Shiri's latest audio recording. The 14-minute audio produced by AQAP's media arm Al-Malahem Foundation is accompanied by what the US-based SITE Monitoring Service said was a new photograph. The recording was posted to Jihadi forums on Tuesday.
Shihri back from the dead: His latest audio recording & interview with AQAP source on his injuries and condition
Du’aa at the Change Square memorial for the Jumaat al-Karama martyrs. In this picture, the memorial was 7 days old. The dead were buried just a few days before.
Smiling and chuckling with Saudi leaders, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh seemingly relinquished power last Thursday in Riyadh, signing the controversial Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative after a 10-month long standoff. Unfortunately, in spite of countless hours of work undertaken by the international community, the power transfer is already beginning to seem impotent.
Just a single day after the superficial power transfer, government forces killed five protesters in Sana’a. Chanting, “The revolution will continue, no immunity for murderers,” pro-government plainclothes gunmen opened fire on thousands of demonstrators marching toward the foreign ministry. The Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC), Yemen’s largest protest committee, has even pledged to burn their electoral ID cards — an ominous sign of things to come.
The agreement places Vice President Abd Rabo Mansur Hadi, a man with no political or military power, into the position of president. Hadi, in his first act as president, appointed Muhammad Basendwah, an aging opposition politician, as prime minister. Constitutionally, Yemen’s PM is the head of the government and presides over the parliament. However, the PM’s powers have traditionally been downplayed by the all-encompassing authority of the president. As part of a deal, Basendwah agreed that Hadi will run uncontested in Yemen’s planned presidential election next February. Even in history’s biggest sham elections, dictators at least had the good sense to allow fake opposition candidates to run against them.
As plans for an election are being laid, Saleh himself granted an ambiguous general amnesty to those who committed “follies” during the 10-month long political stalemate. With the ink still wet on the GCC initiative, Saleh is continuing to act as president. He isn’t just clinging to power, it would seem that Saleh is staying in power.
More importantly, the GCC initiative makes no mention of Saleh’s family members still deeply entrenched in military leadership position. His son Ahmed commands the Republican Guards, his eldest nephew Yahya heads the Central Security Forces, and another nephew Ammar runs the National Security Bureau (NSB).
The NSB, similar to Yemen’s internal security and intelligence gathering Political Security Organization (PSO), reports directly to the president and is used as a tool to clamp down on political dissent. Members of Yemen’s southern separatist movement and supporters of the Houthi rebellion have been whisked away in the middle of the night by members of these organizations. Few of them have been seen again to speak of their experiences.. While covering the protest movement in Sana’a, I was often greeted by men dressed in freshly pressed suits and Yemeni flag lapel pins, a strange sight in the midst of tear guys and baseball-size stones being flung through the air, as I escaped from riot police. Being confronted by these men — asking who I was and if I had a camera — I often chose to run back toward the direction of riot police, fearing deportation or detention. While it is less likely that I would come to any physical harm at the hands of these men, my Yemeni colleagues made sure I was instilled with a healthy dose of fear concerning what they were capable of.
Even while flying to Aden last June, I was greeted by the same type of clean-cut men asking similar questions while leaving the airport. Terrified, I simply told him I was a Lebanese businessman and looked back to see several of his colleagues descend upon a foreigner carrying a tripod leaving the same flight. With these men, still loyal to Ammar Saleh, lurking the streets of Yemen’s city, true democracy seems a far-flung ideal.
Looking back on the few months President Saleh spent in Saudi Arabia, we have seen what he is capable of using his son and nephew as his proxy. While out of the country, Republican Guard forces continued to battle anti-government tribesmen in the countryside while the ubiquitous woodland digital camouflage of the Central Security Forces was a common sight at almost all major intersections across the capital. Last September these soldiers carried out a raid on Sana’a’s Change Square, killing upwards of 60 people in a day-long siege of the protest camp — all while Saleh remained outside of the country’s borders.
