Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 June 2011
Issue No. 1050
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Two armed fronts in Yemen

As law and order collapse, emirates and tribal fiefdoms are asserting themselves, Nasser Arrabyee

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Anti-government protesters carry a wounded fellow during clashes with police in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz

Two significant developments took place earlier this week to accelerate the surging civil war both in the capital Sanaa and increasingly across the country between armed tribesmen leading the anti-Saleh five-month protests.

The first came from Al-Qaeda which exploits the country's unrest. More than 200 Al-Qaeda fighters took over the capital of the southern province of Abyan, Zinjubar, and declared it an Islamic Emirate after they "cleansed" it of the "agents of Americans", raising the number of Al-Qaeda Emirates to two within the past two months. Jaar, which is in the same province, was the first to be declared.

The Islamist-led opposition coalition accused President Ali Abdullah Saleh of handing over the province to Al-Qaeda to divert attention from protests against him. However, the army is suffering as the unrest continues. More than 40 soldiers have been killed in military operations. At least five soldiers were killed in a suicide car bomb late Tuesday in Zinjubar according to security and local sources.

The same accusation against Saleh came from the ex- general Ali Mohsen, who issued what he called statement number one, no less than a military coup against Saleh, immediately after Al-Qaeda seized Zinjubar on Sunday, though his declaration was hasty as Saleh is still in his palace.

The second significant development was the clearing of the largest sit-in square of all protesters by force in the central city of Taiz, after protesters attacked a police station and kidnapped two soldiers and took them to their square demanding the release of an activist held earlier Sunday.

Dozens of protesters were killed and injured in the clearing operations which took about 12 hours and lasted all Sunday night.

The protesters in Taiz called for a million-man demonstration to be held Tuesday to condemn what happened and to continue their demands for the ouster of President Saleh, but they were not able to stage that demonstration because of the unprecedented security deployment.

People could not come from the neighbouring villages because all the city's exits were closed, and residents of the city could not assemble or even get out of their neighbourhoods.

"They fire on us every time they see people assembling. They disperse any groups, thousands of cars with people inside were stranded in three different entrances of the city," activist Riyadh Adib from Taiz told Al-Ahram Weekly by phone.

"But we are determined to continue our protests in five squares instead of Al-Huriyah square, (the one that was cleared)," said Adib, who was in the sit-in square on Sunday. " We will know how to defend ourselves this time."

When all attempts to assemble failed, about 200 women from the opposition came to the main place where protesters usually assemble before marching. The security men could not disperse them because they were women. It would be considered a shame if the security men started to disperse the women.

"This place, Wadi Al-Kadi, may become the new sit-in square if women stand firm in their place," Adib told the Weekly. However, just two hours later, women police came and started to disperse the women in cooperation with hundreds of women from the ruling party.

Although the opposition say the Al-Qaeda fighters, who are now in fierce battles with troops in Zinjubar, are only implementing instructions of President Saleh to divert attention from protests against him, experts say Al-Qaeda is a serious threat and it is making use of the unrest more than any other party but with its own plans in mind.

"Al-Qaeda is preparing for regional and global operations to take revenge for Osama bin Laden, so it does not care so much about what's happening in Yemen now, although it's making use of it more than anyone else," Al-Qaeda expert Said Obaid told the Weekly.

"Al-Qaeda now believes that the Yemen state has become weak and it can use the power vacuum to its advantage," said Obaid. Obaid believes there are other groups that play the same role Al-Qaeda wants to play, such as Al-Herak, the southern separatist movement, which refuses to use peaceful means, or disgruntled tribes and influential figures in other regions.

Late Monday, clashes in Sanaa resumed after a fragile truce, achieved by tribal mediation between the security forces and armed tribesmen loyal to the 10 sons of Al-Ahmar who mainly lead the anti-Saleh protests, broke down. President Saleh belongs to the same tribe Hashid that fights him now.

Al-Ahmar brothers, who occupy almost all the government offices near their palace, are now wanted for prosecution as leaders of armed rebellion.

About 150 people were killed within the past week in the fierce battles around Al-Ahmar palace in Al-Hasaba, north of the capital. "We are ready to fight for years, and I'm saying this from a position of strength," Sadeq Al-Ahmar earlier told reporters in his house Tuesday morning while clashes were continuing outside. He threatened to drive President Saleh out of the capital bare-foot.

Sadeq's brother Hamid, the ambitious billionaire, also is determined to ouster President Saleh and put him on trial. "We'll implement the resolution of the Yemeni people who want to depose Saleh and try him," said Hamid, who is accused of orchestrating and mainly funding the anti-Saleh protests.

A third brother, Himyar, deputy speaker of the parliament from Saleh's ruling party, threatened to expand the war if they were "forced" to. "Now it's only my brothers Sadeq, Hashem, and Hashid, who are participating in the fighting, but if we are forced, we all will participate, then it will be a crushing war," Himyar told reporters earlier in the week.

The second most politically ambitious brother after Hamid is Hussein, who is said to receive three million rials from Saudi Arabia every month. He is currently in Amran, the family hometown, and the stronghold of Hashid tribe. Hussein is mobilising and preparing the tribesmen from Amran to support his brothers in the capital when the need arises.

The ongoing war is confusing the young protesters who raised the slogan of peaceful revolution from the beginning. These young protesters in the sit-in square at the gate of Sanaa University are now divided into two groups. The first group wants to have weapons and go fight with Al-Ahmar family.

Most of this group belong to the Islamist party Islah, the same party as Al-Ahmar's brothers. "We must take weapons now and go to fight with those who helped us; otherwise we'll be crushed in the battles of the big guys," said Amin Hefdhallah, one of the leading protesters in the sit-in square.

The second group, however, refuses to side with anyone. "We'll keep our revolution peaceful whatever happens," said Najib Abdel-Rehman, one of the leading independent protesters in the sit-in square.

The majority of the protesters belong to the Islamist party Islah, which leads the opposition coalition including Islamists, Socialists and Nasserites. Other protesters became scared as deaths mount, and have left the squares.

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