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|Top Ten Events of 2008|
Written By: Moneer Al-Omari
(YEMEN POST STAFF)
Article Date: December 29, 2008
Below is a summary of the most significant events that have overshadowed the lives of citizens and badly affected the Yemeni economy, security and tourism. This selection is based on a survey conducted by the Yemen Post which included pressmen, politicians, thinkers, common people, etc. It is also made according to the extent of media coverage and attention given by people to these events.
1- Rise in Terrorist Attacks
Yemen have seen an outrageous number of terrorist attacks in 2008 and there has been an unprecedented movement of Al-Qaeda that directed awful blows targeting oil facilities and government interests in the first place.
According to experts, the attacks have badly harmed the country's security and stability. It has also affected its ailing economy especially when these attacks targeted its oil industry and tourism sectors. These attacks prompted foreign countries to rank Yemen as insecure and warned their citizens against visiting the country.
The terrorist acts started at the outset of 2008 with attacking a convoy of Belgian tourists as they were heading to Hadramout's Wadi Do'an. A group of armed men, suspected to be Al-Qaeda affiliates, assaulted the convoy as the operation resulted in killing two Belgian tourists and two accompanying Yemenis.
Later, Al-Qaeda directed its attacks towards the residential complex of Total foreign employees located in Hadda area, Sana'a. Another attack targeted the Italian Embassy; however, the shells missed their way and fell in the Sana'a-based Customs House yard.
With the attack that targeted the security compound in Hadramout's Sayun city, security sources launched a wide hunting and search campaign. The hunting operation allowed security forces to kill five key Al-Qaeda affiliates last August including Hamza Al-Qu'aiti who was among the group that had tunneled out the Central Security's prison in Sana'a in 2006.
According to sources, security forces also found different types of weaponry including ammunitions, shells, explosives, computers, passports and documents with detailed plots to implement terrorist attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The recent attack that targeted the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a was the most serious development in Al-Qaeda attacks against the foreign interests and facilities especially when about 20 people, mostly security men and the attackers, were killed.
Experts emphasize that confrontations will be open over the coming period, especially when foreign parties are pressurizing the Yemeni government to adopt tight security measures to fight terrorism in general and Al-Qaeda in particular as it started to find a safe haven in Yemen after being hunted and arrested in neighboring countries.
2- Halting Sa'ada War
One of the outstanding events of 2008 was the resumption of Sa'ada war. The new round which lasted for about six months was halted by a political decision; however, the war incurred heavy human and material losses.
By the mid of last July, President Saleh announced that the war between government forces and Houthi rebels had ended and emphasized that it would never resume again. Moreover, army forces were ordered to withdraw and take their former positions.
This announcement ended four years of intermittent clashes that left thousands of troops, rebels and citizens dead or injured. Over 120,000 citizens from Sa'ada were internally displaced, according to some relief organizations.
Despite the fact that the decision was highly praised, several citizens and observers are raising several questions about the nature of this war and demand a clear and rational interpretation for the war which was ended by Saleh's decision. They also enquire about the different guarantees that prevent the renewal of this war in the future.
The fifth round of Sa'ada war was totally different from the previous rounds as this war stretched geographically to provinces like Amran and Al-Jawf. It also saw very fierce clashes and confrontations between the Republican Guards Units and Houthi followers in Sana'a province's Bani Hushaish area located some 30 km to the east of the capital Sana'a.
3- Floods in Hadramout
According to statistics of Yemen's Ministry of Interior, about one hundred citizens in Hadramout and Al-Maharah were killed and dozens were reported missing. Moreover, about 3,000 houses were completely or partially demolished, mostly in Hadramout.
The World Bank estimated the material losses in the afflicted areas in Hadramout and Al-Maharah to be $1 billion. The losses involve damages to road, health, water, housing and agriculture sectors.
There have been immense relief efforts channeled by different Arab and foreign countries and relief agencies to alleviate the sufferings of thousands of families who were compelled to live in schools and medical centers. In return, the Yemeni government allocated YR 20 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation activities.
The unprecedented floods washed away thousands of cattle and beehives famous for producing the finest type of honey.
4- Protests in Southern Provinces
Southern provinces have seen increased demonstrations and protests particularly in Aden, Yafe', Al-Dhale' and Abyan. These protests turned bloody whenever protestors came face to face with security forces.
Most of these protests were led by who call themselves Southern Mobility Organizations and Pensioners Associations. They were timed with some significant events in Yemen's history, including October 14 (Independence Day) and November 30 (the day in which the last British Soldier was evacuated from the South Yemen).
The protestors organized demonstrations in some Southern provinces on July 7 (the day in which the secessionist forces were defeated during 1994 Civil War) and these protests resulted in armed confrontations with security men. The confrontations left dozens of demonstrators killed or injured.
There have been varied reasons for these protests and demonstrations, from demands to equal distribution of wealth, jobs and high ranking posts to reinstatement to jobs assumed before 1994 war, and from demands of halting land looting to the right of self determination.
These demonstrations prompted security apparatuses to arrest people thought to motivate these protests in the Southern provinces including Hasan Ba'awm and the arrested leaders were trialed for inciting the sedition and undermining the national unity.
Later, prisoners over the Southern mobility or who opposition parties call, political prisoners, were released under presidential directives as a part of a deal between the ruling party and opposition and upon which the negotiations would proceed on endorsing the amendments of elections law.
Protests and demonstrations are expected to increase during the next year especially when authorities claim that different foreign parties fuel these protests and support the organizers financially.
5- Negotiations of Ruling Party and Opposition Stalled
When the ruling party is proceeding in its preparations for the upcoming elections, opposition parties represented by Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) announced their rejection of any works undertaken so far by the elections commission formed by the ruling party alone.
Late in August, a republican decree was issued and it named the members of SCER, This came after negotiations between the ruling party, the General People Congress (GPC), and the opposition parties had stalled.
Last November, the SCER started the first stage in preparations for the forthcoming parliamentary elections as it formed field committees of teachers to register the new citizens. The process also allows making deletions and corrections to the elections register.
However, opposition parties boycotted the whole process and considered any act by the field committees and SCER to be illegal and unconstitutional. JMP members were called for boycotting any acts by the current election committee. Thus, the fieldwork was faced by several problems and some field committees were denied to access the stations meant for registration.
Seeking to ease the situation, GPC then presented a new proposal known as the "Road Map" to ensure the participation of all political parties in the forthcoming elections. The proposal includes four points: making new voting for the elections amendment project, adding two members to the already nine-member election commission, forming registration and field committees from among education sector affiliates and forming voting committees in the same way they did in 2006.
6- Governors Elections
Yemen saw last May the elections of Mayor of Sana'a and Governors of Provinces as these elections were considered by most observers to be a step for a wider decentralized rule despite the defects that may accompany such experience in its early stages.
In the past, the governors were appointed by the Central Authority and they were named by the president. This was actually the case over the last 40 years. However, these elections were boycotted by the opposition parties (JMP).
Despite the boycott of JMP, the elections were conducted nationwide to elect 21 governors for the 21 governorates of Yemen. Independent people rivaled GPC candidates. GPC candidates managed to win 18 governorates; however, the independent candidates of Al-Baidha, Mareb and Al-Jawf managed to win.
In Al-Jawf, the results were doubted and debated and this brought contenders, the GPC candidate (the former governor) and the independent candidate, before the court. President Saleh was prompted later to appoint a governor for Al-Jawf and give up the result of elections.
7- Hilal Resigns his Ministerial Post
In a surprise move, Minister of Local Administration Abdul Qader Ali Hilal announced his resignation over accusations of being supportive to Houthi rebels.
The resignation, considered by several observers to be a blow to Saleh's regime especially when it came from one of Saleh's devoted and few men, has generated an infinite number of questions.
By mid November, Saleh issued an order commissioning the Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Affairs Rashad Al-Alimi to take over Hilal who had resigned from his post after being accused of sympathizing with Houthi rebels and being lenient with JMP.
Sources also indicated that Hilal was harshly criticized for failing to handle several sensitive issues, especially after he was delegated to supervise the reconstruction and compensation operations in Sa'ada. Hilal, who was also among the GPC negotiation team tasked with resuming the talks with the JMP, was showing a great amount of keenness to reach an agreement with them and this led some extreme GPC members to accuse him of longing for his past connected with the Islamic Brotherhood Movement.
Hilal's resignation forced President Saleh to announce a limited ministerial reshuffle as he appointed the former governor of Aden Ahmed Al-Kuhlani as the Minister of State for Shoura and Parliament Councils Affairs, replacing Khalid Al-Shareef who was reappointed as the Chairman of the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER).
This is the second ministerial reshuffle in the Yemeni government formed in April 2007 and presided over by Ali Muhammed Mujawar.
Hilal served in several high ranking posts including governor of Ibb and Hadramout where he proved to be a successful and dedicated official. His success earned him later a ministerial post in Mujawar's government, Minister of Local Administration.
Several observers noted that he had resigned in order not to be involved in suspected deals and stressed that some parties who never want to see stability in Sa'ada were pressuring him to force concessions in his part especially when he helped end all manifestations of the armed conflicts in the province and worked for the full implementation of Sa'ada ceasefire agreement.
8- Drop of Oil Prices and Constant Gas and Diesel Crisis
Towards the end of 2008, the prices of oil has been dropping dramatically as a barrel of oil is sold for a little more than $30 after it hit record levels early this year when prices rocketed to $148.
Such a dramatic drop of oil prices has prompted oil-producing countries, including Yemen, to cut the allocations and credits in 2009 budget and caused the deficit to hit unprecedented levels.
In Yemen's case, the plunging oil prices have caused the Yemeni government to cut the allocations and credits of 2009 by half and to reduce expenditures on buying cars, furniture, etc. It also prompted the government to cut the number of unnecessary personnel in Yemen's embassies abroad.
Nationwide, there have been frequent crises in diesel and gas supplies especially during Ramadan and Eids seasons. These crises have affected the lives of thousands of Yemeni citizens.
Economic experts observe that plummeting of oil prices will plunge the country into a black tunnel and others draw even a blacker image of its future particularly when oil is the source of hard currency and makes up 90 percent of state budget.
9- Kidnapping Cases on Rise
Though the last few years saw few or no kidnapping cases, 2008 seen a rise in kidnapping of Yemenis and foreigners. There have been so far over three cases of kidnapping of foreigners.
Two kidnapping cases were made in Shabwa province by armed tribesmen early this year and the victims were three Columbians and an Algerian engineer. However, all of them were released unharmed through tribal mediation efforts.
The recent kidnapping case targeted German citizens who were abducted as they were touring Rada' city. The kidnapped Germans were set free after tribal mediation managed to secure their release. Sources note that the Germans were released after kidnappers received YR 20 million in ransom together with guarantees to release their relatives detained in state prisons.
Similarly, Yemeni citizens were also kidnapped. Most kidnapping cases were made by the same tribe Bani Dhabian, responsible for kidnapping the Germans as well, and the total number of people kidnapped reached six. The kidnappers always demand money ransom, but in some cases they demand development projects or force the government to release their fellow detained tribesmen.
10- Jewish Community Threatened
Under the consent of Imam Yahya Hamid Addin, over 95 percent of Yemeni Jews were deployed to Israel during the late 1940s. The task was undertaken by the Jewish Agency in what was known to be the "Magic Carpet" operation. By then, 45.000 Yemeni Jews were airlifted to the newly established state of Israel.
A small Jewish community remained in Yemen, mostly in northern areas of Yemen like Sa'ada and Amran. They have been allowed to practice their own religious rituals freely and easily; however, there have been some threats to the lives of Jews as was the case in Sa'ada province's Bani Salem area which were shifted to Sana'a after being threatened by Houthis.In response to multiple violent attacks on Jewish citizens and the recent killing of Moshe bin Yahya, President Salah planned to relocate the Jewish community members from Amran province and the city of Raidah to the capital Sana'a.