Thursday, August 25, 2011

Yemen’s Saleh Wants to Come Back Home

By Daniel R. DePetris

August 25, 2011

It has been a little over two months since Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was nearly killed. On June 3, shelling from tribal forces in residential neighborhods of the capital Sana’a hit the presidential palace’s mosque just as he and a number of government allies were praying there. The mortar attack killed a few of Saleh’s elite Republican Guard troops, injured several of the highest officials in his ruling National Congress Party, including the prime minister, and came close to ending Saleh’s own life. His face was burned and shrapnel was lodged close to his heart, enough to have him whisked off to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

Government spokesmen have issued multiple statements on Saleh’s health—so many that it is difficult to determine which ones are accurate and which ones are being used for propaganda purposes. But Saleh put an end to the confusion over his fate on August 16, when he released a videotaped speech to his tribal supporters claiming that his health was improving by the day and vowing to return to his native Yemen. In the same speech, he vowed not to resign amid threats of threats, violence and inflammatory rhetoric—even as he deployed those very tactics to subdue his opponents.

We must discuss all the available data, all the events in Yemen, and how to get our country out of the crisis. The crisis which was fabricated by some political forces to reach power. We welcome the opposition and tell them that you can reach power through ballot boxes, not through coups, statements, denunciation, insults or irresponsible speeches.

The speech is the epitome of what Saleh has represented for the past thirty-three years—a shrewd political survivor and manipulator. He knows how to get under the skin of his rivals, when to use threats and when to act like a consoling figure willing to reach out to his opposition. This is the same talent that fooled the Yemeni opposition, his Arab Gulf neighbors and the United States not once or twice but three times, when Saleh reneged on signing a Gulf Cooperation Council deal that would have transferred power over to his deputy within a month.

With Saleh nursing his wounds in Riyadh, responsibility for quelling the protests and hostile anti-government tribes fell to his son, Ahmed, and his oldest nephew, Yahya. The preeminent security institutions in Yemen are under the control of Saleh’s close relatives, assuring that defections from elite units will be kept to a minimum.

The ploy has worked good enough, so far. Downtown Sana’a is still full of Saleh loyalists and has been used as a sanctuary to rain rockets and shells on tribal strongholds in the capital’s periphery. Yet in a society as fragmented and armed as Yemen’s, central Sana’a is where Saleh’s influence runs out. The Hashid confederation, led by the influential Sadiq and Hamid al-Ahmar, is in no way deterred by the Republican Guard’s many attacks. In their eyes, they see the Guard maneuver as an act of desperation and a tacit admission that the influence of Saleh’s government is bottled up in the central corridors of the capital.

Southern Yemen is a rather different story. While street battles and demonstrations are as frequent there as in other parts of the country, the revolt in the southern mountains has a dangerous extremist dimension that caught the United States and its Yemeni counterterrorism partners off guard.

Militants thought to be affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have seized Zanjibar, the capital of Abyan Province, and held onto their territory despite repeated campaigns by the Yemeni army and air force to scatter them. Government troops report militant casualties every day yet the balance of power on the ground is still the same as it was a month ago. Yemeni soldiers situated in the southern end of the peninsula have increasingly been prime targets for militant attacks, including a suicide bombing along a checkpoint last week that killed eight troops. American drone aircraft have picked up the slack, bombing suspected terrorist positions and relieving some of the stress that the Yemeni army has had to deal with.

Saleh’s return is still questionable. If Saudi Arabia were smart, they would “convince” the Yemeni president to join his Tunisian counterpart on permanent vacation in the kingdom, sparing Yemeni civilians an even greater amount of violence were he to return. Regrettably, even this prescription would not dampen the bullets from firing in the direction of anti-government forces, as Saleh’s son and nephews could easily use Yemen’s security establishment to kill off any political transition.

The United States are is once again left with few options—a testament to how versatile and people driven the Arab revolutions have become.

Yemeni political crisis set to escalate

By Will Morrow and Peter Symonds

25 August 2011

The government and opposition groups in Yemen are both preparing for an escalating confrontation after President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced last week that he would return to the country. Saleh has been convalescing in Saudi Arabia after he and other top government officials were injured in a bomb blast on the presidential compound on June 3.

