Tribal Violence Erupts in Yemen

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Photo by Amel Ahmed. See more further down.

Last Sunday President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to sign an agreement aimed at removing him from power, and two days later attacked the house of a prominent Sheikh while a mediation session was occurring. Throughout the week clashes have escalated between Saleh’s forces and al-Ahmar’s men, resulting in dozens of deaths.  A recent ceasefire has at least temporarily stopped the violence in Sana’a, but airstrikes on tribal areas continue in the north.

Events on the Ground:
Yemen expert Greg Johnsen gives a detailed summary of events on May 23 and 24:

[Monday] night, Yemeni soldiers loyal to Salih began to stock pile weapons and munitions at the al-Ramah school near Shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar’s compound in the north Sanaa neighborhood of al-Hasaba.

The government’s provocative actions continued the next morning.  In a situation as unstable and as tense as Sanaa was on Monday – moving into the school was akin to infiltrating Sadiq’s territory.

Who fired first on Monday is impossible to know – and both sides point the finger at the other. According to reports Sadiq wasn’t at home at the time, but a number of opposition leaders were meeting at his house.  In hours of fighting, at times with RPGs and rockets, 6 people were reported killed (Ar.) (although journalists had a difficult time confirming this) and more than 50 injured.  As fierce as the fighting was – an airline office was set on fire, and tribal forces loyal to Sadiq took over at least one government building – it was basically limited to clashes between two of Yemen’s most powerful families: President Salih’s and that of Shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the head of the Hashid tribal confederation.

The only thing that gave me hope last night that the genie of war might, just possibly might be slipped back into the bottle was the fact that the fighting had been largely contained to soldiers loyal to President Salih and tribesmen backing Shaykh Sadiq.  Thankfully, I thought, Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar – the powerful military general who defected to the protesters back in March with roughly half the regular army – hadn’t gotten involved.  That plus the inevitable tribal mediation might mean that war could still be avoided.

[Tuesday]- Mediation committees visited Sadiq’s house in an attempt to defuse the situation.  Among the mediators was Jibran Abu Shuwarib, the oldest of the 4 brothers.

At some point, and it isn’t clear to me when exactly this happened, troops loyal to President Salih shelled Sadiq’s house while the mediation committee was inside.  This is a big no-no in Yemen, what’s known as al-Ayb al-Aswad.  It appears that at least one shaykh, the young Muhammad bin Muhammad Abdullah Abu Lahum was killed, while a number of other prominent individuals including Jibran were injured and wounded.  Even Ghalib al-Qamish, the head of Yemen’s Political Security Organization, and who was part of a mediation committee – although I’m not sure if this was the same one – was injured in shelling during the day.

This next update came to Mideast Reports on May 26 from Raja Althaibani, who is on the ground in Sana’a:

Alhasaba location: I went by there to check the status of the conflict. I heard light shelling, not as heavy as last night. Last night residents in Al-hasaba sent out humanitarian pleas from neighborhood mosque minarets begging the forces to end their clashes for residents sake and safety. Residents that remained in the area were trapped in alhasaba without electricity and unable to leave their homes. Shelling reported to have hit residential buildings.

Military hospital (location: Sha’ob, Sana’a): Injured Saleh security forces have been sent here for immediate medical attention. Today I saw an ambulance bring someone in. I wasn’t allowed inside. The Department of Defense gave direct orders to hospital security to allow only Yemen State Channel access to the hospital to film, interview and photograph.

Major roads are still blocked (i.e. 60meter Street) leading to Sana’a International Airport.

Major shelling, heavy artillery and bombings all night last night into early this morning. Weapons launched from Noqoom and Alnahdayn mountains in Sana’a targetting Ahmar homes. These mountains are where major military bases are situated and weapon depots.

All roads leading into Sana’a have been blocked by security forces, preventing tribes from entering the Capital. There has been word that tribes directly related to the Shaikhs killed are coming to join the fight.

Khat trade and markets in Sana’a have lost major business since khat farmers struggled to deliver today’s ration of khat to the people.

I visited change square today. It has been very calm and the people inside have refused to intervene in what everyone sees as a family dispute terrorizing the Yemeni people. Yesterday they held a peaceful march that ended without casualties.

Makeshift hospital in square received innumerable amounts of casualties throughout the night. Casualties were alahmar men and civilians caught in the crossfire.

Last night was quite frustrating for everyone. It was difficult to confirm most information. Shelling was being heard from all parts of Sana’a: By Sana’a International Airport, Hada Street, by Ali Mohsen and Hamid Alahmar’s Home.