In spite of the violence and the alleged solution to the political crisis, independent protesters across Yemen have refused to depart from their tent cities. In Sana’a, Taiz, Aden, and Hodeida, protesters refuse to accept Saleh’s immunity from prosecution and demand that his family members be removed from positions of power. Even in the rural governorate of Al-Baydha’, protesters demonstrated on Monday, decrying the GCC initiative and the immunity it granted to Ali Abdullah Saleh. Protesters are equally distrusting of the JMP, the consortium of opposition parties, as they are of the ruling parties. Some protesters have even gone as far as calling the political opposition “traitors”. Across the country, the situation on the ground remains unchanged. Just as in February, protesters across the country are continuing to live inside their protests camps in cities such as Sana’a, Taiz, and Aden. As was the case last Friday, these protesters still come under attack by plainclothes Saleh loyalists. On top of daily protests, major cities are still subject to debilitating power shortages and anti-government tribesmen are still engaged in vicious battles with Loyalist factions of the military.
Giving damning speeches in front of supporters and operating behind the scenes, Saleh remains entrenched in his position of power. Having tricked the diplomatic community into thinking he would sign the GCC initiative three times, it seems his grandest deception has been to mislead them yet again into thinking that he would abide by the deal once he did sign. Yemenis are a scrutinizing people and as long as they remain skeptical of Saleh’s intentions, so should the international community. With rumored sanctions and the freezing of assets put on the table to force Saleh to sign the agreement, similar measures must to be taken to enforce its intention. Saleh has dug in his heels.
For true change to take place in Yemen, both the old guard of day to day politics and the military must be removed, especially members of Saleh’s family. His party, the General People’s Congress, still holds the majority of parliament and may continue to do so after elections with the presence of Saleh loyalist able to make small tweaks to election results. Yemen must start fresh. Like Egypt and the NDP, Yemen’s GPC should be dissolved to allow for a new parliamentarian structure to be built from the ground up. Most importantly, the sons of a deposed dictator must no longer hold sway over the nation’s military. Unless policymakers in the US, EU, GCC, and UN are willing to help Yemenis dislodge Saleh’s presence from the country entirely, his power will be only nominally diminished.
Today, news broke (here is the story in Marib Press) of an attack on a Republican Guard barracks near Nihm, northeast of Sana’a. Nihm is a tribe that began to completely embarrass the Republican Guards last May when Nihm tribesmen overran a Republican Guard base. The attack was carried out shortly after the same men managed to shoot down a helicopter en route to their village. While there is some dispute over whether they were transport helicopters or Russian Hind attack helicopters, one was shot down while two others were forced to land with their pilots fleeing to safety.
No one is sure of what became of those helicopters. Some of us joked that we would run for our live if we spotted three helicopters coming over the mountains into Sana’a, flying and shooting sporadically. The Nihm helicopter trio never cropped up.
In the possession of three new helicopters, they figured, what the hell, lets see if we can get that Republican Guard base. They did. After some negotiation, the base was handed back over to a new commander.
A few months later, they decided to overrun it again. This time they made sure to steal a few anti-aircraft batteries to take back home. They came in handy last September when they used those weapons to shoot down one of Yemen’s aged Russian Sukhoi fighter jets as it flew over Nihm.
In every major engagement between Nihm and the Republican Guard, Nihm has won.
A few months ago I spoke with Sheikh Fu’ad Abdul Aziz al-Shuleif, one of the most influential sheikhs in Nihm. In that interview, al-Shuleif expressed his support for the “youth revolution” and mentioned that youth from Nihm had been living at Change Square for some time.
“We were willing to enter Sana’a and give a hand,” al-Shuleif said, “but the Nihm youth there told us to remain here and get a tight grip on the tribe.” He said
That’s exactly what they’ve been doing. Al-Shuleif also mentioned that they had asked other Nihm tribesmen serving in the military to desert and to return home to train other tribesmen. This included training in tanks, anti-aircraft weapons, and artillery. Apparently, it’s been paying off.