In a further sign that the government intends to go on the offensive, spokesman Abdul Janadi accused two prominent opposition figures—business tycoon Hamid al-Ahmar and military leader Ali Mohsen—of planning the attack on Saleh. Janadi claimed that there were “strong accusations” against the two men, following a “long investigation.”

The bourgeois opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) warned the “international community” against believing the “fabrications” and promised to produce a statement refuting the allegations. Hamid al-Ahmar, who owns the satellite network Suhail TV, has reportedly spent millions financing the opposition after anti-Saleh protests first erupted in February. Ali Mohsen defected from the military to the opposition in March.

The government appears to have taken pre-emptive action against an escalation of protests, with an article in the Abu Dhabi-based National reporting that more than 60 tanks and armoured vehicles backed by heavily-armed troops have been stationed at key points in the capital, Sanaa, this week. “We watched closely the rapid fall in Libya, and are learning and preparing how to plan our upcoming steps,” a security official told the newspaper.

Fighting is continuing outside the capital, where significant areas of the country are under the control of various oppositional tribal militias. Government officials yesterday claimed that 30 Al Qaeda militants had been killed in airstrikes near the town of Zinjibar and six more in a further strike in the nearby Arkoub area. Eight government soldiers were killed in ground fighting near Zinjibar.

The Saleh regime routinely demonises opposition militia as “Al Qaeda terrorists” to justify attacks that are carried out with the involvement both of US drones and American special forces “trainers” working with the Yemeni military.

The US has backed the strongman Saleh since he came to power in 1978, in what was then North Yemen, and became president of the unified Yemen formed in 1990. The US and its Saudi allies have regarded the autocratic Saleh regime as the means for safeguarding their interests in a country that is strategically located adjacent to important shipping lanes from the Middle East.

As opposition to the president has mounted, the US has sought to engineer a post-Saleh regime that preserves the state apparatus and continues to protect American interests. Washington has supported a proposal sponsored by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council for Saleh to step down and hand power to a transitional administration headed by his vice-president.

Amid what was then speculation about Saleh’s return to Yemen, US State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland declared in early August that the transition process should not be “held hostage” while the president considered his options. “Our view is that Yemen needs to move in a democratic direction along the lines of the GCC report,” she said.

Washington is no more interested in “democracy” in Yemen that it is in Libya where NATO is preparing to install the Transitional National Council (TNC) as its pliable client to replace the tottering Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Having backed Saleh for as long as possible, the US is now considering how to head off the continuing protests in Sanaa and other Yemeni cities and towns.

The bourgeois opposition in Yemen is also making its political preparations. The JMP joined with various other opposition organisations last week to announce the formation of a National Council for Peaceful Revolution Forces. Its executive body, the National Council (NC), was to include 143 representatives of the major opposition groupings.

The NC is rather transparently modelled on the Libyan TNC, with the objective of appealing for the support of the major imperialist powers in replacing the Saleh regime. In a clear sign of the new organisation’s class orientation, leading JMP figure Mohammed Basswindha, who chaired the founding meeting, declared the NC would form “popular committees” to protect “citizens’ properties and state institutions.”

The formation of the National Council for Peaceful Revolution Forces is aimed at consolidating opposition groups around the JMP, which has a limited social base of support. The JMP, which includes the Islamist Islah Party and misnamed Yemini Socialist Party, has collaborated with the Saleh regime for years.

The JMP alienated substantial sections of young protesters, who had conducted rallies and demonstrations for months, by backing the US-sponsored GCC plan for a transitional government issued in June. At the time, Tawakkol Karman, an Islah Party member cited in the media as a protest spokesperson, declared that “the JMP was part of the regime we are seeking to remove.” Protest leaders also objected to the GCC’s proposal for an amnesty for Saleh and his close family members.

