2011-01-29 Yemen: Day of Rage on February 3

On January 27 tens of thousands of people in Yemen took to the streets calling for an end to the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president. Today, Al Jazeera reports dozens of activists clashing with government supporters in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. They chanted “Ali, leave leave” and “Tunisia left, Egypt after it and Yemen in the coming future” outside the Egyptian embassy.

Tawakel Karman, who heads the Yemeni activist group Women Journalists Without Chains, and is also a member of the opposition Islamist party al-Islah, was arrested last week and charged with organizing unlicensed demonstrations without permission. She had been involved in organizing a protest last week of around 2,500 demonstrators who chanted “Oh, Ali, join your friend Ben Ali”, a message to the president of Yemen and in support of the departure of the president of Tunisia. Nearly half of Yemen’s population lives on less than $2 a day. There is poor access to proper sanitation, less than a tenth of the roads are paved, and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict. The government is reported to be very corrupt.

Karman was released on January 24 with a commitment from her family that she will no longer offend public order and law. Today, after she said that a member of the security forces in civilian clothes tried to attack her with a dagger and a shoe, she stated, “We will continue until the fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime. We have the Southern Movement in the south, the (Shia) Huthi rebels in the north, and parliamentary opposition, all of which are calling for political change. But what’s most important now is the jasmine revolution.”

Karman called for Thursday, February 3 to be a “Day of rage” throughout Yemen. There have been almost daily protests in Yemen for the last two weeks, calling for the removal of Saleh from office. Parliament in Yemen is currently discussing a draft constitutional amendment which could allow Saleh to remain president for life.

In 2005, US state cable 05SANAA923 (only partially available) characterized the US relationship with Ali Abdallah Saleh.

Gentlemen, We’ve Got Him!

In a conference call with Ambassador and DCM, President Ali Abdallah Saleh informed us last night, Tuesday, April 12, that suspected terrorist Kanaan has been caught. Saleh began with, “You know this man Kanaan who has been threatening you and for whose sake you closed down your embassy? Well, we’ve caught him. In fact, we also arrested, two days ago, two of his top assistants.” Saleh went on to say that these arrests show the “seriousness and honesty” of his services and the political will at the top for full cooperation with “our friends the Americans.” You, on the other hand said Saleh, “don’t move on our requests.” Saleh reassured us that his cooperation and the cooperation of his “services” would continue no matter what.

Now, Where’s Our Stuff?

Saleh did not waste time for his usual quid-pro-quo tactics. “So, where’s my stuff? We have requested equipment and weapons for our CSF counter terrorism unit,” said Saleh. “We have suffered important and costly losses in Saada and we need your help. Please tell Washington that this is urgent.” “I respond to you immediately when you need something,” added Saleh, “and now, you must do the same for me.”

December 21, 2009

A cable from the end of 2009, 09SANAA2251 entitled ROYG LOOKS AHEAD FOLLOWING CT OPERATIONS, BUT PERHAPS NOT FAR ENOUGH, states that the Yemeni government “appears not overly concerned about unauthorized leaks regarding the U.S. role and negative media attention to civilian deaths.”

While the ROYG has touted the operation as a victory in terms of the number of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members killed or captured, it hasn’t yet decided how, or even if, it should begin to modify its public messaging to address criticism over collateral damage, or the likelihood that the extent of U.S. involvement may become impossible to deny.

Saleh assured the US that he wants these operations against AQAP to continue “non-stop until we eradicate this disease.” … The Ambassador cautioned Alimi that the ROYG may need to nuance its position regarding U.S. involvement in the event more evidence surfaces, complicating its ability to adhere to the official line that ROYG forces conducted the operations independently.

The Governr of Abyan was given YR 20 million (approximatel USD 100,000) to disburse to the families of those killed or wounded in the strikes in Maajala, where the AQAP training camp was located. Alimi said that the civilians who died were largely nomadic, Bedouin families who lived in tents near the AQAP training camp and were assisting AQAP with logistical support. Alimi said they were poor people selling food and supplies to the terrorists, but were nonetheless acting in collusion with the terrorists and benefitting financially from AQAP’s presence in the area.

Given that local and international media will continue to look for evidence of a U.S. role in the December 17 strikes against AQAP, the ROYG must think seriously about its public posture and whether its strict adherence to assertions that the strikes were unilateral will undermine public support for legitimate and urgently needed CT operations, should evidence to the contrary surface. Thus far, the ROYG has deployed influential local leaders to the affected area in Abyan to explain the need for the strikes in an effort to quell potential unrest; however, it has not attempted to provide any context for the civilian casualties, which might help to counter overblown claims of ROYG disregard for the local population ) in this particular case, southerners.

December 28, 2009

On December 28 of 2009, US State cable 09SANAA2279 discusses President Saleh’s lack of support both within Yemen and within the circle of his closest advisers.

In the past month, President Saleh has told a number of his top advisors that continued direct Saudi involvement in the Houthi conflict will alleviate domestic political pressure on the ROYG to produce tangible gains against the Houthis, according to xxxxx with close personal ties to Saleh. Saleh also views continued Saudi involvement as the key to keeping the tap of Saudi budget support open (Saudi monetary support for ROYG military operations will be reported septel). The greater financial incentives attached to direct Saudi participation in the conflict mean Saleh now has an incentive to prolong the conflict rather than seek a mediated solution.

Like other Saleh watchers (REF C), xxxxx characterizes the multitude of threats facing Saleh as qualitatively different and more threatening to the regime’s stability than those during any other time in Yemen’s history. “Saleh is overwhelmed, exhausted by the war, and more and more intolerant of internal criticism. Saudi involvement comes at just the right time for him” xxxxx said. Largely unprecedented criticism of Saleh’s leadership within the rarified circle of Saleh’s closest advisors has increased in recent months, even including longtime Saleh loyalists such as Office of the Presidency aides xxxxx, according to xxxxx These names add to the growing chorus of Saleh loyalists that have shed their traditional aversion to disparaging the man they call “The Boss”.

Members of the Saudi Government’s Special Office for Yemen Affairs, a committee normally headed by Crown Prince Sultan, are privately skeptical of Saleh’s claims of Iranian involvement and of his desire to regionalize the Sa’ada conflict, according to xxxxx told EconOff on December 14 xxxxx that Saleh was providing false or exaggerated information on Iranian assistance to the Houthis in order to enlist direct Saudi involvement and regionalize the conflict. xxxxx said that xxxxx told him that “we know Saleh is lying about Iran, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

RIYADH COMMENT: We agree with xxxxx observation that Saudi support is enabling Saleh to weather increased domestic political pressure and continue his campaign against the Houthis. However, xxxxx assumption that King Abdullah’s “greater confidence” in Saleh is driving this support may be flawed. We have seen no evidence that the King has any particular regard for Saleh beyond exasperation that borders on disgust. Senior Saudi officials make no secret of their distaste for Saleh, but see him as the “devil they know.” Aware of his growing weakness, they view their support as essential to keeping Yemen’s problems contained. Further, contacts say Second Deputy PM and Minister of Interior Prince Nayif, widely believed to advocate a tougher approach to the Yemen problem, has been heavily involved in the Yemen file in Sultan’s absence. Some suggest that the border actions — while temporarily propping up Saleh — may be indicative of Saudi plans to take a harder line towards Yemen in the longer term.

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