Middle East

Yemen’s Reformers Verses the Pact of Evil

Yemeni security forces are deployed in Sanaa

Yemeni security forces are deployed in Sanaa April 14 following a fresh minority Zaidi rebellion. (Photo: Khaled Fazaa / AFP-Getty Images)

In the remote country of Yemen, a determined and heroic democracy movement battles an alliance of Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein’s generals, and a corrupt regime that wields all the tools of the state. The terrorists are operating on the proceeds from gunrunning and oil sales. The reformers are operating on pure determination.

Throughout Yemeni security forces, military, businesses, and public institutions, an interlinked web of corruption and brutality is stealing Yemen’s resources and attacking any Yemeni who opposes it. And the majority do oppose. All the natural enemies of the jihadis are under attack in Yemen: reformers, democrats, journalists, socialists, pluralists, Shiites, Sunnis, anti-corruption advocates, human rights workers, and more. As forces unite against them, the Yemeni people unite for democracy.

In 2003, Al Qaeda praised Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as the only Arab leader not beholden to the West. It’s clear why. Saleh has refused to freeze 143 United Nations identified terrorist affiliated bank accounts in Yemen. Some of the millions in those accounts may be proceeds from weapons sales, narcoterrorism, and oil sales. One person who might be able to provide details is Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Saleh’s half brother, prominent military commander, and reputed Al Qaeda loyalist.

Wherever there is a conflict in the region, the jihadi side seems to be armed by the Yemeni weapons pipeline, reportedly controlled by top military officials. Yemen has sold tanks and missiles to the genocidal Sudanese government. Yemen provides weapons to Eritrean and Somali terrorists, according to the Eritrean Center for Strategic Studies. “Its no secret” that weapons smuggling to Palestinian insurgents is sanctioned by the Yemeni government, an Israeli intelligence official said. The Saudis say they catch Yemeni arms dealers “hourly.”

There’s a lot of missing oil and missing oil revenue in Yemen. Parliamentary member Ali Ashal notes the official sale price for Yemeni oil is $22 a barrel, but it is sold on the market at $45 a barrel. The Canadian corporation Nexen takes nearly half of all its Yemeni oil production as royalties. It’s a sweet deal, but not for the Yemeni people. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. The word corruption is a rather benign term to describe the rape of the Yemeni economy by its top officials.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani recently advised the world that a “pact of evil” extends from Iraq to Yemen. It’s a pact between Al Qaeda linked Yemeni officials and numerous former officials of Hussein’s regime currently residing in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. In 2004, Radio Free Europe noted the recruitment of many Iraqi generals into the Yemeni military. Recently, the Chief of the Yemeni Supreme Shia Council stated, “(Iraqi) military men advised Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to kill Shias in the country as did Saddam in Iraq.” Sistani has termed the ongoing violence in Saada, a Shiite region, “genocide.” The integration of Al Qaeda infiltrated Yemeni security forces with Hussein’s henchmen has many victims.

A Yemeni official recently stated that Al Qaeda affiliated Yemeni security forces have established Baathist training camps in Yemen for Iraqi “insurgents.”

Sheik Zindani, a prominent Yemeni political leader and business executive, is described by the United States as a mentor to Osama bin Laden and a “major terrorist” who supports and finances a variety of terrorist activities. (Neither he nor his assets have been restricted in Yemen since this designation in 2004.) The Treasury Department notes Zindani as a contact for the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, parent organization to Ansar al-Sunna operating in Iraq. Ansar al-Sunna has claimed responsibility for beheading 12 Nepalese workers in Iraq and bombing a United States military mess tent in Mosul that killed 22 people.

The Yemeni population is attacked by the military and the courts. Thousands are in jail without trial for months. Outspoken individuals are arrested and social groups targeted by identity. Within about a week recently, two reformers were arrested, an opposition newspaper targeted, a female journalist crudely defamed, the socialist party headquarters bombed, an opposition politician kidnapped, mass and arbitrary arrests occurred, and the slaughter in the Saada continued. In response, Yemenis only stand more firmly and call more loudly for reform, democracy, and pluralism, for an end to the corruption, an end to the dictatorship.

The Yemeni people are trapped inside a box of propaganda. On the outside is a democracy; on the inside is a tyranny. The official news agency touts impotent political structures as proof of reform as Al Qaeda grows more dominant. With the ongoing ascension of radical Islamists in Yemeni leadership, Yemen may become the first modern state fully corrupted by Al Qaeda, a threat much greater that Afghanistan considering Yemen’s strategic location for international shipping.

Presidential elections in Yemen are scheduled for 2006. Last election President Saleh received 96 percent of the vote. Yemen has a well-developed and mature civil society. United States policy should favor Yemen’s reformers, not its dictator. During President Saleh’s upcoming trip to Washington, President Bush should advise President Saleh to step aside, as Yemeni opposition parties have asked. Twenty-seven years is enough for any dictator. It was enough for Hussein, it’s enough for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and it’s certainly enough for Saleh. For the security of Iraqis, Americans, and Yemenis, the pact of evil from Iraq to Yemen must be replaced by a pact of democracy from Yemen to Iraq, and a pact of freedom between the Yemeni people and the democratic world.

Jane Novak is an American journalist and political analyst.