Friday, July 8, 2011

Divided by Yemen's Saleh: Two brothers fight on opposite sides

One brother is fighting to oust Yemen's President Saleh; the other is a proud member of his Revolutionary Guard. They respect each other, but could end up divided by civil war.

By Jeb Boone

July 8, 2011

Sanaa, Yemen

In the eyes of Hashim, an antigovernment activist and writer fond of quoting Islamic philosophers, Yemen's peaceful struggle for democracy is divinely ordained.

But his brother, a member of Yemen's elite Republican Guard, sees it differently. Ghazi says Yemen's uprising is driven not by democratic aspirations but by bandits trying to incite chaos. "They have attacked power stations, cut off supply lines to major cities," he points out.

Hashim loves and respects his brother, but challenges his loyalty to the Republican Guard, which is part of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's state military apparatus that has violently suppressed protests since soldiers opened fire on demonstrators in Feb­ruary.

Hashim recently asked him point-blank, "If you were ordered to shoot protesters, would you?"

"He said yes," recounts Hashim, seated next to Ghazi in his modest Sanaa home. "It was unbelievable."

"Of course I would shoot them," responds Ghazi, partaking of tea and a traditional stew prepared by his brother's new wife. "They are criminals and are traitors to our leader. I would follow orders."

Hashim and Ghazi, whose real names could not be used for fear of retribution, illustrate the deep fissures within Yemeni society that threaten to tear the country apart. Tribesmen, rival military factions, peaceful protesters, and even brothers may end up on opposing sides of a prolonged civil war should President Saleh or his relatives insist on retaining power.

President Saleh makes first appearance since June 3 attack

So far, the conflict has been largely contained to one powerful tribal confederation battling Saleh loyalists in the capital. While Mr. Saleh is convalescing in Saudi Arabia from a June 3 attack on his compound, his son Ahmed relaxes in the presidential palace and security forces patrol the streets.

Saleh appeared publicly last night for the first time since the June attack, giving a prerecorded interview on Yemen TV. He offered, not for the first time, to share power under a constitutional framework approved by the people, but also struck a note of defiance – saying he would "confront a challenge with a challenge." He said he had undergone eight surgeries; his face appeared darker than normal, possibly from severe burns, and his arms were heavily bandaged.

As Saleh's condition and Yemen's economic stability become more uncertain, the conflict could spread. Some say that Ahmed has neither the credibility nor the connections to hold the fractured nation together as his father did, though he and his cousin Yahya, commander of the security forces, may well try.

"Saleh's boys don't have a chance at ruling Yemen," says Yemeni political analyst Abdul Ghani al-Iryani. "Even with all of Saleh's skills and connections, he was losing control of the country. However, ... should Ahmed or [Saleh's] nephew Yahya feel his exit is dishonorable, they may be compelled to take up arms against all that oppose their patriarch."

Powerful tribes, powerful state media

Throughout Yemen's modern history, no imam or president has ever been able to take on the tribes. North Yemen's third president, Socialist Party leader and Army officer Ibrahim Al-Hamdi, was assassinated when he attempted to strip power from Yemen's tribes.

Many in rural areas, such as the northern mountain village where Hashim and Ghazi grew up, strongly support Saleh, who has held the country together for 32 years.

Their father is one of them. Like many rural residents in this deeply impoverished country, he can't afford satellite TV and so depends solely on state-run radio and TV for his news.

"It's not his fault that he supports the regime; he is bombarded with government propaganda on a daily basis and has been for most of his life," says Hashim.

Two paths to a better life

It was in this village, where their father still toils in the fields to grow khat, corn, peanuts, and other vegetables, that both brothers developed aspirations for a better life.

Hashim saw education as his ticket, earning a bachelor's degree in Eng­lish literature. For Ghazi, serving in one of Yemen's most elite military units fulfilled his sense of adventure.

"You must be invited to join the Republican Guard. An officer sends a letter to the local council," the governing body of a tribal village, "with a list of names. Those people get to join," says Ghazi, who at first failed to make the cut.

"He walked up and down the mountain to the military camp every day for a month. Finally, someone vouched for him and he was invited to join," says Hashim.

But now, Ghazi's role in enforcing Saleh's tentative hold over the country is a major point of contention between the brothers.

"Ghazi's belief in loyalty to a leader instead of to a nation or a people is a symptom of Yemen's tribal government," Hashim explains. "We want to be rid of this tribal patronage system and institute a civil state."

Respect between two brothers on opposite sides

There seems to be no bitterness or hostility between the brothers, however.

"He's dead wrong," says Hashim, "But I love and respect him and he respects me as well."

