Sunday, June 12, 2011

What Happened in Al-Hasaba District

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, June 12, 2011- Nothing remains in Al-Hasaba district, where fierce clashes have taken place for almost 15 days between the Yemen's security forces and armed tribesmen belonged to Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmer, except the ghosts and dead bodies. Everyone fled the area even dogs and cats. No one remains except the damaged and burning buildings.

Quietness everywhere, people can't move to Al-Hasaba district even residents in that zone. Armed tribesmen watching the Sadeq Al-Ahmer's house, a few meters from them you can see troops guarding the government buildings which lately were handed over to the state according to a Saudi meditation to halt the battles between the two sides.

Damaged buildings and broken windows have been seen, residents fled their homes looking for the safety faraway from the real battles, but the destiny followed them. They couldn't shelter anywhere even in their own homes (the Al-Ahmer's fighters were using their homes to stay away from shells, missiles, grenades and bombs) , they couldn't also run to the streets snipers (from the two sides) were waiting them to stole their lives.

Suddenly the clashes started between the Yemeni security forces and the Al-Ahmer's fighters, residents, sellers, and walkers, stuck in their places. There is no chance to live before or after the clashes. If you were lucky you would die under your own home or outdoor.

I live near the Al-Hasaba district in Al-Jaeraf Street, just five minutes far away from the place that witnessed the clashes between security forces and the Al-Ahmer's fighters. I have been hearing the sound of guns and mortars clearly as I was on the battles itself. Some of my neighbors injured and the others lost one of his close relatives. The clashes didn't allow anyone to be saved from them.

I hardly surprised when I went to the place of the battle after almost one month since the beginning of the clashes between the two bad sides. Everything there severely damaged the houses, markets, private and public buildings, and streets. All people's properties were completely destroyed. It was the worst ten minutes of my life when I saw everything that I used to see nice and beautiful before the clashes it changed in just about one month to ruins and destructions.

God bless people there.

Yemen's power struggle

With President Saleh convalescing abroad, there is an urgent need to establish a clear political order not only for Yemen's security but also its economy, which could collapse within months.

By Jeb Boone, / Correspondent / June 12, 2011

Sanaa, Yemen

In Yemen's capital, a dusty city of more than 2 million surrounded by rugged mountains, security forces roam the streets to keep a lid on the rebellion after President Ali Abdullah Saleh abruptly left the country.

All along Sanaa's major thoroughfares, they stare down the barrels of Russian DShK heavy machine guns mounted in the back of camouflage-painted pickup trucks. Meanwhile, protesters chant, "Stay away, Ali Saleh!"

Officials insist that the president, who was badly injured in a June 3 attack on his home and went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, will return to reassume the post he has held for 32 years. But how long that may take is uncertain. In the interim, an elite power struggle could profoundly shape the future of Yemen.

"There are a lot of people who stand to benefit from continued violence," says Yemeni political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani. "Saleh's boys won't hesitate to use violence to honor their father and, of course, the political opposition is always looking for a way to keep themselves relevant."

While the major players set their sights on the presidential palace, a small band of armed militants known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is threatening to seize territory in the south. Clashes this weekend reportedly killed 10 soldiers and 21 suspected AQAP militants.

There is an urgent need to establish a clear political order not only for the country's security but also its economy, which a Western diplomat here says is set to collapse by August amid shortages of basic supplies and soaring prices.

"Saleh is gone, thank God," says Sanaa resident Hussein Mohammed al-Harazi. "But I still can't find water or fuel."

Even before Yemen's uprising, Mr. Saleh's tenuous grip on disparate tribes was slipping. In 2004, his government began an off again, on again war against Houthi rebels in the north. Meanwhile, Saleh continued his brutal crackdowns on a southern secessionist movement that was gaining momentum.

US officials were increasingly concerned that a local Al Qaeda franchise would find a haven in its hinterlands to plan more attacks against the West, after two major plots were foiled.

All these concerns have been exacerbated by a popular uprising that turned violent last month as tribesmen began fighting Saleh loyalists in the capital. On June 3, amid pitched battles in the capital – the most violent in half a century – the presidential compound was attacked during Friday prayers.

Now the man who has held this volatile country together for decades is convales­cing in Saudi Arabia, his political future – and likewise Yemen's – uncertain.

