What Is the Exact Mandate of the PSO? The Regime Moves to Break Unions [Archives:1998/09/Front Page]

March 2 1998

Over the last few weeks, the Political Security Office (PSO) has done all it can to break unions. The tactics employed were illegal and immoral. In a couple of cases, the tactics were simply dirty and disgusting as they reflect the totalitarian days.

The union of employees at the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) were trying to negotiate better terms. Spearheading that drive was the CBY union leader Dirhem Abdul-Fattah. During the negotiations, Mr. Abdul-Fattah lost his calm and shouted angry words at the Governor of the CBY, Mr. Ahmed Al-Samawi, and the PSO Representative at the bank.
The differences between the union and the CBY management got out of hand could have been resolved within proper legal channels. But ‘No!’, the PSO had to intervene. The PSO picked up the union leader and jailed him for a week and kept him incommunicado.
Many human rights organizations appealed to the PSO to see light and let go of the man. That did not happen until the unionist was ‘properly’ punished.
In another case, the union of teachers is being brought down to its knees by employing smear tactics. The fight for the rights of teachers, who are clearly underpaid, was presented by the state authorities as a political struggle between the People’s General Congress (PGC) and the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah).
Indeed, there is a political struggle between the PGC and Islah to win control over this important union. But why does the PSO come into the picture? And on the side of the PGC?

There are many other examples of activities by PSO against individuals and groups that try to wield influence in society. In essence, the mandate of the PSO has become to employ any means to neutralize the growth of any power base that would compete and/or defy the present regime. The PSO works to intimidate or simply break any person who seeks to wield influence.
Such a policy, of course, goes against the very grain of democracy and the peaceful transfer of power among different groups in society.
This behavior has prompted many pro-democracy thinkers of Yemen to demand a clear specification of the mandate of the PSO. In many democratizing societies, such organizations have simply been dismantled or at least civilianized.
For Yemen’s political evolution to make sense, the country needs to re-consider the role and mandate of the PSO, and why it should be directly linked to the president.