Friday, March 25, 2011

Will Yemen protests boost Al Qaeda?

Yemen protesters say Saleh has overstated the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to get US aid. But the group stands to benefit from major upheaval

By Erik Stier, Correspondent / March 25, 2011

Sanaa, Yemen

Before protests broke out in Yemen, the greatest US concern here was Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group behind the 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomber and other international terrorist attacks.

If President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime were to collapse, the reasoning went, the US would lose a key ally in the fight to contain AQAP – potentially just as the country became more fragmented and difficult to control.

As upheaval of that magnitude appears increasingly near – Mr. Saleh is reportedly in talks to arrange a transfer of power – opposition leaders and protesters dismiss any AQAP threat. They say the group is a creation of Saleh designed to secure hundreds of millions in US aid for his impoverished country. Once Saleh disappears, they say, so will AQAP.

Think you know where Yemen is? Take our Middle East geography quiz.

But while Saleh has been known to harness other Salafist militant groups for his advantage, AQAP has developed a momentum of its own. If Yemen’s weak economic position and lack of development persist even after Saleh steps down, AQAP could take advantage of popular discontent and any resulting tumult.

“There are ways in which Saleh has exploited the existence of AQAP in the country, but the organization itself exists independently of the president,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey. “If the government that comes next in Yemen is unable to deal with the harsh economic realities and some of the demands of the protesters, Al Qaeda will be in a good position to capitalize.”

US ambassador: 'The instability is helpful to Al Qaeda'

Yemen’s protest movement began in January and gathered momentum after former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted by mass demonstrations. Since then, it has gradually broadened to include a broad swath of Yemen’s population, all united by one demand: Leave.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were driven in no small part by growing, educated middle classes that rejected Islamist extremism in favor of mass peaceful protests. But Yemen doesn’t have much that resembles a middle class: some 40 percent of the country lives below the poverty line. In addition, there are 55 guns per 100 people – a ratio second only to the US.

In regions where rates of poverty and arms intersect at the highest levels, like the restive northern provinces of Al Jawf and Marib and southern regions such as Abyan and Shabwa, AQAP has proven a strong recruiter.

Thus as revolutionary fervor and the prospect of widespread violence increase, many see a growing opportunity for AQAP – with potentially dire consequences.

On March 18, the protest death toll doubled in one day when government loyalists fired on demonstrators from rooftops after Friday prayers, prompting the resignation of at least six Yemeni diplomats abroad and several top military commanders, including Saleh’s half-brother, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

“Our concern is that the situation inside of the country will become more and more chaotic,” Gerald Feierstein, US ambassador to Yemen, told reporters recently. “We believe that the uncertainty and the instability is helpful to Al Qaeda.”

Why US backs counterterrorism efforts in Yemen

AQAP is the product of a 2009 merger between Saudi and Yemeni cells, some of whose members were former detainees in Guantánamo Bay and Yemeni prisons.

Building on a tradition of Al Qaeda activity in Yemen that included the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors a year before 9/11, the group has developed a reputation as one of the most sophisticated extremist groups in the region – with an aim, if not a proven capacity, to launch attacks on US soil.

“Al Qaeda in Yemen is different from every other Al Qaeda franchise in the world,” says Saeed Obaid al-Jimhi, a Yemeni analyst specializing in Al Qaeda. “There is none other like it in terms of its reach and range of targets.”

Shortly after the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt, the US military announced a doubling in counterterrorism aid to $150 million. At the time, Gen. David Petraeus said the Yemeni government had shown “significant commitment” to fighting AQAP in recent months, when Yemen – with US help – had launched strikes on dozens of suspected militants.

Concerns remain, however, that Saleh has funneled some of the funding to more pressing domestic priorities, including the suppression of a Houthi rebellion in the north and separatists in the south.

AQAP largely silent on protests

Suspected AQAP militants have continued to carry out missions against Yemeni security officials in the provinces of Abyan, Shabwa, and Marib since protests began. But the group has done little to capitalize on the momentum of the protest movement so far.

The prolific organization, which puts out a bimonthly Arabic publication and a quarterly English magazine, has only issued two statements on the topic of Arab revolutions, neither of which dealt directly with Yemen.

Though both statements broadly encouraged revolt, AQAP has advocated different goals from protest movements – notably the establishment of sharia, or Islamic law.

Such messages are unpopular with many protesters, who are more focused on economic and political reform.

“We want to bring down this regime and replace it with a civilian-led democracy, not a religious council, and not military rule,” says Ibrahim Abdullah, a protester in Sanaa’s Tagheer Square.

But AQAP’s interest – and advantage – may be not so much in the political arena as in a deterioration of order in Yemen.

“The problem today is political. Al Qaeda will try to benefit, but they are not a political organization,” says Mr. Jimhi. “The demonstrations that are taking place right now will have an effect on AQAP, but not an immediate one.”

