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YEMEN - Ali Abdullah Saleh (Al Ahmar)

Companies having access to President Saleh can be very successful. Such companies, including Hunt, Occidental and Total, have managed to get Saleh to intervene personally to improve their E&P terms with the oil ministry (see E&P profiles in Gas Market Trends). However, it is not easy to have access to Saleh. Getting the right man for the introduction and the man who knows when Saleh is in the best of his moods can be very expensive. It was thanks to one of the meetings with Saleh that Total's CEO got its LNG project moving, although the Asian economic crisis has affected this venture (see Gas Market Trends of this week). Saleh is a simple but very shrewd man. A hard-headed pragmatist, his main weakness is a combination of good ideas, or a fair argument, backed by certain leaders of the Hashed tribes under parliament Speaker and leader of the Islamist/conservative Islah Party, Shaikh Abdullah Al Ahmar. This is why Shaikh Ahmar is very wealthy and his family is very powerful (see his profile in APS Diplomat's Operations in Oil Diplomacy, Vol. 31, June 24, 1996). Saleh's top priority now is to ensure victory for himself in Yemen's first direct presidential election due in October 1999, having been in the top post since 1978. He is carefully balancing his efforts towards that goal with tough economic reform and price rises which are very unpopular in Yemen. But these are the direct responsibility of his Prime Minister, Abdel Karim Al Iryani who is currently under attack by rioters protesting the latest wave of fuel price rises (see below). Saleh, a Zaidi Shiite of the northern Hashed tribes, was born in the town of Al Ahmar in 1942. With less than elementary education, he joined the North Yemeni armed forces at an early age and became a corporal. He was promoted by his tribal leaders in 1977 when the then president of North Yemen, Ahmad Al Ghashmi - an ally of one Hashed tribe - appointed him as military governor of Taiz. After Ghashmi's assassination on June 24, 1978, Saleh was made a member of the four-man provisional council of the presidency. On July 17, 1978, Saleh became president of the republic, chief of staff and commander in chief of the armed forces - having been unusually promoted to the rank of major and then colonel. Later he became a general. In December 1997, parliament approved his promotion to field marshal and a statement said this was "in recognition of his historical role and the political, economic and social achievements" of his mandate. Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi was promoted from lieutenant general to general. Saleh now is the highest ranking military officer in Yemen. On Aug.10, 1978, as president, Saleh ordered the execution of 30 officers on the charge of conspiracy to topple his regime, and he has since faced several assassination and coup attempts. He became president of unified Yemen on May 22, 1990, South Yemen's Marxist regime of Aden having merged with that of Sanaa. He backed Saddam Hussein who invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Many things happened after the merger, including very complex intrigues both in the north and in the south, plus secession by the southern leaders who had become bold after big oil discoveries in Masila. Saleh fought the latter head on - the May-July 1994 war was devastating - until he defeated them. But Saleh gave strict orders for his troops not to target any of the oil installations in the country. He re-emerged as a stronger ruler of all Yemen. A complex border dispute with Saudi Arabia and various other developments after the war did not shake a stubborn Saleh who, nevertheless, proved to be an excellent diplomat. He negotiated with King Fahd a tricky formula concerning the future of Assir, Jizan and Najran - three potentially oil-rich provinces controlled by Saudi Arabia but claimed by Yemen - and got Riyadh to freeze claims to Hadhramout and other oil-rich parts of Yemen. But border tensions rose again in late May 1998 as, according to the opposition 'Al Jamahir' newspaper, Saudi troops landed on Yemen's Red Sea island of Dhu Hurab. The border separating Saudi Arabia from Yemen's southern sector (ex-South Yemen), including the oil- rich Masila block, is yet to be delineated. Saleh had founded the General People's Congress (GPC), the ruling political party, before the Yemeni unification. In the April 27, 1997, general elections, the first since the May-July 1994 war, the GPC scored a sweeping victory. Out of a total of 301 parliamentary seats, the GPC won 187 and Al Islah got 53. Most of the "independent" figures who won 39 seats were allied to the GPC in one way or another. This victory gave Saleh a free rein to push ahead with economic reform and in May a new government was formed mostly of GPC members headed by Prime Minister Faraj Bin Said Bin Ghanem (an independent Hadhrami economist and Yemen's representative at the UN in Geneva since 1994). Al Islah, previously the GPC's Islamist coalition government partner, had tried to prevent implementation of economic reforms agreed to in 1995 agreements with the World Bank and IMF, because of their social cost. But Al Islah was heavily defeated in the April elections and the economy was the priority for Ghanem, a former planning and development minister. Al Islah had only reluctantly approved the first two waves of economic reforms, a source of friction with its coalition partner. The measures included reduced subsidies on oil and electricity, and increased tariffs on services such as telecommunications and power. The next round of reforms is to eradicate subsidies on wheat and flour and to reduce the size of the public service, measures denounced by Al Islah during the election campaign. But Ghanem resigned in late April 1998, after a month's absence, because Saleh did not give him sufficient power. On May 16, Iryani formed a new cabinet (see below). Under Saleh are some of the most educated technocrats in the Arab world. Acting on their recommendation, in February 1996 he sacked hundreds of government officials at ten ministries, after he made an unannounced inspection. They were accused of corruption or negligence. He ordered the ministries of interior and defence to "demote, sack or hand over to justice" any officers found to have "failed in their duty". In January 1996, he had promised donor countries to retire 25,000 officials during the year. (Government services in Yemen officially employed 700,000 people, of whom at least half were "ghost employees" getting wages but occupying no post). Saleh has numerous half-brothers. He is married to more than one wife and has a big number of children. To consolidate his control, Saleh has placed loyal relatives around him. His brother, Lt. Col. Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, has headed his special security force and played a major role in the May-July 1994 as commander of a key force against the southerners. He joined the government in Dec. 1985 when he was made deputy minister of interior. Later he became commander of central security and the chief of intelligence. By January 1982 he had become deputy chief of staff for military affairs. After the merger with South Yemen in 1990, he kept a low profile but remained in charge of security around his brother. Gen. Abdullah Hussein Al Bashiri, a relative, is head of the presidential office and is one of the negotiators in the border dispute with Saudi Arabia.
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Publication:APS Review Downstream Trends
Article Type:Article
Geographic Code:7YEME
Date:Jun 29, 1998
Words:1247
Previous Article:YEMEN - The Decision Makers
Next Article:YEMEN - Abdel Karim Al Iryani
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