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Cablegate: Yemen: Hamid Al-Ahmar Sees Saleh As Weak And

Published: Mon 31 Aug 2009 01:01 PM
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ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 311339Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2697
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0105
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 1035
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0259
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 1662
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH 0439
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RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 SANAA 001617
SIPDIS
NOFORN
DEPT FOR NEA/ARP ANDREW MACDONALD
NSC FOR AARON JOST
OSD/POLICY FOR BRIAN GLENN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/31/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINS ECON SA UK GM YM
SUBJECT: YEMEN: HAMID AL-AHMAR SEES SALEH AS WEAK AND
ISOLATED, PLANS NEXT STEPS
REF: A. SANAA 1486
B. SANAA 299
Classified By: Ambassador Stephen A. Seche for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)
1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: Hamid al-Ahmar, Islah Party leader,
prominent businessman, and de facto leader of Yemen’s largest
tribal confederation, claimed that he would organize popular
demonstrations throughout Yemen aimed at removing President
Saleh from power unless the president "guarantees" the
fairness of the 2011 parliamentary elections, forms a unity
government with leaders from the Southern Movement, and
removes his relatives from positions of power by December
2009. Ahmar told EconOff on August 27 that Saleh is now more
politically isolated than ever, deprived of the counsel and
support of former allies, and beleagured by more threats to
regime stability than he can handle. Ahmar said he would
work hard in the coming months to convince Northwest Regional
Commander Major General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, as well as the
Saudi government, to support the opposition. By his own
admission, however, Ahmar still lacks the necessary support,
even within his own opposition Dialogue Committee, to launch
broad-based anti-Saleh demonstrations. END SUMMARY.
GOVERNANCE REFORMS...OR ELSE
----------------------------
2. (C) Reiterating comments he made during an August 5
al-Jazeera interview (REF A), Hamid al-Ahmar, Islah Party
leader, prominent businessman, Member of Parliament, and de
facto head of the Hashid tribal confederation, told EconOff
on August 27 that he had given President Saleh until the end
of 2009 to "guarantee" the fairness of the 2011 elections,
form a unity government with the Southern Movement, and
remove his relatives from military leadership positions.
Absent this fundamental shift in Saleh’s governance of the
country, Ahmar will begin organizing anti-regime
demonstrations in "every single governorate," modeled after
the 1998 protests that helped topple Indonesian President
Suharto. "We cannot copy the Indonesians exactly, but the
idea is controlled chaos." Ahmar said he had conveyed his
ultimatum to Saleh through Ahmar’s brothers (NFI) in early
August, but had not yet received a response from the
president or his inner circle.
3. (C) Saleh is now at his weakest point politically,
besieged by threats on multiple fronts and without the
political support and counsel of key allies, according to
Ahmar. "(Presidential advisor Abdulkarim) al-Eryani is not
as honest nor as useful as he used to be, (Northwest Regional
Commander) Ali Muhsin (al-Ahmar) is no longer his ally, and
Sheikh Abdullah is no longer in the picture," he said,
referring to his late father, the former Speaker of
Parliament and Saleh’s key ally vis--vis the tribes. "Who
is left? He is all alone." Ahmar conceded that Saleh is
unlikely to meet any of his three conditions. "There’s
really no way to verify that Saleh is serious about free and
fair elections, but I won’t wait until the 2011 elections to
move forward."
SAUDIS, ALI MUHSIN KEY TO AHMAR’S PLANS
---------------------------------------
4. (S/NF) Removing Saleh from power in a scenario that does
not involve throwing the country into complete chaos will be
impossible without the support of the (currently skeptical)
Saudi leadership and elements of the Yemeni military,
particularly MG Ali Muhsin, according to Ahmar. "The Saudis
will take a calculated risk if they can be convinced that we
can make Saleh leave the scene peacefully." Denying any
personal ambition to lead the country, Ahmar said that Yemen
needs a president from one of the southern governorates and
that the Saudis would eventually come around to the idea.
"If the Saudis were going to put anyone in power instead of
Saleh, it would be me -- everyone knows I am close to them
)- but I told them the next president must be a southerner,
for the sake of unity."
SANAA 00001617 002 OF 003
5. (S/NF) While Ali Muhsin’s support is essential to the
success of any plan to remove Saleh, he should not be allowed
to lead the country, Ahmar told EconOff. "Ali Muhsin is a
good, honest man, but the last thing we need is another
military man as president." Ahmar said he would seek to
exploit a rift between Saleh and Ali Muhsin, claiming that
the president had given Ali Muhsin the impossibly difficult
Sa’ada mission with the explicit intention of ruining his
military career, and therefore his presidential ambitions,
and hopefully have him killed in the process. Ahmar stressed
that he was only in the early stages of discussions with Ali
Muhsin on the topic of undermining Saleh’s rule.