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

OMV to Evaculate All Non-Local Staff from Yemen, Standard Says

By Zoe Schneeweiss

Mar 24, 2011

OMV AG (OMV) plans to evacuate all non- local staff from Yemen, Der Standard newspaper reported, citing the Austrian oil company’s safety officer Paul Reither.

OMV will be evacuating 60 staff members and production in Yemen will be carried out by local staff, the Vienna-based paper said.

The Safer Export Pipeline in Yemen, which transports OMV oil, was damaged in an explosion last week and has yet to be repaired, Reither was cited as saying.

Dignity, Justice Among Goals of Yemeni Protesters Seeking President's Ouster

Mar 25, 2011
JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on what happens next in Yemen, we turn to Nadia al-Sakkaf. She's the editor and publisher of The Yemen Times. She has been in Washington for a conference of the International Women's Media Foundation.
Nadia al-Sakkaf, thank you very much for being with us.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Since you left your country, have you been in touch with colleagues, with family? What do they say is the situation right now?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: Well, today, there's a standoff, if you like, between the government-affiliated authorities and army and the protesters and whoever is backing them up, especially Ali Mohsen Ahmar, because he has the power. We are...
JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the general who defected.
And we are waiting to see what happens tomorrow, because on Friday is an anniversary, a one-week anniversary after what -- the bloodshed that took place last Friday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How significant was that defection by Gen. Mohsen?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: Well, that is the point, that is the turning point for Yemen. And it turns the power balance. And now Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, realizes that he's -- he's in trouble.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But why so significant? I mean, he was -- there are a number of generals. What is it about him in particular?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: Well, he's the second in command military-wise, after the president.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, so, today, the protests have gone on. President Saleh has moved up the time when he said he will leave. He said: I'll be out of there, out of office, by the end of the year.
But the protesters are saying that's not soon enough.
Why not?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: Because Saleh has done this three times before in his history. And through his 32 years of rule of Yemen, he has said three times that he's not going to run again, and he has.
So, the problem is credibility. People want now, because they're afraid if they wait until the end of the year, that things will change.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us, Nadia, about the opposition, the protest. Who is participating? We have read that it was a woman who was fundamental in getting this started.
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: Yemen today is in a very unique situation. The process was started by a woman and a number of women. And, alongside with men, they managed to lobby the students in the streets.
And the women are also part of the support group of these protesters. They bring them food and blankets. And they -- I have seen a woman throwing hot water on soldiers when they were trying to attack the protesters from her window.
So, we need not forget the role of women in this magnificent time of Yemen. The protesters are also made up of the opposition parties. So, you have the political entity of Yemen, you have the youth entity, and you have the social -- the society, if you like.
And I have seen families in the protests, like the father, the mother and the children, all wearing the flags and chanting for a new Yemen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And so what is it that the protesters want? What kind of country do they want?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: They want dignity. The Yemenis want a life where they don't have to think twice about their future. They want a life where they feel equal, equal in front of the law, equal opportunities for all of them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What kind of political system?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: Democracy, definitely. Yemenis want a democracy. And Yemenis want fairness, justice. And they don't want to be treated differently if you're -- whatever you are, north or south or you're from this family or this tribe.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when we hear U.S. officials and others say they're worried that, if President Saleh leaves, there would be a power vacuum, they don't know what it would mean, that it might hurt the U.S. in the fight against al-Qaida, what's your sense of what the Yemeni people believe about all that?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: First of all, it's not justified that Saleh is the only thing standing between al-Qaida and the rest of the world.
How do you know that the next president or the next presidential council is not going to be an ally against terrorism? For all you know, it could be a better -- because terrorism is not just about jihadis. Terrorism is, what are the reasons that make people want to be terrorists and kill other people?
It's poverty. It's unemployment. It's hardship. And if we tackle hardships and if we tackle the roots behind something like this, we make sure that the world is a safer place.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how do Yemenis view the U.S., in effect, defending President Saleh and saying they're worried about what would happen if he goes?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: Yemenis are kind of -- I don't know if I can speak for the whole of Yemenis, but we understand that the U.S. is backing Saleh. We know for sure that they're taking a standpoint with him.
In fact, during the protests, a lot of Yemenis had the arms of -- "Made in USA." They showed it to the camera and they're saying, look, U.S. is backing Saleh against us, U.S. is killing us.
So, the U.S. needs to come out visibly and say: This is our position. They haven't done that. What they're saying is that: We support dialogue and a peaceful transition. And, at the same, time they condemn the attacks against the protesters. More than 52 people were killed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is what happened last week.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And then you have had a rapid change in events since then.
Nadia, you were telling me a moment ago that you and others have concerns about what happened, that you were saying that many people believe President Saleh will end up going, sooner rather than later, but you're worried about what happens in the new -- the new political system after that.
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: The world is concerned about the transition phase. The world is concerned about how the transition -- what is coming after Saleh, who is coming after Saleh, how he is relinquishing power.
That, in my opinion, is not the problem. The problem is, after that, what happens? We are going to face the legacy which Saleh has left us behind. He is going to leave us with no money. And there will be dwindling oil resources. There will be resentment among the youth. The common enemy that united them will be gone.
And so they will turn around them and see that there's nothing left to fight for. And they -- the jobs that they wanted, they are not going to be created overnight. So, we're going to be facing a lot of disappointed youth waiting for opportunities to happen. And nobody has reacted to this beforehand.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're saying that, for you, for someone who has seen this kind -- seen all this change in your country, that is your greatest concern?
NADIA ABDULAZIZ AL-SAKKAF: We need to see this coming. We need to anticipate it and create mechanisms to absorb the anger and resentments among the youth. That will -- that's going to happen.
That's why we need to support civil society. We need to support media. We need to create systems to give youth a cause to make -- to give them ownership and get them involved in building their country again.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Nadia al-Sakkaf, editor in chief of The Yemen Times, thank you very much for coming by to talk with us.
Source: PBS

