Thursday, 5 January 2012

Yemen rises up against its mini-dictators

By: Abubakr al-Shamahi

In a 'parallel revolution', Yemenis are challenging President Saleh's henchmen, who run institutions as personal fiefdoms.

In the current state of confusion in Yemen, with the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his family attempting to retain control behind the scenes even though he is officially due to leave office in February, Yemeni protesters have a new tactic.

A "parallel revolution" of anti-corruption protests and strikes is seeking to remove the mini-dictators – Saleh's lieutenants who are in charge of the various state institutions and the bloated state bureaucracy.

Ten months after the start of anti-government protests, and with the country's future steeped in uncertainty, Yemenis are determined to ensure that real change is the fruit of their sacrifices.

A dictator's power comes from having the ability to surround himself with a loyal group of henchmen, the faithful minions who will ensure that power remains in the hands of the leader. Without such followers it is impossible to rule dictatorially.

Over his 33 years at the helm, Saleh has managed to build an effective network of partisans, people who aid him in controlling the various branches of the state, and yet also know that they are only in their position because of their loyalty to Saleh.

In turn, Saleh allows these men to get rich and to run their institutions as personal fiefdoms. These corrupt officials have siphoned off millions, most likely billions, in a country that is ranked as the poorest in the Arab world. This nouveau riche group are busy building villas and mansions on the edge of Sana'a, Yemen's capital. In the meantime, the city is running out of water because of mismanagement and poor infrastructure.

Weak state institutions mean that officials can get away with many illegitimate practices. Contracts are given out to friends and family, or simply the person willing to grease officials' hands with the most money. Yemen's oil and natural resources industry – its main (but dwindling) source of income – is notoriously corrupt, with oil revenues under-reported and educational scholarships from oil money going to the children of high officials.

The Yemeni mini-dictators abuse their power in other ways. There have been reports of military officers running "personal prisons" and taking money from officers' salaries.

One protester at a government office in the city of Taiz said his boss had put a gun to his head only the week before. The boss, at first confused, and then angry, was barred from entering the building by the protester and his colleagues.

Such scenes have been replicated across the country, and across a wide array of government institutions – any success giving encouragement to other workers tired of their overlords. And they have met with success in many cases now.

One video shows Abubakr al-Amoodi, a military man who heads the Civil Status Office, being hounded out of the building. The employees line the path cheering his exit.

Saleh has realised the seriousness of this situation, and has cancelled his planned trip to the US. He has apparently been hoping to negate the impact of the forthcoming handover of power to his vice-president by retaining control over military and government institutions. That plan now appears to be in serious danger of falling to pieces. It is no accident that the bosses under the most pressure now are Saleh's men.

The protests and strikes also expose the fact most Yemenis do not believe that any real change will come out of the "transition" deal negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council. The deal has brought about very little that could be claimed as a real success for the revolution. The Saleh family remain in their positions and are not barred from any future entry into politics. The latest round of protests should send a signal to Washington, and Riyadh, that Yemeni protesters cannot be quietened so easily.

Instead, it seems that the impending removal of Saleh from the presidency has given Yemenis a taste for removing others that they do not like from positions of authority. They will be looking for their next corrupt target very soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment