The List

Who's Who in Yemen

As Yemen veers toward civil war, a look at the players that may determine the country's future.

ALI ABDULLAH SALEH

Elected president of what was then the Yemen Arab Republic in 1978, Saleh has ruled the country in one form or another for more than three decades, a task he famously likens to "dancing on the heads of snakes." Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables paint a picture of a wily survivor determined to enrich and empower his own family and friends at the expense of the nation. But declining oil revenues have made it harder for the president to sustain his tribal patronage network, and observers have warned for years that Saleh was losing his edge. (One 2009 cable quoted a member of parliament describing the president as "overwhelmed, exhausted by the war, and more and more intolerant of internal criticism.")

A lifelong military man (and rumored whiskey smuggler), Saleh is not thought to have completed elementary school -- and it shows. "Saleh has provided Yemen with relative stability relying on his maneuvering skills and strategic alliances, but has done little to strengthen government institutions or modernize the country," one 2005 cable reads. The president's eldest son, Ahmad Ali, heads the U.S.-backed special forces, and three of his nephews hold top military positions. The same leaked 2005 cable describes Ahmad Ali as "the most obvious choice" to succeed Saleh, but alludes to "considerable doubts as to his fitness for the job."

THE AL-AHMARS

In recent days, fierce fighting has broken out between Saleh's security forces and fighters loyal to Sadiq al-Ahmar, the head of the Hashid tribal federation, Yemen's second-largest such grouping. Sadiq took over three and a half years ago from his father Abdullah, the grand patriarch of the Hashids, who passed away in late 2007. Abdullah was a close ally of Saleh for many years, but his 10 sons have chosen to challenge the president as he has grown weaker. One son, Hussein, resigned from the ruling party in February and denounced Saleh as a "traitor." Another son, Hamid, one of Yemen's richest men, is a leading opposition politician with holdings in banks, telecommunications, and media companies. In 2009, according to a leaked diplomatic cable, Hamid told the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa of his wide-ranging plans to force Saleh out, promising "controlled chaos" along the Indonesian model. The embassy dismissed his claims.

Saleh is technically a member of the Hashids, through his Sanhan tribe. But family ties only go so far in Yemen: On Thursday, he ordered the Ahmar brothers' arrest.

 

ALI MOHSEN AL-AHMAR

 

"Reputedly the most powerful military man in the land," according to a 2005 embassy cable, Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar is the commander of the military's 1st Armored Division. He broke dramatically with Saleh in March, declaring his sympathy for the protesters' demands and vowing to protect them from government reprisals.

Although they are distant cousins, Mohsen has personal reasons to despise Saleh: In 2010, the Yemeni regime allegedly called in Saudi airstrikes against the general's headquarters (the Saudis apparently recognized the ruse in time). Many in Yemen also believe Ali Mohsen was charged with the impossible mission of putting down the northern Houthi rebellion, a task he performed with great brutality, in order to marginalize him.

Ali Mohsin may covet the presidency, a prospect that leaves analysts cold. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the military is not a cohesive institution -- "it is actually very tribalized," according to Khaled Fatteh, a Yemen expert at St. Andrews University. "It is not an organization that can take over the responsibility of transition."

JOINT MEETING PARTIES

The blandly named JMP is Yemen's official opposition, a fractious coalition formed in 2002 and comprised of five parties as well as a few independents. Together, they won nearly 60 of 300 parliamentary seats in the last election in 2003, but much has changed in the intervening years. The largest bloc is Al-Islah, an Islamist party dominated by the al-Ahmar family, other northern tribesmen, and the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood. One prominent member is Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a hard-line Salafist preacher who was named a "specially designated global terrorist" by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2004.

The JMP also includes the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the former ruling party of South Yemen, and three smaller parties: the Islamist Al-Haq, the Nasserists, and the Popular Forces Union. With the backing of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the JMP for weeks has been trying to broker a deal for Saleh to step down, but that deal has now fallen apart and has been denounced by protest leaders.

THE SOUTHERN MOVEMENT

The dog that hasn't barked -- so far -- during the uprising is Yemen's separatist movement, the legacy of the country's failed experiment with socialism and still-unresolved questions dating back to the country's 1994 civil war. North and South Yemen were separate countries until 1990, when the collapse of the Soviet Union gave Saleh room to broker a unity accord, with the backing of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The loose southern movement, led initially by retired general Nasir Ali al-Nuba, first appeared in 2007, demanding equal treatment vis-à-vis the comparatively wealthier north, which dominates Yemen's government, economy, and military. Since then, its demands have escalated, and some are pushing for outright secession. In 2009, Nasser al-Wahayshi, the leader of al Qaeda's Yemen branch, announced his support for an independent Islamic emirate in the south, a goal that doesn't seemed to be broadly shared in the south. The Southern Movement has pledged its support to the anti-Saleh protesters, but is using the movement to push for autonomy within a federal system.

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The List

Victor's Justice

As Egypt prepares to prosecute Hosni Mubarak, here's a look at five other countries that have -- with mixed success -- put former leaders on trial for their crimes.

SADDAM HUSSEIN

Country: Iraq

Charges: A long list of counts starting with the 1998 ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds (including gassing the town of Halabja), the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the crushing of the Kurdish and Shiite rebellions following the war, the killing of political activists, the 1993 massacre of members of the Kurdish Barzain clan, the 1974 killing of Shiite religious leaders, and the killing of 148 people in the Shiite town of Dujail following a 1992 assassination attempt.