Hashim also feels sorry for his brother. "The Republican Guard are paid 30,000 Yemeni riyals [about $150] per month. He is just being used by this regime," says Hashim.

Hashim tries desperately to convince his family that Saleh is a dictator and a criminal and that it is their religious duty to institute freedom and democracy in Yemen.

"Every Friday, I invite my brother to come pray with me at Change Square so he can see that the Yemeni people yearn to be free," says Hashim. Gha­zi replies: "I can only tell him that if he goes, he has to go without me."

Is South Yemen Preparing to Declare Independence?

By TIME Staff / Aden Friday, July 08, 2011

Yemen's flag of three horizontal bars of red, white and black is a recognizable symbol throughout most of the country, flown by anti-government protesters and regime supporters alike. But in Yemen's southern port city of Aden, hardly a single Yemeni flag is flown without the triangular, sky-blue badge and red star of the socialist party hastily spray-painted on its left side, recreating the banner of the now defunct People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, which once ruled a region that makes up roughly two-thirds of Yemen.

The military personnel loyal to the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh are distinctly absent in Aden. Unlike Yemen's capital where anti-government banners and signs are found only near Sana'a University, the port city is emblazoned with anti-government graffiti on walls, shops and even across the high security walls of now empty government buildings. Slogans like "Get out Ali, you dog. Long live the South" can be read up and down the Mu'alla district of the city where anti-regime protesters have blocked off the entire road, one of Aden's largest and busiest. While some of South Yemen's protesters support unity under a new government, most demand a free and independent state. Broken up bricks and shattered concrete slabs litter the street as children play soccer among the ruins, the evidence of fighting between protesters and military that took place as recently as last month.

But Saleh's army is now a rare sight, if not altogether invisible, and covert foes have emerged to fill the vacuum. Once operating out of the shadows of the ancient volcano towering over Aden, South Yemen's Southern Movement, known as the "Harak", has exploded from its hiding places to stand proudly and defiantly against the ailing President (who continues to recuperate in Saudi Arabia from wounds suffered from an assault on his palace) and his northern regime, demanding a return of sovereignty to the area. "If the Harak declared independence, would soldiers obey orders to travel to the south and enforce unity? No. The soldiers that haven't been shipped off by Sana'a to fight the tribes wouldn't go up against the entire south," says Mohsen M. Bin Farid, Secretary General of the RAY party, South Yemen's first independent political organization. Indeed, the regime's military is not only engaging rebel tribesmen in the north and Islamist militants in the south but is divided into factions facing off against each other in the capital, players in the dangerous game of succession unfolding in Sana'a.

As that unfolds, the Harak is looking to seize the opportunity of a weakened central government in Sana'a to reassert South Yemen's claim to independence — and once again split the country the U.S. and the West has supported as a bulwark against Al-Qaeda. South Yemen and North Yemen were united in 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen following almost 40 years of separation. But after just four years, the fragile union was torn apart by civil war. Saleh drew first blood with a relentless aerial bombardment of Aden before dragging the south back into a unified state through sheer military domination.

For members of the Harak, South Yemen's independence isn't simply a matter of political disagreement but necessitated by what they deem to be irreconcilable cultural differences. Aden residents often refer to northern Yemenis as dahabashi, meaning savages. "We don't want the northern system of tribal patronage. We want the rule of law," says Qasim Dawoud, a longtime member of the Yemeni Socialist Party. "We were tricked into unity and now we are ready to reestablish our own state," he adds.

For one man, that war between the North and South has yet to come to an end. Brigadier General Ali Mohammed Assadi, an Aden native and a prominent southern movement leader, defected from the unified military and led his southern forces against the Saleh regime in the 1994 war. "The south was occupied by the British, then held by the iron fist of the Yemeni Socialist Party and since 1994, we have been living under the occupation of the northern tribal regime," says the general, speaking in his home in Aden, surrounded by friends and colleagues from Harak.

General Assadi's struggle against north Yemeni "colonialism" is a fight that has torn his life apart. In 2008, members of Yemen's National Security Bureau stormed his home and arrested him. "They broke down my door and opened fire, shooting at my children. I screamed for everyone to run before I was arrested and thrown into the political security prison in Sana'a. Members of Al-Qaeda are held in normal cells there but myself and other Harak members were locked in small boxes in the pitch black basement," he says.

He was imprisoned in his small cell for 13 months before he was inexplicably released. But he would gladly return to that darkness if it meant his son would still be alive. Just two weeks ago, the general and his son Giyab, a medical doctor and father of two, joined a funeral procession of another southern movement member who was killed by security forces. "Security forces opened fire on us with tank mounted heavy machine guns. My son was gunned down standing next to me. He's now one of the over 1,300 martyrs of the Harak," he trails off, staring blankly down into his newspaper.

