Shi'ite fighters] have been rearmed and trained for what could be a new offensive to take advantage of weakness of the regime," an Arab diplomat said.

The diplomat said the Shi'ites, named after their founder Hussein Badr Al Houthi, were employing mortars, artillery and armored vehicles. He said the Shi'ite force overran and captured the military base at the entrance to Jawf on March 20.

This marked the heaviest fighting between the Shi'ites and the government in 2011. Arab diplomats said the Shi'ite revolt was being equipped and trained by Iranian elements, particularly Hizbullah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In February 2010, the Believing Youth movement reached a ceasefire accord with the Saleh regime. But the two sides have occasionally battled in northern Yemen amid accusations that each was violating the agreement.

Source: World Tribune

UPDATE 1-Calvalley Petroleum says Yemen crisis delays equipment supply

(Follows alerts)

March 23 (Reuters) - Canada's Calvalley Petroleum Inc , a junior oil and gas company, said the unrest in Yemen has delayed the supply of its equipment and it has been facing transportation challenges.

The company operates its 50 percent working interest in Block 9 in the Masila Basin in Yemen and 100 percent working interest in the Gimbi and Metema blocks in Ethiopia.

Calvalley Petroleum said it has stopped shipping oil to Block 18 due to a recent attack on the export pipeline from the block to the Ras Isa export terminal, but added that it is unlikely that a production shutdown will be required.

Ras Isa is the main crude terminal offshore in the Red Sea.

Shares of the Calgary, Alberta-based company closed at C$3.40 on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

President Saleh Accepts opposition's Initiative to transfer Power peacefully

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, Mar 23, 2011- Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced on Wednesday his acceptance of five points' initiative presented by the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties, JMP, in which aims to protect bloodshed and maintain national achievements.

President Saleh submitted his approved five points through a mediator who suggested Saleh accept the raised points which are as follows:

1- Forming a government of national unity to be tasked with setting up a national committee for formulating a new constitution.

2- Wording elections and referendum law based on the proportional representation.

3- Forming the supreme commission for elections and referendum.

4- Voting on the new constitution and holding parliamentary elections so that to form the new government and also elect a president end of 2011.

Informed source said that President Saleh has repeatedly affirmed a smooth, democratic and civil transfer of power in a way preserving stability and safety of the democratic institution.