By Munir Ali Daair
The following is a response to an article written by AbdulRahman Al Rasheed on Yemen which appeared in Al Arabiya website. Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. I have written my response then followed it with a link to Al Rasheed’s article. You may wish to read his article first.
Recently a friend linked me to an article written by AbdulRahman Al Rasheed titled “The responsibility of Yemen’s President Hadi”. I described this article in my facebook page as, “Very shallow analysis by AbdulRahman Al Rasheed. Indicates an acute lack of knowledge about Yemen and its current affairs. Very disappointing considering the status of its famous writer.”
Indeed, my first reaction as I was reading the article was to ignore it because I could not understand how such an accomplished journalist would actually commit his pen to writing such superficial un-researched trash. Until, that is, I came across two lines which answered my question!
Quote, “President Hadi is fighting on several fronts, but he has to be honest with himself. If he cannot face the serious challenges, he has to step down.” Unquote.
Quote, “If the people were to choose between the former and current presidents’ sons, they would choose Ahmad, the elder son of “isolated” president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Ahmad was known as a “respectable” man who played a ”positive” role during the transitional phase. But at that time, people did not want anyone from Saleh’s entourage.” Unquote.
You start getting the drift now! Was Al Rasheed writing his or someone else’s analysis?
Well, we all know, journalism has its fault lines, sometimes big enough for a respectable journalist to fall into!
Just a note, quotation marks on “isolated”, “respectable” and ”positive” are mine. But more on those adjectives later.
Meanwhile let’s try to address Al Rasheed’s main point.
Quote, “Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi accused Iran more than once of acting behind the turmoil in Yemen. He blamed Iran for the Houthi rebel’s recent seizure of the city of Amran, the gateway to the capital Sanaa. I have no doubts that Iran is active in Yemen, funding and arming rebels, but this does not justify the failure of the Yemeni leadership or the defeat of the army or leaving the country slide to the verge of collapse. ’Unquote
Iran’s support of the Houthis is part of a regional power struggle that has turned into a regional sectarian conflict. Yemen, not being able to prevent this conflict nor avoid its ramifications, is unfortunately a victim of this regional power struggle between the two major players in our region, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Contrary to what Al Rasheed writes about Hadi’s leadership capabilities, the fact that Yemen has until today not succumbed to this sectarian power struggle the way Syria and Iraq have is largely due to Hadi’s patience, political acumen and leadership navigating through Yemen’s and the entire region’s transitional process.
In a speech I gave during a 2012 conference on Yemen’s future I said, “Taking a nation to the edge of the cliff requires brinkmanship. Taking a step back from the brink requires leadership”.
As a Yemeni I am gratified that in Hadi we have a president who has proven to be able to lead the country through various conflicting interests with patience where required, firmness where necessary and yes, leadership and compromise. One cannot blame our famous journalist Al Rasheed for not understanding the stakes involved in leading a country such as Yemen especially during this tumult period that our Arab region is going through. After all, one needs to sit on the hot seat of leadership, or be close to it, to understand what is happening.
In fact Hadi has demonstrated the very qualities that have made him the most credible and respected person to be entrusted with the very difficult and many times thankless job of leading Yemen through its transition.
Of all the challenges faced by Hadi, a significant one is the product of the GCC initiative itself. During the negotiations that lead to the GCC initiative, paramount was the removal of Saleh from office. To achieve this while avoiding a destructive civil war, a compromise was reached:
1- Saleh and a number of his officials will be granted immunity from prosecution.
2- A coalition government in which Saleh’s political party General People’s Congress (GPC) and his opponents the Joint Meetings Party (JMP) will share power equally.
3- Saleh was not required to resign his position as party president.
This then was the hand that Hadi was dealt by the GCC initiative. A deal that not only tied Hadi’s hand making it impossible for him to create a government and a team of his choice, but also that the former president who was overthrown by a people’s revolution, acting as party leader, will effectively control 50% of any government created during the transition.
