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YEMEN - Ali Abdullah Saleh Al-Ahmar.

Companies having access to President Saleh, the top decision maker in Yemen, can be successful. Companies like Nexen and Total have managed to get Saleh to intervene personally to improve their E&P terms with the MOMR. But Saleh in March 2005 let MPs of his ruling General People's Congress (GPC) vote against a new PSA for the Hunt/ExxonMobil JV - YEPC - concerning Block 18 and thus its concession was terminated. As a result, YEPC is suing Yemen (see E&P profiles in omt26YemenFields&Exports-Jun26-06).

It is not easy to have access to Saleh, 64, unless the visiting executive represents a major company. Getting the right man for the introduction and the man who knows when Saleh is in the best of his moods can be expensive. It was thanks to a meeting with Saleh that Total's CEO got his LNG project moving in 1995 and, more recently, the deadline for its implementation extended to 2006. Now the project is progressing on schedule and the first LNG train will be ready in 2008 (see Gas Market Trends of this week & background of this venture Gas Market Trends Vol. 59, No. 3 of July 15/22, 2002).

There has been a big question mark over President Saleh remaining in office after his current term ends in September 2006. In July 2005 he made public his intent not to run for another term, saying the country should be prepared for another person to lead. Since then he has repeated this line. But on June 24 he was quoted by the BBC as saying, finally, that he would run for another seven-year term in the September 2006 presidential elections if this was the request of the people. Even in mosques across Yemen prayer imams have been insisting in their Friday sermons that Saleh's leadership was indispensable for Yemen's stability (see Yemen survey in fap6-YemenJun26-06).

Analysts have been insisting all along that Saleh, who controls the government and parliament, wanted another term; but he was only manoeuvring his way through local politics. The first clear sign of this came on Feb. 12, when a cabinet shake-up was announced which was seen as part of an early election campaign.

In a major reshuffle, Saleh appointed 15 new ministers, mostly technocrats, to replace long-serving veterans in the 35-member cabinet. All the new ministers and those who retained their posts are members of his GPC. The most significant changes were the departure of two of Prime Minister Abdul-Qader Ba-Jammal's deputies, who retained his post. The two deputies Alawi al-Salami and Ahmad Sufan, who held the finance and planning portfolios, were responsible for implementing an economic adjustment programme.

The Finance Minister, Saif al-Asali, is an economics professor widely-known for his support of structural reforms. By appointing Asali, Saleh reaffirmed his commitment to push ahead with a decade-old reforms programme.

Although no official explanation was given for the reshuffle, Yemeni analysts have since kept saying the changes were mostly cosmetic and set to prepare for the elections more than a step towards reform.

Saleh had ruled North Yemen since 1978, before taking the helm of the entire country after North and South Yemen merged in May 1990. Muhammad Jassar, a prominent analyst said after the new cabinet was formed: "This formation is an administration to prepare for [September] elections rather than a team for accelerating reforms or boosting the country's fledgling democracy".

Last November, the Millennium Challenge Corp., an initiative created by Washington in 2002 to reward developing countries for adopting democracy, suspended a grant to Yemen - citing its low marks on human rights and fighting corruption. A month later, the World Bank cut a third of its aid to Yemen, citing similar problems.

Jassar said: "Although we did not expect to see the departure of veteran politicians, this [new cabinet] is not a step to further transform the country to the long-awaited real democracy. Some of the new faces are merely old bureaucrats, and by introducing them to the cabinet, the GPC intends to further tighten its political grip".

Yahya al-Haddi, another prominent writer, noted that the reshuffle was an unsatisfactory response to calls for reform and to fight corruption which "remains a serious problem". He added: "It seems to many observers that this move intended only to give the cabinet a new look, [but] reform and fighting corruption need a political will".

Saleh fired 16 cabinet members, including information minister Hussein al-Awadhi and oil minister Rasheed Baraba'. Baraba' was replaced by Khaled Baha' (see Gas Market Trends).

Defence Minister Abdullah Ali Eliwa became Saleh's military adviser. Ministers with other portfolios such as foreign affairs, trade, telecommunications, civil service, transport and local administration remained unchanged.

The new cabinet has two new female ministers namely Amatul-Razaq Hummad, who was appointed as minister of social affairs. Khadija al-Haisami became human rights minister.