The Guardian reporting on the ceasefire:

When Sadiq al-Ahmar, the chief of Yemen‘s most powerful tribe,announced a ceasefire after five days of fighting in the capital that has left over 100 dead, there was deafening applause from the crowd, hundreds of thousands strong, who hoped beyond hope that the revolution they started could continue peacefully. But as fighter jets screamed overhead to bomb tribesmen who had wrested control of a military compound loyal to President Ali Saleh, there was little respite from the hell engulfing Yemenis in this conflict.

Here are more pictures of the clashes in Yemen. These were sent to Mideast Reports by Amel Ahmed, who is also on the ground in Sana’a:         The Opposition: 
As Greg Johnsen noted, these clashes have been essentially limited to Saleh’s forces the al-Ahmar clan. The demonstrators and forces loyal to Gen. Ali Mushin have remained peaceful.

This is the video of a cornel who apparently defected from the Republican Guard, which is generally considered loyal to Saleh:

The deal that Saleh refused to sign was negotiated with the official opposition coalition in Yemen (the JMP) and mediated by representatives from the GCC. However, the people on the streets – especially the youth – would not have accepted that agreement as legitimate even if Saleh had signed. They have their own list of demands, many of which were not addressed in the deal:

1) Remove the current regime peacefully and remove all its figures and all members of the President’s family and his relatives from all leadership posts in the military and civil institutions.

2) Forming a Transitional Presidential Council that constitutes of 5 civil members that are widely known for their competency, integrity and experience. These members have to be approved by the revolution youth leaders and the national powers. Individuals that represent the previous regime should be excluded from the selection. The Transitional Presidential Board will have the responsibility to issue all decision and decrees that will ensure attaining the demands of the revolution. After serving in the Transitional Presidential Board, members will not have the right to run for President or Prime Minister posts until one electoral cycle is completed.

3) After overthrowing the regime the Board has to declare a six month transitional period. This period starts with a constitutional decree announcing the termination of the current constitution and dissolving the Parliament, the Shura Council and the Local Councils.

4) The Transitional Presidential Board will appoint a widely accepted national figure who will form a Transitional Cabinet of qualified technocrats within one month.

5) A Transitional National Board to be formed and include representatives of the youth and all political and national powers. The Transitional National Board will provide: a) A solution for the Southern issue that yields a fair and satisfactory response b) A solution for the Sa’ada Case issue that resolves the preceding effects. c) Monitoring the performance of the Transitional Presidential Board and the Transitional Cabinet. d) Forming a new Supreme Council for Elections which will be responsible for correcting the voter records and preparing for free and fair elections during the transitional period. e) Selecting a Drafting Committee of reliable legal advisors to propose a new constitution for a civil, democratic and modern state that has: a republican parliamentary system based on proportional list-based electoral system, and a system of social justice and equal citizenship. The new constitution has to be completed within three months from its initiation, and the then put for national referendum.

6) Restructuring the higher judicial council to ensure the full separation and impartiality of the judicial authority.

7) Dissolving the Ministry of Information and forming an independent higher authority that will ensure freedom of expression and diversification of media and communication outlets.

8 ) Dissolving the Ministry of Human Rights and creating an independent higher council for human rights.

9) Legally pursue and prosecute the corrupt officials and retrieve public property and money.

10) Immediate release of all political detainees and the missing persons and dissolving extraordinary courts and private prisons.

11) Legal persecution of all individuals that caused, assisted and incited the killing and injury of those who participated in the peaceful demonstrations. Deliver appropriate compensations to the families of the deceased and honor them duly.

12) Dissolving the Political Security Forces and National Security Forces, and forming a new dedicated national security agency under the umbrella of the Ministry of Interior. The new national security agency will be responsible for observing Yemen’s external threats.

13) Merging the Republican Guards with the Military Forces, and dissolving the National Defense Council to ensure full impartiality of the Army and Security Forces.

American Response:
Although tribal bonds will likely continue to supersede any efforts made by foreign governments, the US continues to issue statements.

Secretary Clinton on Thursday:

“We call on all sides, on all sides, to immediately cease the violence,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a news conference in Paris.

“We continue to support a united and stable Yemen and we continue to support the departure of president Saleh who has consistently agreed that he would be stepping down from power and then consistently reneged on those agreements,” she said.

Excerpt from the newest State Department warning:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to civil unrest. The Department urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen. U.S. citizens currently in Yemen should depart while commercial transportation is available…

There is ongoing civil unrest throughout the country and large-scale protests in major cities. Violent clashes are taking place in Sana’a, and may escalate without notice. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

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One Response to Tribal Violence Erupts in Yemen

  1. Pingback: Opinion: Hamza Khateeb Changes Balance of Power in Syria | Mideast Reports

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