By: Hassan Al-Haifi
Yemen’s New Age of Frustration and Despair
Yemen probably has one of the most corrupt regimes in the world, with development indicators across the board placing the country among the bottom thirty countries out of some 200 countries. It may be hard to believe, but this is probably the only country in the world that you can actually get an official death certificate issued for someone, who is in fact still alive and well! When I learned that, I was so infuriated that I almost felt that I must have landed on another planet, where only misdeeds and evil prevail and there is absolutely no room for right or good! Over the span of three and a half decades a metamorphoses of Yemeni society unfolded from the very innocent and decent society that existed in pre and early post revolutionary years, (when Yemen was actually still under civilian rule) and the short lived tranquility enjoyed in the mid-Seventies, when Yemen was still headed by the more cultured and relatively popular “colonel” Ibrahim Al-Hamedi. The latter, however, got too overconfident of himself and was overthrown by his own military Chief of Staff and a few military thugs (including Saleh!), in 1978. The latter successor (Saleh’s predecessor, Colonel Ahmed Al-Ghashmi) was bizarrely blown to pieces 7 months later, and Saleh took over by the barrels of tanks and Saudi funding [which incidentally bankrolled the overthrows that toppled the civilian Government (1968 – 1973) by the Hamedi regime, the bloody coup that brought the short lived Ghashmi regime and the takeover of Ali Abdulla Saleh in Midyear 1978.
Since then, It has been downhill all the way, and everything simply deteriorated. Values were expeditiously and systematically written off, not to mention ethics and a sincere religious moral fabric that, prior to all this period of political tumult, almost kept Yemen free of any of the crimes one finds readily in more advanced western and even some traditional eastern societies (You could go through the market places at lunchtime during the midday break and find most shops sufficing with a piece of cloth to cover the door or merchandise on display outside and you could walk around with a cloth sack full of money over one’s back and would never think of being robbed).
Saleh was hardly liked almost from the start of his regime’s stranglehold on the Yemeni Government, and most Yemenis were hopeful he would be doomed to early collapse. The family oligarchy consisting of his close relatives of brothers and extended family links of second cousins and in-laws held on firmly, using every trick in the book and every Yemeni Riyal in the Government treasury to ensure Saleh’s continued grip on the country.
The regime of Saleh continued to keep various factions in the country pitted against each other in violent conflicts almost throughout the past thirty three years, with the Saleh led Government taking sides interchangeably from faction to faction, as political advantage would seem to dictate. He was lucky on the regional and international arena, with Saudi Arabia always taking the lead in funding the deficit of the Yemeni budget and bolstering and finding comfort in keeping Yemen in continuous disarray and violent conflict. Yemen’s violence has almost been uninterrupted since Saleh took over the helms, relying on the old dreaded code of authoritarian rule: divide and rule.
On another note, the Saleh regime allowed a complex elaborate network of corruption to become entrenched, while his relatives were given full liberty to exploit their clannish association to the maximum and plunder the Government and even private assets as they liked, with the law actually exempting them from any legal prosecution or trial. Opposition was always punitively subdued. Some of the most influential people inside and outside government have been victims of still unresolved premature death. The Saleh regime has turned the social contract into a perpetual mandate to just about break every moral, legal and even religious rule or concept, hwere the criminals are protected and the victims are viewed as careless in protecting themselves from the crooks nurtured to by the Saleh regime. The social fabric of the society was corrupted by rendering the rule of law and civil order as subservient to criminal justice and whimsical and very expensive (while being seldom effective) tribal customs and traditions, most of which have succumbed to the greed of spongy tribal chiefs. Even the honorable tribal and social traditions and customs, which Saleh claims to uphold, have been twisted beyond repair. In the past, these tribal codes were replete with a chivalrous honor code and even used to be a healthy social valve that prevented Yemen from falling into degenerate social disequilibrium and loss of conscientiousness, when government was non-existent, which happened frequently in Yemen’s erratic political history.
One can easily state that Yemen has literally reached the bottom of social and communal disorientation and disharmony and simply cannot withstand any further plunge into poverty, severe repression and lawlessness, most of which are the fruits of the enduring reign of the Saleh regime. If anyone has failed to look at modern Yemeni history with more scrutiny, they might have overlooked the ominous reality that even terrorism is one of the nurtured byproducts of the Saleh regime.
Most sagacious Yemenis would not hesitate to point out that there is no scope for the regime to reform itself and bring the country on a more stable socio-economic orientation, since economic activity has been monopolized by a cutthroat mercantile establishment of family traders, often in collusion with the iconic elements that keep the regime in power and free from any meaningful opposition. If America thinks that the success of its war against terror depends on the sustainability of the current regime, they have not really learned anything about Yemen.
Yemen is desperately in need of regime change and socio – economic restructuring and the sooner the better. The young people in the streets of Sana’a, Aden and Ta’ez are resonating the depressive mood of most of the people of Yemen, and the mercenary so called “backers” of the regime could never overshadow the miserable paradoxical conditions their hirers have created for their homeland, with a very small narrow minded minority reaping the fruits of an undeserved extravagant prosperity at the expense and the pain of the overwhelming majority of the land, more than half of whom have been pushed ever deeper into deliberate, painful, and sublime destitution. Thus Yemen like most of the Arab dictatorial/totalitarian states that were prevalent throughout the Arab was ripe for a new turn of the page in its volatile history.
Part IV comes next
Prelude to a New Revolution