That was the second major reshuffle of Ba-Jammal's cabinet, which was formed in 2001. The cabinet underwent a shake-up in May 2003 after Saleh's GPC party overwhelmingly won parliamentary elections.

In his nationally televised address last month from Hodeidah on the 16th anniversary of Yemen's merger, President Saleh said the reunification of Yemen on May 22, 1990, was a national and historical achievement that occurred at a time when other parts of world were experiencing disintegration and secession. He added: "What can be considered a source of pride for the Yemeni people is that we have, from the start, committed ourselves to democratic principles and general reforms out of our own national will and desire. These reforms should come from within and respond to the demands of the people. The Yemeni people have started to feel the importance of democracy as the final national option".

Saleh renewed his call for civil society organisations to actively participate in monitoring the upcoming presidential and local elections. He said an international monitoring group had been invited to observe the elections to ensure the impartiality of the polls.

While Saleh reiterated that he was not running for another presidential term, an opinion survey last month 7 showed that 57% chose him for the top post. The survey had put these questions: voting for Saleh; evaluating his terms; the favoured presidential candidate; reference of the most preferred candidate; the type of personality preferred as the presidential candidate; the list of personalities, in order, qualified to run for president. However, 33% said they will not vote for Saleh and 10% were neutral.

Results of the survey, conducted by the Yemen Polling Centre (YPC) in collaboration with the private an-Nass newspaper, were announced on May 3 at a press conference attended by reporters of different local and international media. According to Dr. Muhammad Al-Faqih, a research supervisor, the survey aimed to measure public opinion about the candidacy for president and to identify citizen's attitudes toward President Saleh's declaration not take part in the presidential poll, as well as their reaction in case Saleh backs out on his decision. The survey covered 14 questions about the most prominent personalities qualified enough to compete in the presidential race.

The survey covered 10 Yemeni governorates with a sample of 1,500 male and female participants of different age groups eligible for vote. Percentages of those against President Saleh's decision not to run appeared high in Ta'iz, San'a' the capital, Amran and Sa'da. Saleh's female supporters outnumbered the males. The survey explained that Saleh's early declaration not stand in the poll and the absence of an effective role by opposition parties which had not yet named their presidential candidates, led the majority to prefer that Saleh change his mind and run.

Other factors, including the long reign of Saleh, illiteracy among people, monopoly of visual and audible media plus tribal and personal interests made people bear in mind that it was not easy for them to accept any candidate other than him to rule Yemen. The survey showed that 25% assessed Saleh's rule was good, 27% of them gave a very good assessment, while another 27% said his rule was acceptable. It also showed that 40% preferred to vote for the GPC's candidate, 16% favoured to vote for the opposition candidate, while 43 were undecided; and 65% preferred a civilian to run for president, while 34% favored a military man to rule the country.

Al-Shumou weekly and Akhbar al-Youm daily and launched a pre-emptive attack on the YPC survey, saying it was funded by the American CIA for suspicious goals. The survey organisers belittled the importance of such accusations and distributed a folder at the press conference explaining the survey was conducted according to internationally approved standards and methodologies.

In late April, GPC leaders released a statement reading: "we will never accept anyone as our presidential candidate other than Ali Abdullah Saleh". Shaikh Yasser Al-Awadhi, deputy head of GPC's parliamentary bloc said his party, considered the biggest political organisation in Yemen, will never take part in Yemen's presidential elections if pressure failed to convince Saleh to come back on his decision so that he runs for the top post. Awadhi stressed that the GPC leaders will continue exerting pressure on Saleh, saying he was optimistic that the statesman in the end will listen to the voice of his party. The head of the GPC Media and Culture Office Tareq al-Shami said it was difficult for his party to name a candidate other than Saleh. He added: "Saleh is my only candidate for the upcoming presidential race as the GPC leaders unanimously agreed at the party's seventh general conference in Aden last year".

However, the opposition's Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) leader, Ali al-Sarari, said the GPC's statements signified that the Congress was the president's party and not a party for the people, adding: "The GPC does not seek nor does it reflect the ambitions of the people".

