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The Shadow Cabinet of Sheikhs

Sheikhs in Yemen are famously known as noble leaders of their communities and tribes with powerful sway in the halls and armies of Yemen’s government. The youth revolution turned Yemen’s government on its head in a bold push to create a new modern civil state – yet the old power of Sheikhs has only grown.

This should come as no surprise. The majority of Sheikhs stay behind the scenes until political or social change threatens their interest. The revolution for a modern Yemen is just one other threat the Sheikhs seem to have deftly weathered.

In a bold decree in line with the revolution’s goals, Finance Minister Sakhar Al-Wajeeh decided to cease the salaries and pensions of Yemen’s sheikhs. The minister thought struggling Yemen could use the 13 billion Rial that regularly fills the pockets of 1281 Sheikhs across Yemen.

The minister learned quickly that change doesn’t happen so fast. Parliament, which has control over such matters, is filled with Sheikhs. When a threat emerges, so do the Sheikhs from Yemen’s shadow cabinet. In as much time as time as the decree was issued, the Sheikhs in parliament voted to reinstate the generous stipends through the tribal affairs authority.

While the minister’s move was applauded initially, observers of Yemen politics were quickly reminded of the power Sheikhs wield. Each key position in Yemen’s government is influenced heavily by the Sheikhs – in fact, Sakhar Al-Wajeeh himself was recommended for his current position by a Sheikh.

 The power of Sheikhs in Yemen is hard to question, but their actions are not. If Sheikhs control so much power in Yemen’s government, why don’t they lead Yemen rather than rule from behind? Everything can happen in an instant with a Sheikhs powerful approval: cars are stolen, scared tourists are released, wars are started. Sadly, this list forms the legacy of Sheikhs in Yemen’s post revolution period.

Sheikhs should step up and use their power for the benefit of Yemen for once and lead. Because isn’t it time Sheikhs lived up to their reputation as noble leaders of Yemen’s communities?

Yemen’s bright future depends on the collective action of every citizen, from street sweepers to, yes, even the Sheikhs themselves.