Contemplating on Sheikh Al-Ahmar’s letter [Archives:2007/1056/Opinion]

June 4 2007

Abdulrrahim Muhsin
On May 10, the 26 September Weekly published a letter from Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar addressed to Sa'ada tribal leaders among them the sheikhs of Sahar, Juma'a, Khawlan Bani Amer, Munabeh, Razeh, Ghamr, Shada, and other tribes. The letter coincided with a time period having its own unique political impression when two stances contradicted each other. According to the issue No. 147 of Al-Wasat Weekly, Sheikh Al-Ahmar suggested that President Saleh contains the issue at the very beginning but the latter refused saying that he is capable enough to settle the issue (the Sa'ada fighting) within three days. Since then, Sheikh Al-Ahmar hasn't interfered in the issue until President Saleh asked him to do so over the past few days.

It is logical that Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar may have a say, an opinion and a viewpoint, be they positive or negative, about the Sa'ada crisis, but the wind doesn't usually blow along the direction of ships. The ruler tried his arrogance in escalating the crisis by devastating Sa'ada but he reaped nothing except for thorns. This is why he turned once again to seek the advice of Sheikh Al-Ahmar. For the reading of Sheikh Al-Ahmar's letter to be closer to logic and more objective, some key points have to be taken into consideration as a background of the letter and its effect.

The first point is that Sheikh Al-Ahmar is the only traditional political personality that maintained his effective presence in the political arena, which has been monopolized by the military rulers since 1962. In many critical times caused by crises, Al-Ahmar plays the role of rescuer, as well as a mediator. The second of the points is that Sheikh Al-Ahmar hasn't been a traditional politician since 1994. He has become a businessman and this led to creating a new situation within the political process and the market's economy. For the first time, the aged sheikh faced an ugly campaign by some newspapers loyal with the ruling party, and these campaigns also targeted his sons, mainly the well-known businessman Hamid and the ruling party member Hussein.

The third point is that Sheikh Al-Ahmar has opened a political and intellectual forum in his residence. Organized once a week, the forum is attended by a constellation of politicians who belong to different generations. The forum was established to compensate for the pressure, which Al-Ahmar suffered at Parliament. The last point is associated with the irresponsible campaign launched against Al-Ahmar who remained sincere and loyal with the regime and this was evident in the most recent presidential elections at the expense of his political organization, which he chairs (the Islah Party).

The prominent sheikh left behind two gaps and these gaps enable the one who reads the article to have full understanding of the situation, one of which is that Al-Ahmar doesn't exploit his traditional reputation and role as a prominent sheikh. At the top of his letter, addressed to Sa'ada tribal leaders, he modestly wrote 'Your Brother Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar'. Writing the letter, he doesn't refer to his post as Speaker of Parliament, nor did his signature implied his post as Chairman of the Islah Party, the strongest opposition party in Yemen as he doesn't want the party to be involved in what is happening in Sa'ada. The letter's text is merely a tribal call for Sa'ada sheikhs to mediate with the aim of ending the fighting. The second gap is that the Islah-Party-affiliated Al-Sahwa Weekly didn't refer to Al-Ahmar's letter nor did it publish a news story about it.

The content and form of the letter don't seem to be in line with the ruler's policy except for one ambiguous statement which blamed the Houthi followers for planning a coupe against the regime and dreaming of returning the rule of Imamate. The letter's content has no malicious intent to fuel military conflict between the republicans and those who are still fund of the Imamate. The conflict has disappeared since 1970, however, the regime engaged dozens of Hashid tribesmen in the confrontations between the republicans and the supporters of Imamate.

The letter's text implicitly indicated failure of the military campaign, which has been continuing for three years, leaving bad consequences, not only in Sa'ada but nationwide. The text didn't call for stopping the military operations and the harsh media campaigns. Instead, it urged Sa'da tribal leaders to examine the situation and think of any possible solution to the persisting crisis.

The request made by President Saleh to Al-Ahmar to intervene in the crisis was aimed at involving the aged sheikh in the crisis and holding him responsible for any crimes committed by the government troops in the restive province. Fortunately, the text was keen enough to avoid any involvement of Sheikh Al-Ahmar in the issue since the first war broke out in June 2004. The letter cared for kindly inviting Sa'ada sheikhs to take part or have a hand in mitigating the conflict.

Abdulrrahim Muhsin is a well-known Yemeni journalist and opposition activist. Established the anti-regime movement called “Irhalo” which means get out. He was a former media person of the presidency office.