In-Fighting at the Top [Archives:1998/39/Front Page]

September 28 1998

The country is rife with rumors about the in-fighting among the various sub-groups surrounding the president. Examples and details of one group out-maneuvering another – a phenomenon that has become part of the political scene – are plenty. The in-fighting and heated competition aim to secure more power and a larger share of the bounty. The president’s men are not necessarily positioning themselves to replace the big guy, they are vying for more influence with him.
Let us look at the leaders of the contending forces and how they relate to the President.
1. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar:
Brigadier Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, Commander of the Mechanized Tank and Artillery Forces, is said to be a father figure of the ruling Sanhan clan. They say he is the president’s closest confidante.
Brigadier Al-Ahmar played a major role in the 1994 war, and in supporting the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He is directly involved in the country’s important decisions – military, civilian and tribal. He often gives instructions to the government bureaucracy, military/security forces, and tribes, which are all readily obeyed. He has many supporters and followers within the power structure. It is said to be in good terms with the Islah party. He enjoys good relations with the neighbors, but has no visible links to the West.
President Saleh has given him much of the responsibility for Yemen’s military as well as the ruling family’s affairs.
2. Abdul-Karim Al-Iryani:
Dr. Abdul-Karim Al-Iryani, the Prime Minister, is one of the architects of modern Yemen. Although he is the leader of Yemen’s educated class, he has not been able to mobilize their support. That is partly because Dr. Iryani is seen as favoring his kins and friends to key positions and opportunities. Thus he is missing in building a broader base of supporters.
But, the educated class in Yemen is itself fragmented. This is clear when one realizes that the pro-modern elements in opposition parties, and some in his own party, are oblivious to the man’s many battles against traditional power centers.
Dr. Iryani enjoys good relations with the West and a good international standing. But he is seen as the person responsible for Yemen’s problems with key neighbors, notably Saudi Arabia.
President Saleh has given him charge for part of Yemen’s external relations and the internal civilian reforms.
3. Abdo Rabbo Mansoor Hadi:
Lt-General Abdo Rabbo Mansoor Hadi, Vice President of the Republic, is seen as the highest ranking representative of the interests of the southerners, especially the Abyan and Shabwa groups. He has compartmentalized following within the military, government bureaucracy and the general public.
Aware of the on-going power plays, he is sitting tight and waiting for the tide to pass. In the meanwhile, he is gaining more experience as a statesman, and more respect among the people.
Abdo Rabbo played a vital role in the war of 1994.
President Saleh has made him in charge for dispensing assistance to needy Yemenis. He is also involved in sorting out differences among clashing groups, especially in the south.
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Ahmar:
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussain Al-Ahmar, Speaker of Parliament, is also the paramount leader of the Hashed tribal grouping and head of the Islah party. Thus, he is a major player in the country’s politics.
Though Sheikh Abdullah has steadily branched out into business – his family now owns numerous companies and agencies – he has maintained a visible political profile. He is well-connected to the ruling families of the Gulf countries, notably Saudi Arabia. He has a strong following among the armed tribes. He is respected by a large part of the Yemeni people for his role and that of his family in fighting the Imam. He is in charge of much of Yemen’s tribal affairs and has a strong input in Yemen’s relations with Saudi Arabia.
There are many other powerful tribal, military and civilian persons. Many have intentionally chosen to lie low and accept to play second fiddle and be seen as proteges, for now.