Since the formal founding of Harak in 2007, there have been plans for a new government, though as yet no time table has been drawn up. The example of South Sudan, which is now on the cusp of independence from the regime in Khartoum, inspires many Harak members, who nevertheless point out thatthe new African nation was never a sovereign state in the past — a heritage and advantage South Yemen enjoys. "We have plans for a new government and a new political future," says General Assadi. "The new state will be a liberal, social democracy, similar to current European socialism." However, no formal military infrastructure is in place and defending their independence may prove to be difficult should Saleh — or a succeeding government in Sana'a — decide to retake the region. Still, most Harak members doubt Saleh's will and ability to do so. "We aren't worried about the response from the north. Our political and government infrastructure is already in place. All we have to do is pick up where we left off in 1990," says Assadi.

In Sana'a, tanks, light armored vehicles, and technical trucks with heavy machine guns mounted in the back can be found at most major intersections and, as night, soldiers with AK-47's check passing cars for weapons. However, in Aden, the regime has vanished. "Look around," says one local in the port city, "If we declare independence, who is going to stop us?" He then returns to sipping tea on the side of Mu'alla street, beneath the flag of south Yemen painted on the side of an apartment building.

Source: TIME Magazine

In Yemen, tribal militias flex muscles

By Sudarsan Raghavan,

July 8,

TAIZ, Yemen — Sheik Hamoud al-Makhlafi is prepared for war. Inside his palatial house, overlooking this tense city, more than 20 of his tribesmen stand guard with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades; hundreds of other armed fighters are hidden nearby in neighborhoods wrested from government control.

“We are here to protect the youth of the revolution,” declared Makhlafi, 46, slim with short, gray speckled hair and a razor-thin mustache.

But the intervention of tribal militias in what had been a nonviolent revolution has added a combustible new dimension to the uprising in Yemen. The clash in Taiz has already turned portions of Yemen’s second-largest city into a war zone, and while the tribesmen claim to be protecting the activists, the change appears likely to bring more upheaval to this fractured Middle Eastern nation.

Over the weekend, violent clashes erupted again between the tribesmen and government forces, which included shelling of parts of the city, killing several people.

“Taiz is more of a time bomb now. It could explode at any minute,” said Ali Mohammed Almujahed, a senior ruling party official here. “Both sides are filled up with anger and hatred.”

Fueled by decades of neglect and resentment of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime, protesters in this south-central city, considered the intellectual soul of Yemen, rose up in February. Inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, they erected scores of tents in a section of Taiz they renamed Freedom Square, emulating Cairo’s Tahir — or Liberation — Square. Thousands camped out round-the-clock, staging rallies demanding the ouster of Saleh.

Since April, the government’s security forces have tried to suppress the rebellion, shooting dead dozens of protesters and preventing them from marching toward the city’s presidential palace and other government institutions. The crackdowns in recent weeks have emulated those used by autocrats in Syria and Bahrain, cracking down violently on protesters in an effort to intimidate the opposition.

May 29: A touchstone

For weeks, Makhlafi and other anti-government tribal leaders expressed support for the protesters but watched from the sidelines. Some were aligned with Yemen’s political opposition; others held long-standing grievances against the regime and sensed an opportunity to exert their power.

Then, on May 29, the security forces attacked Freedom Square. There are conflicting versions of what unfolded, but it remains a touchstone for all sides.

Activists say the soldiers opened fire on demonstrators and set fire to tents. As many as 140 were killed, the activists allege. They now refer to the day as “the Holocaust.” In a rare interview, Taiz’s head of security, Col. Abdullah Abdu Kayran, denied the allegations. He acknowledged that security forces entered the square but said they did not commit atrocities. He said eight people died that day.

Within hours of the attack, Makhlafi and other tribal leaders rose up and engaged the security forces in fierce clashes. The tribesmen hailed from villages on the outskirts of the city. Armed with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs, they knew the city’s streets and alleys well and had the loyalty of much of the population. That gave them a significant advantage over the security forces that were largely brought in from other parts of the country.

Buildings were destroyed; bodies lay on the streets. The tribesmen took control over large portions of the city, including 14 government buildings. The fighting intensified after Saleh was nearly assassinated in a June 3 attack on his presidential compound in the capital, Sanaa, forcing him to receive treatment in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

“Those who perpetrated the Holocaust should be confronted with the same weapon,” declared Sultan al-Samei, an influential tribal leader and opposition socialist lawmaker who dispatched his forces alongside Makhlafi’s. “It’s our natural right to defend ourselves.”

