In Sanaa: arms and the man.

Author:Scott, Roddy
Position:San'a, Yemen; Yemeni leader Gen. Ali Abdullah Saleh strengthens military at expense of economy - Current Affairs

1994 was a difficult year for General All Abdullah Saleh. Faced with an array of internal and external problems he is modifying and modernising his one reliable power base: the armed forces. But, writes Roddy Scott, in doing so he may well weaken the very rule he hopes to preserve.

It is a year this month since General Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the wake of his victory over the so-called secessionists of South Yemen, promised to "consolidate the course of democracy based in pluralism, multi-party politics, respect for basic rights and freedoms, and compliance with the principals of human rights." For observers who might have considered such promises somewhat disingenuous at the time, their scepticism will seem to have been borne out as the country now lurches from one crisis to another, at home and abroad. This is not to say, however, that contemporary Yemen has no positive aspects. The government is not a monolithic structure, with a smothering grip over the entire civic society. There is in fact a certain liberal feel in the areas of freedom of association and speech. Indeed, January even bore witness to the first anti-government demonstrations since the end of last year's civil war, with some 200 protesters carrying banners peacefully through Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. That such demonstrations can take place is in itself something of a plus for Gen Saleh's regime, giving it at least the semblance of democratic institutions. For all this, however, Gen Saleh is still beset with a vast array of domestic and foreign problems, few of which have been seriously addressed in the past year.

The ruling coalition, consisting of an alliance between Gen Saleh's General Peoples' Congress (GPC) and Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar's Congregation for Reform (Islah), is beset with internecine feuds, with each party using public media openly to snipe at the other. Indeed, Islah has publicly accused the GPC of being infiltrated by socialists, an accusation which saw the GPC in March expelling 11 of its presumed members from the country on charges of treason. But Islah has gone even further in its denunciation of the Saleh regime. Sheikh Abdul Mujeed Al-Zindani, co-leader of the party, recently used one of his regular sermons to call for Gen Saleh's resignation. The political vacuum that emerged with the virtual destruction of the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) during the civil war, has in fact left the country's two most powerful parties engaged in a political war to determine whose apparatchiks will assume control of various government ministries. Islah supporters have increased tensions elsewhere too, especially in the South where their supporters are reported to have desecrated graves and shrines, causing widespread resentment. Because of the rise of such Islamist activity and the existence of a particularly hard-core fundamentalist faction in Islah...

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