During an interview before his resignation with Al Arabiya TV station (which Al Rasheed leads) , Saleh threatened to make life difficult once he leaves office and remains only party leader. Judging from the way he has used his ill gotten financial resources against the transition process, Saleh has indeed kept his promise.
This is hardly someone who is, as Al Rasheed described, “isolated president”. Infact Bin Omar, whom Al Rasheed mentions, ( “U.N. envoy’s efforts to minimize disputes”) has more than ones publicly condemned Saleh’s interference and disruption of Hadi’s efforts in leading the country’s transition process.
If Yemen is at the verge of collapse, then clearly Saleh should take 100% of the pre-revolution blame and 50% of the post revolution blame!
Since the revolution and during this whole transition pundits have cancelled Yemen out and described it to be “at the verge of collapse” many times. Yet Yemenis and president Hadi have demonstrated more resilience more times than one can count.
Should Yemen collapse now it will not be because, but despite its leadership. And certainly, Saleh and regional conflicts will have played a major role.
Should Yemen collapse, other countries in the region will feel the tsunami perhaps in a way that they might not be able to survive. Let us not forget the role that Yemen, under Hadi, plays in its all out war on terror, a role that Saleh has always avoided preferring to use Al qaeda as a regional and international bargaining chip instead. Luckily, the leadership in our region fully understands how Saleh played the Al qaeda card and also understand the potential regional and international ramifications of Yemen’s collapse, should it happen.
Yemen has always been the southern first line of defense for the entire Arabian peninsular whiles the GCC represent Yemen’s strategic depth. In this context Hadi’s determination to rid Yemen of Al qaeda is a fight also for the survival of the entire region.
It is because of this understanding that GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and others continue to be engaged in Yemen. Regardless of who governs, Yemenis have never accepted nor co-existed with ideological or religious fanaticism. In the end, all these fanatics fall. The power brokers of today, like those of yesterday, know this. More importantly, our regional partners know this too.
It is because of this, that all efforts by Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali to gain support for an Egyptian scenario in Yemen have so far failed. Nations in the region understand the dangers that can spread regionally should there be in Yemen an attempt to change the status quo by force, despite the self serving and short sighted efforts by Saleh and his son Ahmed.
In Yemen people cannot forget the past 33 years of oppressive mis-rule by Saleh’s dictatorial, corrupted, oppressive family dynasty that stole from the nation’s coffers turning Yemen destitute, or ‘the poorest country in the middle east’ as regularly described by various media outlets, including the one Al Rasheed leads.
Neither can people forget the orders given by Saleh’s son, the former head of the Republican Guard, Ahmed Ali, to burn tents over the heads of youngsters demonstrating against his father’s regime in Taiz. Tens of youngsters, at the spring of their lives, were burnt alive! This crime, committed at Ahmed Ali’s instruction, whom Al Rasheed describes as, ‘respectable” and ”positive”, makes the sniper shooting of 52 youngsters in Sanaa on the day now famously known as Friday of Dignity, perpetrated at the instruction of Ahmed Ali’s father, Saleh, pale by comparison.
Never has Yemen, in the midst of its many upheavals, required greater commitment to reform and never has it had a leader more committed to reform than it has in Abdou Rabbo Mansoor Hadi.
I remember a speech many years ago that Saleh gave in the middle of the series of devastating wars he waged against the Houthis in Saada. As Saleh spoke in his none conciliatory tone against his enemies in the north amidst the repeated applause of party and government officials gathered, I watched then Vice President Abdou Rabbo Mansoor Hadi. Hadi sat in stone silence, his hands folded refusing to applaud, looking down as the applauses continued repeatedly.
Now, remembering that incident and Hadi’s body language at the bombing of Yemeni civilians, I know, we as a people made two major mistakes. We waited too long to overthrow Saleh. We waited too long to install Hadi. But as they say, better late than never. Finally Yemen has a dignified, credible president who has the same aspirations and commitment that 25 million Yemenis have.