Mistrust kindled

The muscle-flexing by a powerful anti-government tribe has kindled some mistrust among protesters and government loyalists alike.

Government officials describe Makhalfi as a pawn of Yemen’s traditional political opposition, in an effort to violently overthrow the government under the guise of protecting the demonstrators. Some youth leaders say they worry that the tribes could take over their populist rebellion and harness it to gain political influence.

But the youth leaders also say that without the protection of the tribes, their uprising would be stamped out violently by the regime.

“We are quite aware of the possibility that they could hijack our revolution, and we are keeping careful watch of this,” said Manal Abdulrahman, 25, an unemployed university graduate and activist. “Right now, we need them to get rid of President Saleh, his sons and nephews.”

A law graduate, Makhlafi once served as a political security officer in Saleh’s regime. He ran for local office in the 2006 elections but did not win. When the uprising began in February, he defected.

Among government officials, Makhlafi’s opponents describe the tribal leader as ambitious and ruthless. “His personal profile is full of crimes, killings and troublemaking,” said Mohammed Mansour al-Shawafi, the deputy governor of Taiz province. “He has no idea of democracy.”

But Makhlafi says he has no political aspirations. “I am not affiliated with any political party,” he said. “I am not interested in power."

Today, the city is gripped by a tense stalemate. A cease-fire negotiated by local leaders calls for the tribal militias and the security forces to withdraw from the city. But neither shows any signs of observing the pact.

Security forces still maintain a heavy presence in the city, manning checkpoints. Both sides trade accusations. Clashes still unfold and have taken on an ominous new dimension. “They are now targeting my tribe,” Makhlafi said, adding that six of his tribesmen have been killed and eight injured in recent weeks.

Under the terms of the cease-fire, Makhlafi’s men have recently handed back eight government buildings, under the terms of the cease-fire, but continue to hold on to the electricity department and judiciary complex. Makhlafi says they will not leave until the security forces withdraw to their barracks outside Taiz; Kayran, the local security chief, says that approach is out of the question.

Freedom Square today is virtually empty. Once covered by a sea of tents, only a few remain. The protests are still unfolding, but with smaller numbers and less intensity. Activists say the security forces continue to fire sporadically into the square, scaring protesters away. Massive fuel shortages are also preventing people from coming to the square. Government spies keep watch.

Youth leaders are determined to resurrect the momentum. Security and other committees are being reorganized. Facebook campaigns are underway to bring back protesters. “Taiz is still betting on the fall of the regime,” said Bushra al-Maktari, a protest leader. “The revolution is still here.”

Still, the soul of the uprising appears to have been permanently altered. Makhlafi said that at every demonstration now, his tribesmen are hidden in the crowds, armed and ready for any possible attack by the security forces.

Source: The Washington Post

Yemeni security forces kill senior al-Qaeda commander

7 July 2011
ZINJIBAR, YEMEN (BNO NEWS) -- Yemeni security forces on Thursday announced that a senior al-Qaeda commander was killed in the southern province of Abyan, the state-run Saba news agency reported.
Mubarak Firas al-Juhmi, one of the most wanted al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen, was killed during clashes with military troops on Wednesday night near the provincial capital city of Zinjibar.
The alleged al-Qaeda leader was killed along Shaif al-Jarbou'a al-Hejazi, Mus'ab bin Mabkhout bin Aboud al-Sharif, Saeed bin Ahmed bin Ghulaib and many other suspected terrorists.
According to the Yemeni government, al-Juhmi is the leader of an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cell operating in Serwah district, Marib province. His group allegedly killed five soldiers in an ambush recently.
Al-Juhmi is one of the most wanted and dangerous al-Qaeda leaders. He trained terrorists on using weapons and carrying bombings in the al-Farouq camps in Afghanistan, which belonged to the late Osama Bin Laden. He returned to Yemen after the 9/11 attacks in New York.
Abyan has witnessed continuing clashes in the last forty days between Islamic militants and security forces. At least 150 soldiers have been killed and around 40,000 residents have fled the area.
On late June, six suspected al-Qaeda members of the wanted Aden cell were arrested in the port city of Aden. They were specialists in bomb making and were attempting to carry out terrorist attacks in Aden and other cities when arrested.
Also last month, 62 prisoners escaped from the central security prison in the southern city of Mukalla. The convicts were all AQAP members and were serving sentences of over five years in prison on charges relating to terrorism.
One guard and three prisoners were killed while two more were arrested during the prison break which was labeled as the biggest prison breakout of AQAP members in Yemen.
In May, authorities informed that AQAP militants were taking advantage of the protests demanding the immediate departure of longtime President Saleh in the country to perpetrate terrorist acts; mostly in the southern region.
AQAP is based primarily in the tribal areas outside of the capital city Sana'a, which remains outside the control of the Yemeni government. The terrorist organization has orchestrated high-profile attacks since 2009.
Most notably, AQAP sent Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who attempted to detonate an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight on December 25, 2009. This was the first attempted U.S. homeland attack by an al-Qaeda affiliate since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Air Goes Out of Protests in a Leaderless Yemen