Yemen soldiers fire in air to keep protesters apart

March 25, 2011

SANAA, March 25 (Reuters) - Yemeni soldiers fired in the air on Friday to prevent a crowd of supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh from reaching an anti-government protest area where tens of thousands were rallying, witnesses said. There no immediate reports of injuries.

UNESCO chief deplores death of journalist killed during Yemen protests

25 March 2011 – The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today condemned the death of journalist Jamal Ahmed Al-Sharabi, who was killed when gunmen opened fire on protesters in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, last week.

A number of other people were also killed and dozens injured in the crackdown against the demonstrators on 18 March, the agency said in a news release. According to the International Press Institute (IPI), Mr. Al-Sharabi was covering the demonstration for the Al-Masdar independent newspaper.

“The killing of Jamal Ahmed al-Sharabi is an attack against the basic human right of the people of Yemen to freedom of expression,” stated UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

“It is the duty of the authorities to ensure that journalists are able to carry out their professional duties in the safest possible conditions. It is also their duty to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of this death – which occurred during a confrontation that also tragically cost many other lives – and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Earlier this week, the UN human rights office voiced alarm about the situation in Yemen, where a state of emergency has been declared and armed clashes between security forces and protesters continue.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) deplored the reported killing of dozens of peaceful protestors last week, including reportedly by snipers shooting from rooftops, and stressed that all violations of human rights must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

It also expressed concern about the suppression of the right to freedom of expression in the region, including the Yemeni Government’s decision to deport two Al Jazeera correspondents on 19 March.

Yemen is among several countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are witnessing demonstrations calling for democratic reforms. Similar protests have already led to the ouster of long-serving leaders in Tunisia and Egypt in January and February, while in Libya Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi is waging a fierce military offensive against the opposition there.

Source: UN News center

Cleric urges Yemeni protesters to defy state of emergency

Mar 25, 2011

Sana'a - An influential Yemeni cleric urged protesters on Friday to defy the current state of emergency, as thousands gathered in the centre of the capital Sana'a for protests dubbed the Friday of Departure.

'We heard about the state of emergency in Egypt before, and the people there defeated the state of emergency,' Abdel-Raqib Abad said during a Friday sermon, addressing tens of thousands praying in Taghyeer, or Change Square, near Sana'a University.

Yemen's parliament voted on Wednesday in support of imposing emergency law for 30 days, a motion requested by President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the midst of ongoing anti-government protests.

'People of Yemen, you have set a respectable image to the world. You gave up your weapons and united for change,' Abad said.

Abad said that the law meant 'further confiscation of freedoms.'

The law suspends the country's constitution, bans protests, and allows for arbitrary arrests and censorship.

After 32 years in power, Saleh has faced over a month of widespread protests calling for his ouster. Violent crackdowns by security forces have left dozens of protesters dead.

A number of army generals have defected and pledged their support to the protesters.

Earlier on Friday, Saleh proposed an amnesty for the soldiers who had defected to the opposition.

'We are concerned about the integrity and tenacity of the military institution and, therefore, we announce a public pardon for those who committed this mistake,' Saleh said.

He also suggested anti-government protesters form their own political party.

Large numbers of pro-government tribesmen flocked to the capital to support Saleh. The development might change the protesters' plans to march to the president's palace to avoid clashes with government loyalists.

Speaking with interior and defense leaders Thursday, Saleh blamed the opposition for price hikes and the scarcity of fuel after an attack on a power plant in Marib province and sieges at branches of the Central Bank of Yemen in Marib, Saada and Amran provinces.

Source: M&C