Yemeni Businessmen Ask Authorities to Provide Adequate Protection! [Archives:1999/08/Business & Economy]

February 22 1999

Lawlessness in the Republic of Yemen has risen to unprecedented levels. There are many manifestations of this problem, including the following:
1) Lack of respect for ownership of property, especially urban real estate:
On many occasions, armed groups – some working for the regular army and security forces and some tribal in nature – go and occupy various plots of land and buildings with no proper deeds or right to ownership. Dislodging these thugs is very costly or impossible
2) Kidnapping of foreigners:
This is another version of the lawlessness of the land. Over the last few years, there have been over a hundred cases of kidnappings involving over 600 foreign tourists, diplomats or company workers.
3) Bureaucracy grinds to a halt unless you pay:
A third representation of the chaos is the impossible corruption that plagues government bureaucracy. It is nearly impossible to get anything done unless you pay up. Given the complicated paperwork, sometimes it takes a fortune to bribe the bureaucrats.
4) Local businessmen are now targeted for kidnapping:
A new and rising phenomenon of the lawlessness in the country today is the number of businessmen who are kidnapped. These are then blackmailed into paying ransom.
One of the cases that is now pending between the authorities, the business community and the tribes involves a well-known entrepreneur, Nabil Mohammed Al-Khamiry.
Mr. Al-Khamiry, whose family has been in commerce and other business activities for a long time, feels he is left alone to deal with unruly tribes who face no deterrent. That is why he feels vulnerable. That is also why he is bitter against the authorities.
The story began on December 21st when a number of armed tribesmen stormed his office on Zubairi Street. The group, from the now famous Bani Dhabyan in Khowlan, say that there is an unfinished business between them and Mr. Al-Khamiry. They say they were cheated out of some business arrangements. Mr. Al-Khamiry denies any business or connection to them. He says he does not know them, and never saw them before.
“Besides, I am not the only businessman to be targeted by these tribes. They have attacked other people and always say that there is something between us and we want to finish some unfinished business. It is plain robbery and blackmail,” he explained to the Yemen Times.
Then the newspaper investigated any political dimension. There was none. Nabil Al-Khamiry also downplayed any political motives or goals. “I rule out any political dimensions. Yet, those tribesmen may have certain interests in that they may be paid to damage investment possibilities and development prospects in the country,” he added.
How did the authorities react?
That is the funny part. The President of the Republic, Mr. Ali Abdullah Saleh, called the businessman to comfort him and to show personal interest and support. The president also ordered two armoured trucks to guard the home of Mr. Nabil Al-Khamiry, and several soldiers to serve as his bodyguards. This was the proper answer.
However, firstly the soldiers are now financially bleeding the businessman. It costs him roughly YR 200,000 per day to cover the upkeep of the armoured trucks and guards.
Secondly, it feels awkward for a businessman to go about his work with lots of soldiers around him at all times.
This is especially true of a man who is used to walking all alone. “When I am in my car, I have my driver,” he said. Now, Mr. Al-Khamiry has to make a difficult adjustment.
What exactly happened?
Nabil explains:
“On the third day of Ramadhan, I was faced with a gang of armed tribesmen as I tried to enter my office on Zubairi Street in Sanaa. Three of them obstructed my way. One of them shook my hand and tried to pull me aside. I tried to free myself. Then seven more armed men came out of a car and which was parked nearby. They started shooting with their automatic rifles. The time was 12 noon. In Ramadhan, there was little traffic at this time.
I knew instinctively that I needed help, and my employees were my best bet. I dashed to the office, which was full of my employees – Yemenis as well as Iraqis, Egyptians and Palestinians. When they tried to help, one of the gangsters hurried to the door of the company and started shooting at random. His comrades also started indiscriminate shooting at the company door.”
Nabil continues: “As more and more people came to the scene, and my employees helped, the attackers began to retreat, especially as one of their own was hurt. But they had grabbed my briefcase which had some money and documents.”Yemeni law stipulates execution or the death sentence to such highway robbers and attackers. The Quran also explicitly outlines that such individuals must be banished from the land or executed.
The businessman is asking the authorities to implement the law. “We pay taxes to the authorities to uphold the law. It is up to the government to protect all citizens, but especially businessmen who are asked to invest their savings in the country. If their own lives are not safe, how can people trust us with their money? he asks.
Instead of putting the attackers on trial, the authorities have engaged in tribal intermediation. But Mr. Al-Khamiry is not happy with this line of action. “Either we have institutions that can uphold the law – such as law enforcement agencies and courts, or we don’t. Why do we have to revert to tribal mediation?” He insists that tribal mediation on such clear violations actually undermine the state and its modern machinery. It also scares foreigners because tribal ways are for Yemenis, and not even all Yemenis. understand them
Nabil Al-Khamiry, who is married to the daughter of Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussain Al-Ahmar, paramount Chief of the Hashed tribal grouping, did get tribal backing himself. “Many sheikhs have contacted me expressing solidarity and support. They denounced the attack as unbecoming of Yemeni tribesmen,” he says.
Kidnapping and tribal attacks on foreigners and Yemenis alike was treated by the local and international media as something romantic. And the government authorities did not treat it as a serious matter. It became a joke. Some people even call it a Yemeni folklore or a Yemeni style of negotiating.
But, the latest incident in Abyan turned this tribal romance into a catastrophe. Yemen has lost millions of dollars because the tourist industry simply nose-dived. Yemen is deprived of a major hard currency earning business.
Many countries are also re-considering their aid program to the country, unless something is done to restore dignity to law and order, and the state.
In addition, foreign investments have not been forthcoming. Even local investors are refusing to put their money in the country, in spite of good opportunities. “Look at the Sultanate of Oman and other countries in the neighborhood. It is the prifvate sector which is the engine of growth and development,” says a senior businessman who is also a leading member of the Federation of Yemeni Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “We can do the same and even better if there is law and order,” he adds.
It is very frustrating for the victims when they see that their predators are not held accountable or brought to justice. “The authorities have interrogated me ten times. They know my opponents, who are tribesmen of the Bani Dhabyan tribe. They are still free,” Nabil complains.
Is it a question of inability or unwillingness on the part of the security authorities to arrest the perpetrators? That is the real question.
Reported by:
Mohammed Bin Sallam,
Yemen Times.