Have Gun Will Travel [Archives:1999/42/Focus]

October 18 1999

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
“Look, the Sheikhs of Yemen are entitled to all the rights that their positions as social dignitaries allow them to have. I do not understand why all this hassle about the Sheikhs having to enjoy these rights, especially as some of them are distinguished members of Parliament and other important public institutions”. Najee was talking to the other people who were standing by the driver’s seat waiting for the road blockade to end. The road blockade was one of several that was put to cordon off the area around the compound of one off the Sheikhs, who had some problem with one of the security men in the Airport that lead to a physical confrontation. The Sheik escaped after that and was chased by the security men, who immediately cordoned off the area around the compound, bringing a lot of military gear, as a show of force that would overcome the militia that was guarding the Sheik’s compound.
Someone beside him looked at it another way: “Look, what are you talking about? Where do the rights of Sheikhs begin and where do they end? It seems that these guys think that they own the whole world and that they are immune from any laws and procedures which you and I are obliged to surrender to. It is not enough that they are getting money left and right and have taken up all the positions of any meaningful authority. Yet, that is not really my concern, I am just wondering if they should not succumb to proper codes of decorum and public conduct given their stature in the community.”
“Hi, Abdullah! How long have you been there waiting? It seems that we only meet in funerals or road blockades these days, does it not?” asked Najee, recognizing the guy who had just finished talking, while at the same time continuing on the problem at hand, “the way I see it is that the Sheikhs have been so busy with their public duties and functions that they have not had enough time to oversee the upbringing of their kids, who are causing a lot of embarrassing problems for their fathers, sometimes on the pretext that they are defending their fathers’ rights and privileges, which they consider to be the eventual inheritors of.”Abdullah was not sure if the justification given by Najee should be an excuse for neglect of proper public conduct by the dignitaries and their heirs: “Look Najee, I have been here an hour and now you are here for a half hour. We are here wasting time just because one of the Sheikhs’ sons got carried away and forgot that he must also obey the law just like any citizen. He had no right to manhandle the security officer, who was only doing his duty by telling him that he cannot pass through a certain point at the airport.”I think this clearly shows that the government should have set out the clear parameters that guide the relationship between the Sheikhs and the government and the military and security organs as well as the public at large. There seems to be a fuzzy line across all the borders that no one really knows where it should be drawn.
A guy in a military uniform standing by his car behind them commented: “Look you guys, it all boils down to, Sheikhs or not Sheikhs, they must obey the law and have respect for this uniform and the uniforms of all the gallant men who work day and night to protect the safety and the security of the country and its people.” He pulled at the jacket for emphasis to show the uniform he was wearing.
Abdullah continued his general treatment of the problem: “I agree with you, dear brother, the Sheikhs are just as responsible as any other citizen for keeping in line with the other citizens when it comes to public conduct and procedures. But I think the issue is more than that. If only the government had taken advantage of the Sheikhs by keeping them in the areas where their ‘sheikhdoms’ lie and imposed upon them the duty of maintaining the security and the stability of their domains. I cannot see any purpose to giving them substantial budget allocations and having them live here in their sumptuous palaces while their areas are suffering from so much lawlessness and unrest.”
The soldier came back with another comment to add to Abdullah’s idea: I also do not see why they should be allowed to maintain such a sizable army, which is incidentally paid for by the public treasury, in the city. What, then are we here for, if they need all these militias for protection. Besides what are they afraid of?”Najee wanted to clarify something: “The Sheikhs cannot stay unguarded for there are people who may have a grudge or two against a Sheik or there maybe a blood feud between a Sheik and some other sheikhs in the same tribe or another tribe. Thus they need protection.”The soldier was not impressed by the justification: “Again, I say what are we here for, then, if everybody can set up their own mob to guard himself or herself with? I say rather than waste the money on exaggerated budgets for the Sheikhs for these “popular armies”, pay the regular soldiers and security men of the government well and you will see how well protected we can keep everybody, whether Sheikhs or common citizens. Besides, the Sheikhs are not staying here to serve their public duties. They are here to make sure that their public funding is not cut off or reduced and to peddle influence. Look at the parliamentary sessions. Most of the Sheikhs who were elected to Parliament only show up for a fraction of the sessions Ð unless the President addresses Parliament. Then, you will suddenly see a full house.”Najee still felt that the Sheikhs could serve a meaningful purpose: “The Sheikhs are important, and it is just that the government did not know how to make use of them. They thought that by placating them and giving them big budget allocations they could keep their areas, or ‘sheikhdoms’ subdued. But what they should have done was follow the example followed in Oman and some of the other neighboring states by making sure that the Sheikhs are given some degree of responsibility in their areas and some powers, but through the institutions of the government and not their own militias. This way they will not get carried away with their authority and will not use these powers outside the law and the regulations that control such responsibilities. Moreover the Sheikhs should be given clear guidelines as to what they can do with such authority. On the other hand the Sheikhs of Yemen should develop a code of conduct for themselves on how Sheikhs should behave with the public, sort of like the ‘dos and don’ts of a Sheik’. On the other hand the Sheikhs should only be in Sana’a if they are members of Parliament and then only when Parliament is in session. They should not have to keep a sizable force of paramilitary units for personal protection. This will do much to reduce the risk of violent confrontations arising and will set an example for the rest of the public to follow”.
Abdullah agreed: “I agree with you Najee. But, to be fair to the Sheikhs, while not meaning to hurt the feelings of our military friend here, I think that the same should apply for all public officials as well, whether military or civilian. The problem seems to be that anyone who has been given some degree of authority or responsibility in Yemen believes that they can get away with anything and that they have become above the law and above the codes of decent public behavior. It is pathetic that in these days you will find that most public flare-ups or incidents are either caused by public officials, military or security officers or sheikhs or their offspring. The sad part is that usually the victims of such incidents are helpless victims, who are passers by.”The soldier came up with a possible solution to the problem: “Why not just give the Sheikhs some of these uninhabited islands we have, to go as wild as they like to in them, without hurting anybody or tarnishing the image of Yemenis as a civilized society, and for their overseas travel I suggest that they be given a separate passages in the airports and entry/exit points to/from Yemen, like they have in some European countries for travelers who come from the European Union and other travelers, and to have separate facilities for them, with the security forces there armed with armor plated uniforms to guard against reckless travelers who forget that they are not above the Law!”