Since coming to power in 1978, Saleh has spent blood and treasure to placate his rivals. But now they have coalesced around the youth protesters, presenting a more unified challenge.

"We are all one in demanding that Saleh leave power," says Nuha Jamal, a youth activist in the southern port city of Aden. "All of Yemen is united in this cause."

A game of thrones ensues

As Saleh left Yemen, many pro-­democracy protesters celebrated through the night with fireworks. But even as Vice President Abd Rabo Mansur Hadi was named acting president, a game of thrones was taking shape that threatened to sideline the interests of the protesters – the very people whose uprising had precipitated Saleh's departure.

"Our revolution was hijacked by the tribes," said Shatha al-Harazi, a young Yemeni activist. "How can we establish a civil state if tribes still wield so much power?"

Along with the vice president, several groups stand to gain everything in the ensuing chaos of Saleh's departure. Tribal rebels, loyal to the powerful Ahmar family and defected Gen. Ali Mohsen al-­Ahmar (no relation), pose an armed threat to the president. The political opposition known as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) is looking to cement its position in a new Yemeni government and is doing so largely on the backs of protesters who have vowed to remain in their camps until a new president is elected.

While Vice President Hadi has technically assumed presidential powers, it is Saleh's son Ahmed and his eldest nephew, Yahya, who are acting as the president's proxies. They command the Republican Guard and the Central Security Forces, respectively, keeping a firm hold over the capital and continuing the fight against armed rebel tribesmen.

The vice president remains holed up in his home near the protest camp's borders, while tribesmen and loyalists fight less than two miles away. Led by the prominent Ahmar family, the tribal fighters have withstood more than two weeks of constant shelling.

Many see the ambitious Hamid al-­Ahmar as fomenting unrest for his own benefit, though he has denied making a bid for power.

"I do not want to be president. The next president of Yemen should be from the south, such as Yaseen Saeed Noman [head of the Yemeni Socialist Party]. Personally, I would vote for him," said Mr. Ahmar in an interview before the violence broke out last month. However, as a member of the opposition Islah party, he may be hedging his bets by having dogs in two fights.

Islah is part of the JMP coalition, which is pushing for a transitional council and presidential elections – a plan taken from a Gulf-brokered power deal that Saleh has reneged on three times. The JMP is a signatory to the plan, which guarantees its position in a new Yemeni government and has the potential to grant it even greater power if a member of the JMP is elected president.

Disunity without Saleh as shared enemy?

However, the JMP – a tenuous union of Islamists, cold-war-era socialists, and Arab nationalists – may fracture without the figure of Saleh as a common enemy.

JMP spokesman Mohammed Qahtan has vowed to do everything in his power to keep Saleh from returning to Yemen. But without the military might to shut down the airport, the JMP may have little chance of fulfilling its goals at keeping Saleh in Saudi Arabia.

The two men who stand in the JMP's way, Yahya and Ahmed, have the entire loyalist military to roll out a red carpet for Saleh's return.

In fact, all of Yemen's disparate groups struggling to achieve their own goals for a new Yemen will have to contend with these two men. Should Saleh return from Saudi Arabia, which he is expected to eventually do, Yahya and Ahmed have the strength to facilitate his homecoming. If Saleh remains in Saudi Arabia, his son may succeed him in the presidential palace, where he has already taken up residence.

But if protesters, political rivals, or defected generals attempt to implement their idea of a new Yemen, at least one Saleh – be it Ahmed or Ali – will probably stand in their way.

Yemeni Authorities Arrest Five over Attack on President Saleh

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, June 12, 2011- At least five people were arrested by Yemeni authorities in connection with the bomb attack that wounded Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh on June 3.

Some 50 people have been investigated so far, a Yemen diplomat told AFP on Sunday.

Saleh was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment of wounds sustained in the attack on a mosque in his Sanaa presidential compound. He has not been seen in public since the attack, amid conflicting reports on his condition.

In an audio statement broadcast on state television on the day of the attack, Saleh appeared to blame the explosion on dissident tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, whose fighters clashed with government forces after a power transfer deal collapsed last month.

The powerful tribal chieftain denied any involvement in the attack.

Saleh’s government then blamed the attack on Al-Qaeda, and others said it could even have been a drone strike because of its accuracy.

US experts on Thursday said the attack was an assassination bid, probably an “inside job” using an improvised explosive device.

