The euphoria which enveloped Yemen in the wake of the protracted eviction of its brutal dictator has come and gone, only to be replaced by a feeling of deep depression and confusion about what lies ahead. There is no need, here, to revisit the now obvious fact that the GCC deal, reluctantly acquiesced to by Ali Abdullah Saleh, was part of the problem, rather than an adequate solution.
However, it has become even more obvious since the life sentences given to Hosni Mubarak and Habib Al Adly and the continued detention of Jamal and Ala’a Mubarak, pending further prosecution. Yemen has to find a way to prosecute Saleh and his inner circle locally or to ship him off to The Hague, sooner rather than later.
While the new President, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has tried to clip the wings of members of Saleh’s family, the process has been defied every step of the way and their hold on power remains essentially intact — with the overhanging threat that they may, any day, regain power at the end of a bayonet. Or in the 2014 elections, which Ahmad Saleh might contest, just as Ahmad Shafiq is doing in Egypt. And, just as in Egypt, he is likely to receive millions of votes, however unthinkable that may seem today.
Meantime, the real plague of Yemen, also rife in many countries in Asia and Africa, remains the tenacious, chronic corruption which touches everyone and everything in Yemen. It is so rooted in Yemeni society that it will take decades to begin the process of uprooting it, if ever. This is a country where the ordinary citizen cannot get a driving licence, a mail box, an exit visa, an application form, or college admission without greasing one or more palms. Every time you drink a cup of tea in Sana’a, you can assume that part of the umpteen riyals you pay went to bribe someone up the bribe chain, which ends way up there, in the upper echelons of government.
Most people would not think of the ministry of foreign affairs as a hot bed of corruption, and neither did I. Instead, one usually expects corruption to be rife within the ministries of industry or petroleum or trade in such countries. But revelations published last Saturday in Arabic by a government paper, Al Jumhuriya, provided shocking details of corruption and mismanagement at the highest levels at that ministry by a whistle blower.
The whistle-blower was Yemen’s former ambassador to Japan, Marwan Al No’man, son of a famous former prime minister of Yemen, and brother of another prominent Yemeni ambassador to Canada, India and Spain. He has been a career diplomat for 38 years until he had to submit his resignation in protest of the 2011 massacre on the “Friday of Dignity”. “How could I justify to Japanese public opinion the trampling of human rights and unprovoked murder of Yemenis who simply wanted to express their aspirations for change to their miserable lives? I had to take a stand.”
On the same day, the Yemeni ambassador to the UN did the same thing. The minister of foreign affairs, Dr Abubakr Al Qirbi, called Al No’man to ask him to withdraw his resignation and offer him a transfer to the vacant UN post, which he turned down. In the interview, Al No’man described how the ministry of foreign affairs was dominated by the security services of the country and by former president Saleh, in person. As a result, the ambassador to Washington for 15 years was an in-law of Saleh and several of Saleh’s sons and grandsons, totally unqualified for the job, were on the embassy staff. He stated that a deposit of several million dollars into the personal account of the finance officer, at the New York mission, was investigated by US authorities.
One of the revelations of that interview was that Yemeni embassies are instructed by jihat ulia (higher authorities — code for the president) to pay salaries abroad to favoured individuals who have nothing to do with diplomatic work, thus misdirecting and depleting embassy funds. “The network of corruption within the ministry of foreign affairs cannot possibly be imagined and its finances have been run by the same two individuals for the past 20 years” he added. Talking about reform he stated that he and some other ambassadors submitted written proposals for reform to the ministry, but they were all rejected. Autocratic management and a refusal to listen to advice has apparently led to a state of total paralysis at the ministry. Indeed, when the ministry was faced with multiple resignations from ambassadors, it sent them ready-made apology forms to sign — if they wanted to continue receiving their salaries, that is.
Al No’man also revealed that since 2006, Yemen has asked for $4 billion (Dh14.71 billion) from donors; while at the same time, $2 billion, perhaps more, earned from petroleum sales, were being siphoned off by agents of the regime, ending up in the pockets of a small number of individuals, who can be counted on the fingers of the two hands.
Al No’man was asked directly about the role of Dr Qirbi, Minister of Foreign affairs. He pointed out that it was clear from the outset that the regime was leading the country into the abyss, and that the ministry was being used to entrench Saleh and his regime, and that Dr Qirbi would have to bear the consequences of whatever decisions he made. He conceded that we all have to make major decisions in our lives, especially if we hold major responsibilities. In a clear indictment of the ministry, Al No’man added that since the new coalition government took over, with the new president, nothing has changed!
How can change take place, when at least half the government is made up of the old corrupt regime, working under the brazen meddling of the former president, while his family members cling to very sensitive posts? That is the problem and it has to change first; because change [Taghyeer] is what the martyrs in Taghyeer Square gave their young lives for.
Dr Qais Ghanem is a retired neurologist, radio show host, poet and novelist. His two novels are ‘Final Flight from Sana’a’ and ‘Two Boys from Aden College’. He lives in Canada.