Justice: U.S. troops pulled Saddam out of an 8-foot-deep "spider hole" on Dec. 12, 2003, and turned him over to Iraqi authorities a short time later. He made his first appearance in an Iraqi courtroom almost two years later and immediately challenged the legitimacy of his trial, saying, "I preserve my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq.... I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect."

Saddam was convicted and sentenced to death on Nov. 5, 2005, for the killings in Dujail. He was hanged on Dec. 29. As a formality, the court dropped the rest of the charges against him, including genocide, in January, prompting protests from Kurdish groups. (Saddam's henchman Ali Hassan "Chemical Ali" al-Majid would eventually be executed for his part in the massacre of Kurds.) The emotional victory for Iraqis glad to see Saddam finally face justice was undercut somewhat by unauthorized video footage showing guards taunting the former leader in his final moments.

ALBERTO FUJIMORI

Country: Peru

Charges: 12 charges including organizing death squads that killed at least 25 people in the early 1990s, ordering the kidnapping of a prominent journalist and a businessman, illegal wiretapping, paying off members of congress, and embezzling $15 million.

Justice: Facing a massive corruption scandal, Fujimori resigned the presidency in 2000 and fled to Japan. Tokyo granted citizenship to Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent, and repeatedly refused the new Peruvian government's requests for his extradition. Fujimori was arrested in Chile in 2005 and extradited back to Peru in 2007.

Fujimori's trial began in December 2007 with the former leader angrily denying the charges against him. "As a result of my government the human rights of 25 million Peruvians are respected.... If there were exceptions, I condemn them, but I didn't order them," he said.

Fujimori was sentenced to a six-year prison term in 2007 for abuse of power, then convicted of mass murder and kidnapping in 2009 and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He received a third sentence of seven and a half years in 2009 on corruption charges. The best hope for 73 year-old Fujimori, who remains popular among many Peruvians who credit him with rescuing the country's economy, is his daughter Keiko, currently a leading candidate for president. Keiko has promised she will not pardon her father if elected, but few believe she will keep to her word.

KANG KEK LEW

Country: Cambodia

Charges: Crimes against humanity including the torture and murder of at least 14,000 people.

Justice: Pol Pot, who led the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror over Cambodia from 1976 to 1979, during which nearly one-fifth of country's population was killed, died under house arrest in 1998 without ever paying for his crimes. But Cambodians finally got a measure of justice for the Khmer Rouge years in 2010 when Kang Kek Lew, better known by his nom de guerre "Duch" was sentenced for crimes against humanity.

Duch had been the leader of the Khmer Rouge's "Special Branch," charged with rooting out the enemies of the movement's brand of agrarian communism, and oversaw the torture and murder of thousands at the infamous S-21 prison. Only a few dozen people are thought to have survived incarceration there. 

Following the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch went into hiding, eventually converting to Christianity and working as a teacher in a village school. He was discovered by Western journalists in 1999 and arrested shortly afterward. He was held in a military prison for more than eight years before his first appearance at a U.N.-supported tribunal in 2007. His claims that his rights had been abused during his long imprisonment prompted laughter in the courtroom.

Duch was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2010 but had his sentence knocked down to 19 years because of the long time he had already been illegally imprisoned. Duch never denied his crimes, only saying he felt "regretfulness and heartfelt sorrow."

JORGE RAFAEL VIDELA

Country: Argentina

Charges: The torture and murder of 31 dissident prisoners.

Justice: The process of bringing Videla, the general who led Argentina's military junta from 1976 to 1981 and is considered the architect of the "dirty war" against the government's leftist opponents, to justice was a long one. More than 30,000 people are believed to have been "disappeared" under Videla's regime, many of them thrown into the ocean from airplanes. Videla was first sentenced to life in prison for torture, murder, and other crimes in 1985, but he was pardoned five years later by President Carlos Menem. 

He was jailed again in 1998 after being convicted of the kidnapping of children, but transferred to house arrest a short time later due to health issues. In 2007, a court overturned his original pardon, leading to a trial for the murder of 31 activists who shot dead in the city of Cordoba shortly after the military took power. He was sentenced to life in prison (once again) in 2010. He has taken full responsibility for the military's actions under his rule but is unrepentant, saying that his harsh measures were necessary to prevent a Marxist revolution, and that Argentina is now run by "terrorists."

JEAN-CLAUDE "BABY DOC" DUVALIER

Country: Haiti

Charges: Corruption and embezzlement.

Justice: Baby Doc followed his father's example, presiding over economic plunder on a massive scale and the torture and disappearances of hundreds of opponents during his 25 years in power before being ousted in a revolution in 1986. But in January 2011, he made a surprise return from exile in Europe. His homecoming provoked confusion in Haiti, which was still reeling from the effects of a devastating earthquake and in the midst of a contentious presidential election.

Duvalier was arrested and charged with bribery and embezzling state funds a few days after his return. (Many human rights activists were disappointed that he hadn't been charged with the torture and disappearances that were widespread under his rule.) Several months later, the courts don't seem to be making much progress in prosecuting Duvalier, who is living in a mansion near Port-au-Prince and is frequently spotted dining out at local restaurants and attending jazz concerts. And with the election of Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, who has stocked his cabinet with former Duvalier officials, it's appearing less likely that Baby Doc will ever see the inside of a jail cell.

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