STRATFOR, a US-based authority on strategic and tactical intelligence issues, said its assessment was based on an evaluation of photographs taken of the blast site.

Other top Yemeni officials, including caretaker Prime Minister Ali Mohammad Mujawar and parliament chief Abdulaziz Abdulghani, were wounded in the blast that killed 11 people and injured another 124.

Qat and chat in Yemen

A week after President Saleh was toppled, violent protests continue in Yemen. Author Paul Torday, whose novel satirised the use of military intervention there, says this ancient civilisation has survived far worse times

* Paul Torday

*, Sunday 12 June 2011

* Article history

My wife and I visited Yemen in 2007, as guests of the British Council. This odd, but generous, invitation came about as the result of my having published a novel with the title Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It is a comic novel, intended to have serious undertones, about the pointlessness of western political and military interventions in the Middle East. I think the British Council realised novels about Yemen do not come along every day, and made the most of it. I am so glad it did.

The recent history of Yemen is not encouraging. It has existed as a single country for only about 20 years. Since the second world war it has been the object of political intrigue by the Iranians, the Saudis, the Russians and the Chinese – not to mention the British, the Americans, the French and the Egyptians. Its strategically sensitive location is between the mouth of the Red Sea and the oilfields of Saudi Arabia. The government is an elected parliamentary democracy: but outside the main cities, tribal law and custom often prevail over the wishes and edicts of central government. On paper, it is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a growing jobless population of young people: four years ago 46% of the population was under the age of 15. More than 50% of people under 25 were unemployed.

Reading or watching news reports on Yemen, it is easy to conclude that it is well on its way to becoming a failed state: another Somalia.

The fate of Yemen has been the nightmare of western powers for some time. When I visited in 2007, the aid agencies – British from the Department for International Development, Germans from the Goethe Institute – were already predicting much of what now appears to be coming true: a Balkanised country fracturing into its constituent tribal regions, with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula exploiting the power vacuum at the centre. Since 1990, when North and South Yemen became a single political entity, the country has been held together by the strong will and political agility of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. If he does not return from his medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, will parliamentary government survive? Will the country stay together?

The fortress-like villages perched on rocky mountaintops we saw when we visited the north of the country are reminders that Yemen has constantly been invaded, or otherwise meddled with, by outsiders, from the Turks onwards. Perhaps that is why the tribes of the Yemen were among the toughest opponents the British army ever had to face, during the guerrilla wars in the 1970s in and around the Aden Protectorate [an area of what is now Yemen that was formerly under British protection].

Oil and water resources are running out. The country is desperately poor and has a reputation for violence.

Violence may indeed be an instinct in Yemen, but so are courtesy and humour. We heard evidence of the former during our visit. Our personal experience of the people we met provided strong evidence of the latter.

The day we arrived in Sana'a we heard about a gun battle that had just occurred in the suburbs. About 200 people started shooting at each other. Some represented the local property developers who had a government licence to build on some land. Others, local tribesmen, believed it belonged to them. Gun shots and rocket-propelled-grenade fire were exchanged and there was a vigorous and enjoyable shoot-out until two in the afternoon, when everybody downed weapons to go off and chew qat, and discuss the morning's events.

Qat is a stimulant that looks (and, to me, tastes) like the leaves from a privet hedge. Most adult Yemenis consume it every day. As a cash crop, it has to a large extent replaced the terraces of mocha coffee plants for which Yemen was once famous. Apparently it produces a feeling of sociability and mild euphoria. The World Health Organisation does not consider it an addictive drug, despite the fact that most of the adult population chews it every day and spends between a quarter and a half of the national income on it.

At qat chews, the world's problems are discussed and resolved under the plant's benign influence. One afternoon I sat and chewed qat with the historian and Arab scholar Tim Mackintosh-Smith, who is a long-term resident of Sana'a, and some Yemeni guests of his. The chew took place in a mafraj, a cool room with a view of a fountain outside. It was a civilised, sociable occasion, and one of many when I found something to admire about the way Yemenis live.

Another day we had lunch in a fish restaurant as a guest of the minister of culture. There were several tables laid out, each for 12 people. We ate a course at the first table and then moved to the next table for the next course, until we ran out of tables. Guests included General Haidar Saleh Habili and the Sultan of Shabwan. Shabwan is claimed to be the biblical Sheba.