Saleh, however, refused to step aside and negotiations between the government and the JMP for a transitional administration floundered. Last week’s establishment of the NC was aimed at including other opposition groups, including elements of the Presidential Transitional Council formed by Karman in mid-July. The continuing divisions quickly became apparent last Saturday, when 35 of the 143 NC members withdrew from the body and rejected its legitimacy. These included 23 members of southern-based separatist groups who complained about inadequate representation for southern Yemen.

Karman was among the 35 who stepped aside, claiming she had never agreed to be part of the NC. However, her political orientation is no different than that of the NC. In an opinion piece written for the New York Times in June, Karmen appealed to “American officials to engage with the leaders of Yemen’s democracy movement and abandon their misplaced investment in the old regime’s security apparatus... We have no objections to agreements that protect your security interests... We ask our friends in Washington and Riyadh to help us build a democratic future.”

The Yemeni bourgeois opposition as a whole is just as hostile to the democratic aspirations and social needs of the majority of the impoverished population as the regime it seeks to replace. The call for support from Washington and the repressive regime in Riyadh is a pledge to form a client government that will protect their strategic and economic interests at the expense of the Yemeni people.

Sizeable opposition protests were held in Sanaa and other cities last Friday and again on Monday in support of the National Council for Peaceful Revolution Forces. Bloomberg reported that tens of thousands had taken part in demonstrations in Sanaa and the southern city of Taiz. According to the National, among the chants on Monday were “Oh Saleh, you will follow Gaddafi.”

The chants reflect the political orientation of the Yemeni opposition for US support to replace its present political stooge with a new one.

A different endgame

August 25, 2011

Yemen's scenario is not following that of Libya,

Nasser Arrabyee

Both sides in Yemen want an immediate solution for the eight-month long crisis which has had such a negative impact on political, economic and social aspects of their life.

The opposition want a fate for Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh like that of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. However, Saleh's supporters are still calling for him to return from Saudi Arabia and finish his presidential term which would end only on 20 September 2013.

This week, each side called on their own supporters to stage million-man demonstrations to show their strength. Security measures were tightened and additional troops were deployed in the capital Sanaa.

On Wednesday, Saleh's supporters organised a big funeral for the chairman of Saleh's advisory council, Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Ghani, 72, who died Monday of injuries he sustained in the failed assassination attempt against Saleh early last June. A popular and official reception for the body was organised Tuesday at Sanaa airport for the "martyr of freedom and democracy", the official media said.

President Saleh was expected to return and attend the funeral of his friend and most obedient official during the 33 years of his rule. Earlier in the week official sources said that Saleh had finished the recovery period required by doctors and he could return Wednesday. This date also marks the 27th anniversary of the establishment of Saleh's party, the ruling People's General Congress.

Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansor Hadi, who is acting in Saleh's absence, said earlier this week the crisis is close to an end, after consultations with American and European officials.

Before the return of Saleh, opposition parties formed an umbrella council to use it to pressure Saleh while negotiating about power transfer. But the council was rejected by more than half of its chosen members especially by the separatist groups in the south and Al-Houthi Shia rebels in the north.

This rejection has shown big divisions among the opposition parties and independent young people protesting in the streets. All the groups and individuals who rejected it denied they had approved the "National Council" and were surprised why their names were included.

On 17 August, the opposition parties chose 143 members allegedly representing all groups and individuals of Yemen. A total of 23 politicians and activists from the southern separatist movement denied their approval of the council. The 23 persons include two former presidents of the south, Ali Nasser Mohamed and Haidar Abu Bakr Al-Atas, who are living abroad but inspiring and leading the southern separatist movement. "We were surprised to see our names in the list of the council without our knowledge and approval," said the politicians in a statement sent to local media. "The council reproduced the dominance of the traditional tribal and military forces which were the essence of the tyranny of the regime."

Earlier, three top officials of the opposition party Ray denied their approval of the council. Two members of parliament, Abdel-Wasee Hayel Said and Abdullah Hussein Khairat, also denied they had agreed to give their names to be members of the council, as did writer Huda Al-Atas and tribal Sheikh Naji Al-Shayef and Amal Basha, chairwoman of the Arab Sisters Forum for human rights.