The Heating debate on the legitimacy of the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC) has been looping endlessly. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) say the SEC is biased in favour of the ruling GPC. The Saleh regime, according to the opposition, has done very little to validate its neutrality and legitimacy except instructing members of the armed forces including the police academy to obtain their voting cards. Some local websites have published results of a statistical study indicating that the number of registered people to vote in September was double the adult population in remote areas such as al-Mahara and Ma'rib.

This, after charges that the SEC had already violated the rules many times, has resulted in escalating tensions between the GPC and the JMP. It has put the JMP in a helpless and nervous situation, to the extent that it is considering nominating President Saleh along with the GPC on the condition that more power is decentralised and more authority is delegated to the parliament, with aspirations to the 2013 elections.

Corruption is one of the biggest problems in Yemen. Gulf News on June 17 quoted Ansaf Mayo, an MP and member of the Financial Committee in the House of Representatives, as saying the anti-corruption campaign launched by the San'a' government was not effective, adding: "This campaign is an extension of the workshops and symposiums already held on this issue without any concrete results. It will not achieve its goals unless the government offers a good example for citizens in combating corruption".

Gulf News quoted an un-named official as considering the campaign as a first step in the course towards fighting corruption, saying: "The move is different from the usual government way of handling problems which is denial: no corruption in Yemen". The next step, according to the official, is to have powerful laws, choosing fair and impartial people and penalising the corrupt, adding: "When you want to fight any dangerous phenomenon, you need to create awareness in the first place. If you want to fight HIV/Aids, you need to make the public aware of its dangers in the first place. This is applicable to corruption".

Recently, the San'a' government launched a nationwide anti-corruption drive. Signs highlighting anti-corruption messages were placed in the streets of San'a', Aden, Ta'iz, Hodeidah and Mukallah. The campaign, which comes three months before the presidential and local elections, extends to the airways - 120 radio inserts and two TV ads. President Saleh has repeatedly come down on corruption within the government.

The campaign picked up momentum after Saleh lashed out at corrupt officials earlier in June. Officials say the campaign was designed to raise public awareness through advertisements, banners, poetry, songs and plays. Some of the slogans are: "Have you really done your duty in fighting corruption?"; "For a better future for our generation, let's fight corruption wherever it is"; "Bribery is corruption, never hesitate to fight it"; "Our homeland is promising, let's all stand against corruption...for a flourishing and prosperous Yemen".

Gulf News reported "official sources" as saying the campaign under way was being met with a lot of support and success. The official media say the campaign translates the directives of the president on combating corruption.

Saleh is simple but shrewd. A hard-headed pragmatist, his main weakness is a combination of good ideas and lobbying by certain leaders of the Hashed tribes under Speaker and powerful head of the Islamist/conservative Islah Party, Shaikh Abdullah Al Ahmar. Shaikh Ahmar is the undisputed leader of the Hashed tribes, the most powerful confederation in the north of Yemen.

Saleh's clan belongs to the Hashed and the president depends of Shaikh Ahmar's support. These tribes are armed. Their chiefs, under Shaikh Ahmar, rule the Hashed areas in the north Yemeni mountains as an autonomous region. When a dispute among them arises, it is to Shaikh Ahmar they look for as the ultimate arbiter.

Close to the royal family of Saudi Arabia for many years, Shaikh Ahmar is the man to resort to for mediation to resolve any disputes between Riyadh and San'a'. Shaikh Ahmar also has a great deal of influence among the tribes in the south-western regions of Saudi Arabia. The latter tribes used to be part of Yemen until their regions - Asir, Jizan and Najran - were annexed by Saudi Arabia under the Ta'if Treaty of the 1930s. Like the Hashed and other tribal groups in the north of Yemen, these tribes on the Saudi side are Shi'ites of the Zaidi sect.

Zaidi Shi'ism in the north of Yemen has been the ruling sect for centuries. Before it became a republic in the 1960s, North Yemen used to be a monarchy and, in religious terms, a Zaidi Shi'ite imamate. President Saleh's clan is Zaidi as well. South Yemen is predominantly Sunni of the Shafe'i sect. A war in May-July 1994 prevented the southern sector of the merged republic from seceding.

