SILVER LININGPost-Ahmer challenges [Archives:2008/1118/Opinion]

January 7 2008

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qadhi
I understand it is not the end of life. It is, however, certain the death of Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmer, speaker of parliament and chief of Hashid, Yemen's biggest tribe, will generate some challenges at different levels. His death will affect the regime of President Saleh for Al-Ahmer used to play an instrumental role in shaping up the relationship between the tribal fabric and state.

Due to his popularity and influence among the tribes across the country, al-Ahmer used to offer solutions to the problems here and there and are sometimes of serious threat to Saleh's regime. He was a great support to the man despite his rejection that a military man takes over power in 1978. He had to accept Saleh as a president following Saudi pressure. He used his strong relationship with the Gulf countries, mainly Saudi Arabia in cementing gaps and sorting out differences with the regime of Saleh every now and then, particularly before the two countries signed border treaty in 2000.

He played a pivotal role in attaining this agreement with the Saudis and orchestrated efforts to normalize relationship with Kuwait following Yemen's government support to the regime of Saddam during his invasion to Kuwait. Al-Ahmer was the only politician who signed the Oath and Agreement Accord following the political crisis in 1993 on condition that former vice president Ali Salem al-Beidh returns to Sana'a from Amman and not to Aden. He stood by Saleh during the 1994 civil war and mobilized public support to the fight against the socialists. There are other occasions that show he is a big loss to Saleh's regime.

I understand also that his tribe Hashid will miss his wisdom, sobriety,, insight, devotion and loyalty. The man was a gigantic fighter for preserving the tribal mores and their influence in the life of the Yemeni people at large. He served long years in the parliamentary work. However, he used to run the parliament in the morning and goes home in the afternoon to sort out problems between tribesmen according to the tribal system. His role and the role of the tribe in the state was marginalized during the office of President Ibrahim al-Hamdi who was assassinated in 1977.Yet, his influence expanded during the reign of Saleh, unleashing the dominance of the tribe over state institutions.

Therefore, al-Ahmer was an instrumental figure in maintaining the unity and togetherness of his tribe and its presence at the power center. In fact, he was one of the key reasons that facilitated the continuity of the tribal system in the country and pushed for its strong presence in the life of the people. His popularity was reflected in the big funeral in which hundred thousands of people crowded to bid him farewell. His elder son Sadeq has been already acknowledged as a new leader of the tribe. However, does he have the charisma of his father and influence to attain the loyalty of his people as well as preserve its unity and power?

The most important issue is the relationship between his sons and the president. His elder son is not in bad terms with the president like his brothers Hamid and Hussein who strongly opposed Saleh during 2006 presidential elections. The two people have been very vocal in lashing out at Saleh and his administration to the extent of demanding a public uprising against his regime. Will Saleh be able to tame his relationship with the young motivated and influential persons who have the ambition and nerve for power, resulting in a compromise that ensures their influence and power both at the tribal and state levels? Otherwise, will they continue their challenge to the man and cripple his tactics in transferring power to his son? This is why the post-Ahmer era poses serious challenges standing ahead Saleh's regime in 2008 which is already pregnant with pending challenges including the uprising in the south and the deadlocked dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition coalition over constitutional amendments and other issues in the offing.

Happy New Year.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qadhi ([email protected]) is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.