Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Force Unaccounted For In Yemen

By Nadwa al-Dawsari
One month have passed after the presidential palace bomb in which the president and senior government figures were seriously injured and evacuated to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. Between conflicting media reports about the health condition of President Saleh’s and the possibility of his returning back, Yemeni people are in complete information blackout. While the political scene is stagnant, the security and humanitarian situation seem to be deteriorating rabidly. At the same time, recent military moves particularly from the Republican Guard and Air Force indicate that military clashes might override political settlements efforts. The US, Brits and EC have been leading an effort with the Saudis and GCC for peaceful transfer of power that starts with Saleh’s stepping down and transferring his authorities to the Vice President. This seems to be facing resistance from Saleh’s family which has a strong grip over military and security forces.
On June 26, Ahmed Ali, Saleh’s son who is the commander of the Republican Guard, issued a press release for the first time indicating that the Military follows the orders of the Vice President. The following day, Republican Guard forces aided by Air Force launched massive attacks against the anti-regime tribes in Arhab and Nehm Villages. At least 23 people have been killed, 70 others were injured and more than 1000 families were displaces, some of them sought refuge in caves in mountains. In addition, 112 houses and 15 water wells were destroyed during the bombing. At the same time, RG has intensified bombing with heavy artillery the Protests Square and other areas in Taiz. Taizis are known to have led the Youth revolution in many cities in Yemen including Sanaa and Taiz. Organized armed tribes from Taiz declared support and protection to the protesters after the Freedom Square was burned down by Republican Guard leaving at least 100 people killed on May 29th.
At the political level, the scene is not clear to the Yemeni public. The fate of the president is unclear and Yemenis know nothing apart from some media leaks. The international and regional efforts seem to be far from those who started this movement in Yemen, the youth and the people. There is a growing discontent among youth and protesters in the Squares about the role that the US and the Saudis particularly have been playing. They believe that the US and Saudi intervention has much delayed the success of the Yemeni revolution and is trying to push for a deal for political settlement that promotes the continuity of the remains of the current regime so that the Saudis can continue their control over Yemen and the Americans ensure they maintain cooperation in the war on terror. The youth and opposition coalition, JMP, have during the previous months issued statements to assure the US that the coming government will be cooperative in fighting terrorism. But today they feel frustrated that even this did not encourage the Americans to take a firm stand to support the demands of the Yemeni people for change.
In South Yemen, militants have established a stronghold of the city of Zenjibar in Abyan and have been in fierce fights with a small military unit. Local media reports said that military forces were intentionally withdrawn from Abyan two month ago to give an opportunity to militants to capture the city and establish a base for their operations. Today, the military unit sent an SOS for military support and supplies to help the unit break from the siege that militants have put them under for about a month now. The strategic city of Aden is next on the agenda of the militants.
In tribal areas, looters block main roads and sometimes demand money. Although the tribes tried to secure the main roads by establishing tribal checkpoints, there are additional checkpoints that were set by some gangs and the Huthis. Tribesmen sometimes take an alternative road to commute to the capital city of Sanaa. In Aljawf, fierce clashes continue between the Huthis and pro-opposition tribes for more than three months now and have resulted in the deaths of hundreds from both sides.
In Abyan, Aljawf, Sanaa, Arhab, Nehm, and Taiz over 40 thousand Yemenis are displaced because of the recent clashes and are in great need for basic needs and shelter. Severe shortage of fuel and diesel continues resulting in the closure of many businesses and so many people were laid off. Food prices tripled and gas price increased by over 600% and are sold in the black market mostly by Republican Guard and Central Security Officers, both under the command of Saleh’s son and nephew. People line up in front of gas stations for days to fill in their car tanks only to be turned away sometimes because there is no gas. A number of people have been reported killed because of gun fighting in gas station queues.
Beyond diplomatic efforts, the youth in the squares and the political elite, there is a large segment of the Yemeni people who seem to be unaccounted for. Those are the poor people who are being crushed because of the deterioration of economic situation and soon will have to fight their way to feed their children probably presenting another major challenge to the already difficult and complex situation in Yemen. The question is whether or not they can afford to wait for a political settlement or peaceful transfer of power that seems to be taking forever.
This commentary was published in The Yemen Times on 11/08/2011

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