A Zaidi rebellion took place on June 20-25, 2004, in the Sa'da province near the border with Saudi Arabia. It was led by Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, a firebrand anti-US theologian who declared an end to the Yemeni republic and proclaimed a Shi'ite Imamate in its place. He proclaimed himself its head, with the title of Amir al Mu'mineen (prince of the faithful), and raised the Iranian and Hizbollah flags. He called his militant movement a Yemeni Hizbollah, praised Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah as his champion, and called for a forceful ouster of the US from Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

A confrontation between Houthi's followers and government forces began late on June 20 in the Hidane region, some 250 km north of Sa'n'a. By June 25, nine government soldiers and 46 rebels had been killed. Dozens of soldiers and Houthi supporters had been wounded in the fighting. Forty-three extremists had been captured. But the tension remained as many elements of Houthi's tribe and allies from other nearby tribes joined the rebellion after the army's intervention and subsequent escalation of the fighting.

Eventually Houthi was killed (see Vol. 62, DT No. 26).

Sa'da has been a trouble spot for San'a' for years. During local government polls on Feb. 20, 2001, Sa'da tribesmen fired on a military helicopter carring ballot boxes and would not allow it to land. Tribesmen claimed the government had forced their candidates to withdraw in favour of Saleh's ruling GPC.

With Saleh determined to purge Yemen of radicals, San'a' is embarked on a drive to root out Wahhabi-converted militants linked to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's Qaeda. The anti-US sentiment is high in Yemen and elsewhere in the region over the American-led occupation of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some religious leaders in Yemen still preach hatred for America and the West.

Saleh has been consolidating his power base since October 1999, when he began a new term in the presidency as he vowed at a swearing-in ceremony to fight corruption and chaos. In the local government elections and a referendum held on Feb. 20, 2001 he had got an overwhelming vote for his term to be extended from five to seven years and for the term of parliament members to be extended from four to six years. The GPC was the winner in the local elections. In that same referendum Saleh also got the vote for a constitutional amendment giving him the power to dissolve parliament. Since then Saleh's GPC has gained a controlling majority in parliament and in the local councils.

In April 2001 Saleh appointed Abdul-Qader Ba-Jammal as prime minister to replace Dr. Abdel-Karim al-Iryani who had health problems. More than half the cabinet was changed in favour of younger figures. But Iryani continues to serve as a top presidential adviser.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US had a huge impact on Saleh's regime as radical Neo-Salafi militants in Yemen were accused to being allied to bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist whose family originates from Hadhramout. Immediately Saleh pledge his full support for the US war against global terrorism and in November 2001 flew to Washington, where he met with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and then CIA Director George Tenet. Since then, Yemen and the US have been co-operating closely against terrorism and about 100 US military experts have been training Yemeni special forces in this country. There have also been a number of CIA and FBI agents stationed in Yemen and, together with Yemeni intelligence and counter-terrorism elements, they pursue suspected members of al-Qaeda or groups affiliated to this Neo-Salafi network.

Speaking to Muslim religious leaders in early 2002, Saleh said: "Some people criticised my visit to the US. But I went there to avoid any danger to our country [being occupied by the US]... There were reports putting forward Yemen as a second Afghanistan". Indeed there had been indications that the US may attack Yemen, because of links between al-Qaeda and Yemeni militants converted into Wahhabism, including those who had bombed the US destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000, when 17 American sailors were killed.

In early November 2002 the CIA, using a missile fired by an unmanned Predator aircraft killed a senior leader of al-Qaeda, Qa'ed Salim Sofyan al-Harithi and five low-level associates travelling by car in north-western Yemen. Harithi, also known as Abu Ali, was described as "one of the top dozen Qaeda figures in the world". That attack was the first using an armed Predator against suspects outside of Afghanistan. It signalled the beginning of a more aggressive phase in the US efforts against terrorism. US officials then disclosed that armed Predators had been flying over Yemen for some time, ready to strike in case targets came into their sights. The US officials said Saleh's government had been kept informed about all such operations.

There have also been ups and downs in the relationship between Saleh's regime and the Bush administration. A row that could have damaged the US campaign against terrorism was averted in December 2002 after the US released an arms shipment from North Korea bound for Yemen. A hidden consignment of scud missile parts and chemicals was seized by the Spanish navy in the Arabian Sea and turned over to the US navy. San'a' said the consignment was being delivered to its armed forces for legitimate defence purposes.