General Haidar was a testament to the toughness and resilience of Yemenis. He and his soldiers were part of the Aden Levies [a militia force armed and presided over by the British military]. When British forces withdrew, the general and his troops retreated into the Empty Quarter, one of the most hostile environments on the planet. There they survived for 25 years until President Saleh granted an amnesty in the 1990s.

The sultan was evidence of another national trait: the capacity for survival. His mother fled to Saudi Arabia during the civil wars, when she was pregnant with him. Most of the rest of the family remained in their capital city, despite warnings of what might happen. Forty eight hours after she left, the heads of her relations were decorating pikes stuck on the city walls. But she and her son survived. Later President Saleh invited him to return, when he needed the support of tribal leaders.

We dined one night with a member of the Zaydi family, an American-educated man whose family had produced rulers of the Imamate of Yemen for more than 1,000 years, and is still prominent in the country, being able to claim direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad.

These encounters made me realise that Yemen is an ancient civilisation that has survived much worse times than the present. Family and tribal relationships have continued unbroken for many centuries.

How much of a threat is al-Qaida to the continued existence of the state of Yemen? The Americans believe it is a major problem, and they should know. But others believe that Yemen is re-entering one of its recurrent periods of tribal conflict, and that al-Qaida's presence, though very real, was inflated by President Saleh to squeeze more military aid from the USA. This view maintains that al-Qaida is at most a few hundred ex-arms dealers and veterans of the Afghanistan wars.

Towards the end of our visit, I encountered Al Maqa: the Yemen Story Society. We met at the Hawaii Club, a cheerful-looking place in modern Sana'a, decorated with an imaginative mural of a camel playing snooker on the wall. The Story Society is a group of novelists and poets who come together and support one another in their endeavours to promote the cause of Yemeni literature.

There is a tradition of poetry going back to Imru al-Qais in the sixth century. The art of writing in Yemen goes back to pre-Islamic times, long before the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were written in our own country.

The head of the Story Society was a charismatic man called Mohammed Algharbi Amran. Through an interpreter we talked about the prospects for the writing of fiction in Yemen. There are a few problems confronting the aspiring novelist. The male literacy rate is only about 70% and the female literacy rate is half that. There are few bookshops, even in the cities. Most of those only sell one book: the Qur'an. There is no book-distribution system, no publishing houses dealing in fiction, no literary agents. Al Maqa members pay for their own books to be printed and sell them themselves. The whole idea of writing novels is alien to this conservative, deeply religious country. Yet novellas and stories have been written and are being read. I possess one or two of the few English-language examples.

The Yemen Story Society aims to use literature as a mirror to Yemeni society, to teach it about itself and to help it understand how it can progress. A few decades ago the only writing in Yemen was closer to the medieval Arthurian poetry of Chr├ętien de Troyes: tales of kidnappings, and sieges, courtly love and cruel revenge. Now the first works of fiction dealing with the challenges of modern life are beginning to appear. It is an enormous leap – from a medieval world to the modern in a few decades.

After the meeting we said goodbye and went to sit on the walls of the Bab al Yaman: the gate into the walled town of old Sana'a. Old Sana'a is, deservedly, a world heritage site. It was dusk: we watched the old tower houses turn from tan and white to rose pink. I noticed a charming side-effect of the afternoon qat chew among the crowds: a number of young men took their curved daggers out of their sheaths and were waving them in a friendly fashion or dancing a form of sword dance. Later, we wandered back to our hotel through the darkening streets. Tower houses of mud and stone, sometimes 10 storeys high, often many hundreds of years old, leaned against each other or above narrow streets. Lights started to come on behind the gammariya, the roundel windows of stained glass, casting jewelled shadows on the ground below.

If Yemen can produce people like the members of the Story Society, with such optimism about its future – believing in the teeth of all the evidence that art and literature can become a means of bringing society firmly into the modern world – then it deserves to survive.

Before we left, another friend, Abdulwahab Almagaleh, gave me a present of a book of Yemeni poetry he had translated into English. The inscription reads: "Dear Paul – come back to our country soon."

It is an occasionally dangerous, always beautiful place, rich in history and tradition, often presented in the news media as bandit country. It deserves better than that. I hope I shall return there one day.