A group of the independent youth in the squares, calling themselves the national council of the independent, revolutionary and peaceful youth, issued a statement rejecting the council. "The council of the opposition is only a response to the desire of Hamid Al-Ahmar, who wants to co-opt the youth, social figures and soldiers working with him to achieve his ambitions to rule Yemen."

Hamid Al-Ahmar, the Islamist billionaire who has been grooming himself for the presidency since 2006, is widely viewed in Yemen as the main rival of President Saleh and his son Ahmed. Critics claim he has been orchestrating the anti-Saleh protests, and he is widely viewed as the most important politician behind this second opposition council.

So is Tawakul Karman, who was behind the first council which was declared on 17 July but failed to achieve any approval or recognition.

Meanwhile, government troops are battling with Al-Qaeda operatives in the southern province of Abyan, and with armed tribesmen supporting the anti-Saleh protesters around the capital Sanaa and in the central province of Taiz.

Dozens of people have been killed and injured in the almost daily clashes and battles taking place in these areas. Two suicide bombings by Al-Qaeda members killed more than 14 tribesmen in the southern province of Abyan. The tribesmen in the south recently sided with the government troops to get rid of Al-Qaeda.

A total of 80 Al-Qaeda operatives were killed in the fighting in the southern province of Abyan, said the chairman of Yemen's intelligence on Monday. Ali Al-Ansi, head of the National Security Agency, told Al-Methaq, mouthpiece of the ruling party, that those killed were both Yemeni and non-Yemeni operatives and have been identified by name.

The fighting has been ongoing between government troops and Al-Qaeda since the latter declared the city of Zinjubar an Islamic emirate on 29 May. Al-Ansi said that Al-Qaeda operatives are also fighting alongside opposition tribesmen in Arhab and Taiz with support from ex-general Ali Mohsen.

The intelligence official said some Al-Qaeda elements are hiding among protesters in squares and inside the opposition First Armored Division of Ali Mohsen. "The opposition has made it difficult for us to arrest them," said Al-Ansi.

He said that 80 per cent of the investigations over the failed assassination attempt against President Saleh and senior officials have been carried out. "The results will be announced very soon in public trials of those involved," said Al-Ansi.

Seventeen GCSEs already for brother and sister from Yemen

25 August 2011

By Tristan Kirk

A BROTHER and sister are toasting GCSE success a year-and-a-half after moving to Britain from Yemen.

Shady Qubaty, who is still only 14, achieved two A*s in Arabic and Maths while studying at Broomfield School, scoring 100 per cent in two of the four arabic modules.

His sister, Alya, 16, has now passed 15 GCSEs, notching up six A*s in year nine, another three last year and scored 5As and a B in her exam results this year.

Shady said: “I thought I was capable for doing them, and I wanted to do it to decrease the pressure when I get to years 10 and 11.

“I am happy, I feel good and the smile is still there.”

The siblings, who moved to Palmers Green from Yemen, said continuing their education after the move was easy but adjusting to British life was a challenge.

Alya said she was pleased with her results and is now considering whether to study for her A-levels at Latymer School, in Edmonton, or at St Michael's Catholic Grammar School, in Finchley.

She added her aspiration is to take up dentistry, saying: “I just like fixing people's smiles.”

Saleh well enough to use a pen, U.S. says

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- No matter where he is, the Yemeni president has the ability to use a pen and sign a political transition deal, a U.S. State Department official said.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh remains in Saudi Arabia despite his recent release from a hospital where he was recovering from wounds suffered during a June 3 attack on his presidential compound in the nation's capital.

Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Mujawar, also wounded in the June 3 attack, returned to Yemen this week. He said other officials receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia were improving and they would be headed to Yemen "soon," the official Saba news agency reports.

Saleh has faced pressure to step down for most of the year. He claims to support a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council for transition but hasn't signed the measure. His latest message said his leadership was legitimate through 2013.

Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, expressed growing frustration with Saleh's apparent stubbornness. She said Saleh should be able to sign off on the GCC no matter his location.

"I don't think it matters where he is," she said. "He has the ability to use a pen and sign (the deal)."