July 7, 2011

SANA, Yemen — The tents still stretch for more than a mile, weaving a jumbled path from the gates of Sana University along the ring road, an enduring reminder of the determination of this nation’s young protesters who took to the streets months ago demanding a new, more democratic government.

But that may be all that remains of the initial burst of optimism and determination. The young activists who drove this protest, who caught the wave of the Arab Spring and brought it home to Yemen, say they are increasingly dispirited, depressed and divided.

“We don’t believe in each other anymore as revolutionaries,” said Soliman Awadam, 23, who said he remembers when it all began, when he and just a few hundred others demonstrated in front of the gates of Sana’s university each morning before being chased out by violent pro-government supporters.

Yemen is trapped in a standoff, a leaderless twilight of uncertainty. The president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, remained defiant in a recorded video broadcast Thursday. He gave no indication when he might try to return from Saudi Arabia, where he has been convalescing since he was injured in a bomb attack. The opposition continues to demand a transition to a new government. The deadlock has left Yemen to face a humanitarian crisis amid rising food prices and shortages of electricity, water and fuel.

And that deadlock may also have done more to undermine the demonstrators than the lethal force once employed by Mr. Saleh and his allies.

“We are feeling despair,” said Mr. Awadam as he sat in a tent that had been set up for activists to use social media to organize and promote their cause.

At one time, the tent was spilling over with young people, clicking away at their laptops, posting videos to the Internet, filing updates to Facebook. These days, the tent is mostly empty, with no more than five or so at a time trying to keep their movement alive. In the western Yemeni city of Taiz, some protesters abandoned their nonviolent approach, battling security forces. In the southern port city of Aden, most protesters went home.

“I am feeling very frustrated,” said Anas Humaid, 21, who studies English and has remained for months in the street, in a tent.

It has been almost six months since protesters, mostly young people and students, took to the streets demanding the immediate ouster of their president. Their numbers swelled from a few hundred in January to tens of thousands by April, uniting under the common theme of bringing down the Saleh government. They have withstood violence, harsh weather and even a two-week war in the capital between Mr. Saleh and his tribal rivals.

Now, some of those young people left behind say that Yemen’s political impasse has led to internal bickering and underscored a lack of vision, and that an overall feeling of weariness has settled in.

“We need to start our revolution again,” said Mr. Humaid, once part of a band of about 30 students who protested in front of Sana University even before the Tunisian revolution sparked mass protests throughout the Arab world.

In the summer heat, there is still talk of a comeback, a degree of wishful thinking, perhaps, given the protesters’ inability to agree on a course of action. Some protesters say they will escalate their demonstrations while others say they are going to form a transitional council without the government’s consent that will take power while Mr. Saleh is out of country.

Yet no one seems to be able to take tangible steps in any direction. They spend more time sitting in tents bickering — and at times outside tents physically fighting — about the differences between them, particularly between independents and those who belong to the Islamist political party.

“What’s clearly happening in Sana is that the revolution turned into a political crisis,” said a protest leader, Khaled al-Anisi. “Now we are in a critical stage. The revolutionaries need to join together.”

There has even been some talk of help from unlikely sources. Ali al-Masqari, a former Army officer, said that he and others who defected to join the uprising are trying to organize disaffected young people into a new group.

“I saw that the youth were dividing and they don’t have a leader, so we decided to help them organize and join together,” said Mr. Masqari as he held up what he said was a stack of papers filled with hundreds of names of those who joined.

But in the street, his overtures were seen by some, at least, with the suspicion that has come to define the mood in the capital.

“I am an independent youth but I don’t want to be part of your list,” Salah al-Shalafi said. Then in English, he added: “Don’t trust this man.”

At that, the two began shouting at each other, and five young activists sitting nearby dropped their heads into their hands, disheartened.

But for all of the bickering, there is one point many here seem to agree on: that they feel betrayed by the United States, which they feel did not give them adequate support.

“The American regime has postponed the events of the revolution,” said Mohamed al-Quhaly, an activist, echoing a common sentiment at the sit-in.

“We are very disappointed,” said Mr. Humaid.

Source: the New York Times