Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Yemen closer to Al-Qaeda rule

Jockeying for position among Yemen’s political groups may leave the way open for the increased influence of Al-Qaeda, writes Nasser Arrabyee in Sanaa

Al-Ahram Weekly

Al-Qaeda in Yemen is a very important tool for any ambitious ruler, and it is also important for any influential political party, religious or secular group, and even for the country’s tribes and military.

This is because Yemen as a country is now in limbo, with the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) ending on 18 September without agreement on what to do next or even what kind of state there should be.

According to the earlier transitional deal, a new president should be elected in free and fair elections in February 2014. Before this date, the NDC was supposed to come out with a new constitution to govern the elections and the coming period.

However, there is little time now to approve a new constitution and put it to a public referendum before the elections planned for February. Al-Qaeda has been exploiting this situation by attacking the country’s security forces and army through suicide bombings or motor-cycle assassinations using silencers.

The groups and individuals involved in the NDC, which is made up of 565 members from across Yemen, are not linked to Al-Qaeda, since the latter sees them as infidels or the agents of America.

However, they have been trying to use Al-Qaeda for reasons of their own, making use of the group to score points against each other. The poverty and illiteracy that still afflict Yemen is the breeding ground for Al-Qaeda, which thrives in a situation of chaos and uncertainty.

With this situation in mind, officials from the People’s General Congress (PGC), the party of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have accused the current president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, also a powerful figure in the PGC, of using Al-Qaeda to stay in power.

The Yemen Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing the Islah Party is also using Al-Qaeda to put pressure on Hadi, wanting him to move away from the PGC and its semi-secularist policies.

Hadi knows that he could enjoy the support of the Islah Party were he to move away from the PGC. However, he does not trust the Islamists, and he does not want to be beholden to their party.

Meanwhile, former president Saleh, the country’s strong man over the last three decades, has retained his connections with influential tribal groups in the country along with Al-Qaeda.

Some influential leaders of Islah, such as Sheikh Abdel-Majid Al-Zandani, have refused to take part in the political dialogue, seeing it as an American and western conspiracy. Al-Zandani, labelled a terrorist by the US and UN, supports Al-Qaeda’s view that the NDC is an attempt to force a pro-Western agenda on the country.

For the time being, the US and Europe support Hadi, but this support may stop if the threat from Al-Qaeda disappears. According to observers, western support for Hadi and for Yemen as a whole depends upon the existence of a continuing threat from Al-Qaeda.

The Islah Party has been exploiting the presence of Al-Qaeda in Yemen not only because some of its leaders are close to the group, but also because Al-Qaeda’s extremism makes Islah look like a moderate party and one deserving of American and Western support. 

Some influential tribal and military leaders in Yemen now support Islah as a way of double-crossing their former leader, Saleh, and replacing him with a new president.

The most controversial point that has delayed progress at the NDC is the southern issue, and whether Yemen should opt for separation or unity. This issue is also being used by the conflicting parties and groups in the same way as is Al-Qaeda, and with this in mind it may be difficult for Yemen to remain a united country. 

Federalism has been put forward as an attractive option, with north and south joining together as part of a federal Yemen. However, there has also been controversy about the regions, some of which would also like to enjoy greater autonomy as part of a federal solution.

Moreover, to some northern and southern politicians a federal solution of a northern and southern Yemen would amount to de facto separation.

The exploitation of this issue for political ends has not been so very different from the exploitation of Al-Qaeda.

The closer to Al-Qaeda the politicians are, the closer they may be to ruling. In the same way, the closer some politicians are to a federal solution or separation, the closer they may be to taking power in a future Yemen.

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