Yemen: Something To Die For, Someone To Blame

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April 17, 2013: President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has spent the last four months removing Saleh (the former dictator) supporters from key jobs. This had to be done carefully to avoid goading any pro-Saleh officers into foolishly starting another civil war. The removals solved a lot of problems. For example, SCUD ballistic missiles were removed from the control of a son of former president Saleh. The first Armored Division (long considered the most powerful pro-Saleh unit) was abolished. Former president Saleh got immunity from past crimes in return for him leaving government, and he has moved to Saudi Arabia. After Saleh resigned last year there were still a lot of Saleh supporters in the government, but since late last year most have been neutralized. There are still some tribal leaders or wealthy men who had been allies with Saleh, and most were persuaded to join the Hadi coalition. Some former Saleh supporters made a lot of enemies while working with Saleh, and many of those they wronged during the decades of Saleh rule want revenge. Running Yemen is not for the faint of heart.

With members of the Saleh clan largely gone, Yemenis now want solutions to the country’s economic (high unemployment) and other problems (like growing shortages of water and arable land). This will not be easy because the Hadi coalition is stitched together with deals that give key supporters senior government jobs and a license to steal. It’s the Yemeni way and changing it is not easy when you have little else to offer allies that demand something for their support.

One opportunity for Hadi is to address the complaints many families have about land theft during the Saleh period. Saleh would basically steal land (often with some fictitious justification) from opponents and give it to supporters. Many of the victims are now Hadi supporters, but so are some of those who got the stolen land. These land confiscations can cause feuds and bad relations that will span generations. The problem is there is no way to un-steal the land without creating a new angry family. Some Hadi advisors point out that dealing with the land confiscations would be a net plus because the president would at least be on the side of doing-the-right-thing. Nothing is easy in Yemen.

Al Qaeda is still a threat but no longer a major one. The separatist southern tribes and the rebellious Shia tribes in the north are now the big threat. Most of the southern tribes no longer see al Qaeda as a useful ally (although some families and clans down there will still work with the Islamic radicals) and the Shia up north are considered heretics by al Qaeda and subject to execution if encountered. CIA UAVs continue to search for key al Qaeda members in Yemen and kill those they find. The main thing al Qaeda has going for it is the continued popularity of blaming the West, and non-Moslems in general, for all the corruption and incompetence in the Islamic world. A growing number of Moslems admit that this is nonsense and that the problems are internal, not external. But blaming outsiders has been so popular for so long that change is happening slowly.

April 10, 2013: President Hadi continued a process he began last December (when he removed two senior generals who were still loyal to former president Saleh and the Republican Guard, an army unit full of Saleh supporters). This time Hadi removed the remaining Saleh supporters from senior positions in the army and sent them off to foreign diplomatic posts.

 

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