Yemen: Defusing the Saada Time Bomb
Crisis Group Middle East Report N°86, 27 May 2009Page 26
The government took other steps, alongside mediation, to appease the situation. In September 2005, on the revolution’s 43rd anniversary, President Salih announced compensation payments to the Hamid al-Din family, whose three successive Zaydi imams (Yahya, Ahmad and Muhammad al-Badr) had ruled North Yemen until the 1962 revolution.146 In 2006 the appointment of Yahya al-Shami, a Hashemite, as Saada governor, replacing the more hardline Yahya al-Amri,147 and the pardon and release of prisoners all were intended to support mediation efforts.
There are many possible explanations for the failure of non-military attempts. According to some, committee participants were too overtly political, lacked local roots, nurtured preconceived ideas about the actors or lacked sufficient knowledge about the Saada region.148
Arguably the most serious impediment was that both mediation efforts and steps announced by the government to calm the situation were either undermined by accompanying repressive measures or, more simply, not implemented at all.149 This partly resulted from competing approaches between the political leadership and army command. According to a Zaydi scholar who participated in unofficial mediation efforts, “when the president called for mediation, the army did not always cooperate. Mediation efforts would have succeeded had there been a consensus between the politicians and the army. Instead, they were sabotaged by disagreement”.150 This claim was supported by different participants and independent observers. Another mediator offered an example of government branches working at cross-
146 Al-Thawra, 26 September 2005.
147 Yahya al-Shami was replaced in April 2007, allegedly because he was too soft toward the rebels. Two sons are said to have been briefly imprisoned for rebel ties during the fifth round. Crisis Group interview, Hasan Zayd, al-Haqq secretary general, Sanaa, 9 January 2009.
148 Crisis Group interview, Zaydi intellectual, Sanaa, 14 January 2009. Faiz al-Awjari, a tribal sheikh from Saada and ruling party parliamentarian said, “participation in the political mediation committees by people from all parts of the country actually broadened the war and turned it into a big affair. Things could have been solved locally. The opposition used this war as a way to put pressure on the ruling party”. Crisis Group interview, Sanaa, 12 January 2009.
149 For example, only 70 of the 500 prisoners whose release was announced in September 2007 appear to have been effectively freed at the time. Crisis Group interview, human rights activist, Sanaa, 5 January 2009.
150 Crisis Group interview, Zaydi intellectual, Sanaa, 14 January 2009.