In 2004, it was said the US Ambassador to San'a', Edmond Hall, had become the most influential among foreign diplomats. Columnist Abdel Fattah al-Hakimi claimed in a weekly article published in May 2004 by an opposition newspaper that Saleh's government had given Hall wide-ranging powers that enabled him to oversee US-led military raids against al-Qaeda suspects. He cited as examples the killing of Harithy in late 2002 and abduction of Neo-Salafi Shaikh Muhammad Ali al-Mo'ayed and his aide in January 2003. (Mo'ayed remains imprisoned in the US despite numerous Yemeni pleas for his release). Hakimi said: "During the wide-spread combing campaign directed by the US Embassy in San'a', in collaboration with Yemeni intelligence, Mr. Hall himself entered the bedrooms of Yemenis suspected of having any affiliation to al-Qaeda or related by birth or marriage to...bin Laden". He added: "During those campaigns 3,000 suspects were arrested".

In early 2004, as leaks of President Bush's "Greater Middle East Initiative" to democratise the region's regimes reached the Arab media, President Saleh was quoted as saying: "There is no longer a place for dictatorships" and "We reject any form of terror". But, at the same time, Saleh said "some countries are harvesting what they have sown - America, for example", which supported the Afghan mujahedeen when their operations served US interests against the Soviet Union. Saleh criticised "state terrrism", which he said Israel was practicing.

Thanks to their June 2000 border pact and a warming of relations between Riyadh and San'a', Saudi Arabia on Dec. 31, 2001 got the summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Oman to allow Yemen to join the GCC's health, labour, education and soccer institutions. That was the first step to making Yemen a GCC member, as the two-day GCC summit said in its communique, "this...will be followed by steps in economic and other fields of co-operation". San'a', which had sought to join this bloc for years, said it qualified to join the GCC because of its location and his historical ties with the group. San'a' expects a big inflow of GCC capital and aid resulting from this arrangement. But this has since proved to be quite slow.

In late 2000 Saleh, getting stronger thanks to high oil prices, boosted his political position by replacing many civilian and military figures in government with younger, more loyal figures, including his son Ahmad Ali who became chief of the special forces and his brother Tariq who was made commander of the elite presidential Republican Guard. To secure a badly needed $700m World Bank loan, he then ordered bold reforms - the direct responsibility of the prime minister.

Two of the reforms on which the World Bank had insisted were a ban on carrying arms and a curb on consumption of qat, a mildly narcotic leaf which is chewed for hours. It was then said there were about 60m guns in Yemen, mostly Kalashnikovs, in civilian hands - kept mainly by the highland tribes in the north who have kidnapped hundreds of foreigners since 1993. Among those kidnapped by tribesmen are expatriates working for foreign oil companies.

However, consumption of qat in Yemen has resumed as old habits die hard. There is also considerable smuggling of qat to Saudi Arabia from across the northern borders. It has been estimated that Qat smuggling to Saudi Arabia earns Yemen about $200m per annum. (The cultivation of qat, a business accounting for about 50% of the country's 2000 GDP of $5.7 bn, demands vast quantities of water. Yemen is desperately short of drinking water. Water is needed to grow fruit and vegetables. Yemen has the fastest depletion of aquifers in the world, with the water table in San'a' dropping 5-7 metres per annum. Water resources are likely to be exhausted by 2010/11).

Saleh, a Zaidi Shi'ite of the northern Hashed tribes (see DT), 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 Ta'iz. After Ghashmi's assassination on June 24, 1978, Saleh became a member of a 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" in the course of his mandate. 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 him. He has since faced several assassination and coup attempts. Saleh became president of unified Yemen on May 22, 1990, South Yemen's Marxist regime of Aden having merged with the conservative regime of San'a'. He backed Saddam Hussein who invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

Many things happened after the merger, including complex intrigues both in the north and in the south, plus secession by the southern leaders who had become bold after big oil finds 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. He re-emerged as a stronger ruler of all Yemen. The 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.
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Publication:APS Review Downstream Trends
Date:Jun 26, 2006
Previous Article:YEMEN - The Global Petroleum Perspective.
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