Many thanks to Marib Press and to Abdul Kader al-Guneid for translating and posting my last blog entry for the Marib Press website. I’m really enjoying reading the comments to hear what Yemenis have to say about my writing. Now that I’m back home, that’s a rare privilege.
Here is the link to the article posted in Arabic
As all Yemen obsessed folks know, following the events unfolding in the region from thousands of miles away is absolutely maddening. When my phone beeps with one of my many Yemen related Google alerts, I leap from a shallow slumber to rush to the nearest electronic device with an internet connection.
It’s ironic to expect the power to be on and to be awoken by an electronic beep instead of an artillery strike in a pitch black room void of electric lighting. In some ways I prefer the explosion, at least I’m put at ease realizing that I’m one of the first to know about it.
But in spite of an unceasing obsession with the details, not a lot has changed in Yemen since my departure last September, aside from Change Square being shelled, something Taizi protesters have been dealing with for months already.
But perhaps one of the most interesting details quietly leaking out of Yemen to those that have an eye for it is that the media is now beginning to refer to Taiz as the Bin Ghazi of Yemen. The phrase, first used by the tireless Laura Kasinof, still running from generator to generator across Sana’a to file her stores for the New York Times, seems to imply that Yemen is on the brink of a Libya style revolution.
It was something I began to notice in Sana’a as well. Some protesters even expressed that they regretted calling themselves a peaceful revolution from the outset of the uprising and that perhaps it was time to take up arms.
It is a concept that I wondered myself, laying awake at night in the ancient Old City of Sana’a while I listened to distant shelling. As I grew more and more frustrated with the stagnant status the uprising had reached, I wondered why in the hell they just kept allowing themselves to be shot at. The revolution was never 100% peaceful to begin with. While Yemen’s youth protester never shot back at plainclothes gunmen and security forces, stone throwing was the order of the day. I recall seeing Molotov Cocktails being thrown at water cannon trucks for the first time in April and thinking, “What are they waiting for? It’s time to shoot back.”
But the youth remained steadfast in their calls for a peaceful uprising. The step from throwing stones to firing Kalashnikovs is a big one and it is one most of them are unwilling to take. After almost nine months of constant assault, however, Taizis may have begun getting fed up. Not being on the ground to see for myself, at this point I would not be surprised to see protesters begin shooting back in self defense, especially in the besieged city of Taiz.
Regime supporters often point to stone throwing and the use of Molotov cocktails to demonstrate that the protesters are indeed not peaceful. It’s a laughable point to make, especially when many of them are shot just to get one stone in the air. But what I’ve always wondered is why a violent uprising, as opposed to a peaceful one, is something that is deemed less courageous or less meritorious. What we have in Yemen is an uprising that is stuck somewhere in between violence and total pacifism. A hesitance to chose one or the other could be one of the reasons why we’ve reached a stalemate.
However, should Yemen’s protesters begin defending themselves through force of arms, the consequences could be dire. Images of airstrikes carried out on the country’s most populous cities haunt my dreams. However, one thing is for certain – should the protesters and tribesmen (especially in Taiz) strike out in a coordinated fashion, the Yemeni military wouldn’t stand a chance.
I’m neither advocating nor disapproving of an armed uprising in Yemen, it’s merely an observation. One thing is for sure, the protest movement has reached a violent stalemate. Without some external or internal force willing to drastically change one part of the equation, another nine months of this could come and go before we know it.
Mapping tribal Marib and Al-Jawf, from the CTC report A False Foundation? AQAP, Tribes and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen
Just getting into this report but the information on the tribes in Al-Jawf and Marib alone distinguishes it. I’m just posting the maps of tribal areas in the two governorates for my own personal use and for others who will undoubtedly be referring to these maps for a long, long time.
The author of the report is anonymous but thanks, whoever you are. I don’t know how the hell you researched in Marib or Al-Jawf but congratulations.
Here’s a link to the full PDF http://www.ctc.usma.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/CTC_False_Foundation2.pdf