By Qais Ghanem*
Millions in Yemen uttered sighs of relief when President Hadi finally did it! Days ago, he removed Saleh’s son, Ahmed, from the crucial position of commander of the Republican Guard and appointed him ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. He had commanded the elite army unit which made up the backbone of Saleh’s control of Yemen.
It was supposed to be reorganized and brought under the control of the Defence Ministry according to Hadi’s orders last year, but those orders were evidently ignored. To demonstrate how powerful this unit is, let us remember that Republican Guard troops earlier this week forced businesses closed and clashed with, not only unarmed residents in the southern city of Rada, but also with the police, killing three residents.
Furthermore, Saleh’s nephew Ammar, the deputy intelligence chief, was appointed military attache to Ethiopia, while the other nephew, Tareq Yahia, head of the Presidential Guard, was exiled to Germany as military attaché. He also made general Ali Muhsin an advisor, away from his very important military command.
As recently as the birthday party of Saleh, a few days ago, Yehya Saleh was promising the return to power by his discredited family, this time through the ballot box during the anticipated general elections in 2014. He was not bluffing! With these real advantages of enormous pillaged wealth and strong connections, built over three decades, and the ever looming threat of military intervention if they did not work, that threat should be taken very seriously.
It is as if Hadi read what I wrote in Gulf News on 16 May 2012: “Ali Abdullah Saleh has been given the sweetest deal a tyrant could dream of: He is being allowed to remain in Yemen and keep his enormous wealth, with which he can buy influence in a destitute country where money will buy you anything you desire. What should have happened, and what should happen now, is that a presidential ultimatum must be issued to Saleh and his so-called inner circle. He must be told that immunity is off unless he leaves the country and the Congress party. His ‘inner circle’ must leave their military posts, and those members of the cabinet who held ministerial positions in the last government, especially in national security, defence and foreign affairs, must resign.”
It was therefore a smart and timely move that President Hadi executed. He would have had difficulty removing those members of Saleh’s family, but bribing them with diplomatic posts which at the same time give them diplomatic immunity from prosecution overseas seems to have worked. Keeping them out of the country was also a good tactical move, at least until the elections in 2014.
In the meantime Hadi should resist the temptation of adopting the same nepotism and tribalism of his predecessor, on the pretext of protecting himself against those who would want to topple him, who must be lurking in the dark, planning for the near future. It may well turn out that Hadi would make a reasonable elected president in 2014, even if he now professes that he has no intention of running. No one would have seriously considered him a potential choice of the people of Yemen, until this move. For, he was the complicit silent partner of Saleh all these years, as were others, born and educated in the South, who continue to occupy sensitive positions of power.
For him to gain the confidence of Yemenis he will need to distance himself from the drone campaign waged by the United States, which is extremely unpopular among Yemenis because of the enormous unpardonable “collateral damage” it has caused and continues to wreak. In the past he openly supported it, as did his foreign minister. In an article in Washington Post, Danya Greenfield and David J. Kramer said: “Drone strikes heighten animosity towards the US and Yemen President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government for compromising Yemeni sovereignty. Thirty-one foreign policy experts and former diplomats sent a letter to President Obama last week that said the administration’s expansive use of unmanned drones in Yemen is proving counterproductive to US security objectives: As faulty intelligence leads to collateral damage, extremist groups ultimately win more support.” It is time Hadi re-evaluated his drone support.
Is the National Dialogue going to succeed in Yemen? It has already succeeded in that it gave Yemenis the opportunity to vent, and to say things they never dared to even whisper in the past, and even more importantly it showed Yemenis that they can and must listen patiently to things they do not want to hear, and would rather sweep under the carpet, such as their racism against the black “Akhdam” of Yemen’s Tihama region, about whom I wrote in my novel Two Boys from Aden College. It should give Yemenis the opportunity to break with a legacy of tribalism, nepotism, corruption, greed and utter disregard for the human rights of the other.
But it will take a lot more than dialogue to persuade “South Yemenis”, like me, to want to remain within Yemen. Before clipping the wings of the Saleh family, it would have been unthinkable for the vast majority of them, based on my conversations with them. As I said in Gulf News on January 15, 2013, “That old and tired emotional argument that we cannot accept fracturing the country into South and North does not hold water, and each region could easily survive without the other as an independent state, now that the people in both regions have learnt their lessons about co-existence. On the other hand, a united geographical Yemen, provided the population of the South is treated as an equal in every way, would have an obvious advantage.”
The onus is on the southerner Hadi, to persuade those of us from the south that the advantages of unity clearly outweigh those of re-establishing two separate countries. We need to keep in mind that those in the old South Yemen grew up under British colonial rule, in a country functioning under the rule of law, with high-quality universal education of the highest calibre — at that time better than any system anywhere in the Arabian Peninsula. The graduates of Aden College, my alma mater, and the Technical Institute formed the core of the civil service then. Many of them who have joined the Diaspora are scattered all over the world, where they are able to compete with the best in their new adopted countries.
South Yemen has learnt its lesson, and can probably thrive and prosper very well on its own. With an assumed population of 5 million, it is in the same league as the following member countries of the United Nations, who are doing well: Libya, Denmark, UAE, Singapore, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Lebanon, Croatia and New Zealand. It gains virtually nothing from being part of a tribal, corrupt, “basket case” greater Yemen, any more than Lebanon would by being a rump of Syria. I, for one, would consider going back to Aden.
*Dr Qais Ghanem is a retired neurologist, radio show host, poet and novelist. His two novels are Final Flight from Sana’a and Two Boys from Aden College. His non-fiction is My Arab Spring My Canada. His combined English/Arabic poetry book is From Left to Right.