BAD LEADERSHIP, FAILURE IN SA’ADA WILL TURN THE MILITARY
--------------------------------------------- -----------
6. (S/NF) Ahmar predicted that the failure of the current
military campaign in Sa’ada, along with the continued
presence of Saleh’s relatives in positions of leadership,
would eventually cause Saleh to lose the military’s loyalty.
Deriding Saleh’s son, Special Operations Forces Commander
Ahmed Ali, and his nephews Tariq, Yahya, and Ammar, as
"clowns" who keep the loyalty of their men only by providing
opportunities for corruption, Ahmar said the military would
not stay in the barracks indefinitely if it saw fighting in
Sa’ada as a futile enterprise under Saleh’s command. Ahmar
compared the ROYG forces currently in Sa’ada to the various
Ahmar-allied Hashid confederation tribes that had fought
against the Houthis during previous campaigns. (Note: GPC
Member of Parliament and Hashid leader Hussein al-Ahmar,
Hamid’s brother, recently met with members of the "Hashid
Popular Army" that fought on behalf of the ROYG in the last
round of fighting in Sa’ada, according to an August 30 press
report. End Note.) "A lot of blood was shed to make Sa’ada
Yemeni and now Saleh is close to wasting it all. Saleh has
lost the tribes and, this time, he will lose the military."
The only solution in Sa’ada is to arrest Houthi leader
Abdulmalik al-Houthi, according to Ahmar.
A VISION FOR ISLAH GOVERNANCE
-----------------------------
7. (C) Repeating comments he has made to EmbOffs in the past,
Ahmar described the Islah Party as a moderate force within
Yemeni society and described himself as a moderating element
within Islah’s leadership. Islah will govern like the
Turkish Welfare Party and "nobody fears extremism from
Turkey," Ahmar said. The only things Islah would impose upon
Yemeni society are a ban on the sale of alcohol and on
prostitution and escort services. "No one will be forced to
wear the headscarf and Yemenis will be allowed to do whatever
they want in their own homes )- bring your girlfriend home
and drink -- but just don’t do it public," Ahmar said.
(Note: Alcohol sales outside Western hotels are already
banned in Yemen. Islah regularly pushes the ROYG, with some
success, to shut down massage parlors in Sana’a that are
widely regarded as prostitution sites. End Note.) Ahmar
asked what concerns, if any, the U.S. has with Islah’s
platform and offered to make any changes that would ensure
U.S. support for Islah.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
-------------------
8. (C) Hamid al-Ahmar comes across as a confident, polished
interlocutor and speaks fluent English, despite having been
to the U.S. only twice, as a teenager. He is the most
ambitious of the 10 sons of the late Sheikh Abdullah
al-Ahmar, evidenced by his increasingly frequent public
appearances. His disgust with President Saleh, whom he
alternately refers to as "the devil" and "the greedy one," is
palpable and frequently expressed in conversations. Ahmar
views his late father’s support for Saleh with disdain and
seems to relish the fact that Saleh no longer has any
powerful tribal allies equal in stature to his father. Ahmar
and his family of Hashid tribesmen hail from Amran
SANAA 00001617 003 OF 003
governorate and claim Ali Muhsen al-Ahmar as a blood relative
-- "my tenth cousin, no closer," according to Ahmar.
President Saleh, born in the Bayt al-Ahmar village in the
Sanhan district, is not a blood relative of the Amran Ahmars
(REF B). Ahmar claims to talk to the president in person and
on the telephone "regularly."
9. (S/NF) Ahmar, who splits his time between Jeddah and a
palatial estate in Sana’a, is intimately involved in the
everyday dealings of the disparate subsidiaries and
affiliates of the business conglomerate he chairs -- the
Ahmar Group. Post estimates that the majority of his
official revenue stream comes from earnings at his telecom
company Sabafon, the Saba Islamic Bank, various import-export
companies, and his partnership with Siemens in the power
sector. To a lesser extent, he also derives income from
serving as the local agent for the London-based commodity
trading company Arcadia Petroleum, which regularly buys most
of the ROYG’s monthly crude oil share, and from owning a
string of Western fast-food restaurants. A number of our
contacts, including Ahmar’s brother-in-law Nabil Khamery,
have suggested that Ahmar, like his late father, receives
generous cash payoffs from the Saudi Government, which he
collects in Jeddah rather than through the Saudi Embassy in
Sana’a.
COMMENT
-------
10. (S) Hamid al-Ahmar has ambition, wealth, and tribal power
in abdundance, a fiery combination anywhere but especially in
Yemen. Despite his increasingly confrontational statements
in public and conspiratorial tone in private, however, Ahmar
realizes that he is in no position to seize power. By his
own admission, even members of the opposition Dialogue
Committee he leads are skeptical of the utility of mass
demonstrations targeting Saleh personally. Judging by his
non-reaction to Ahmar’s public call for him to resign, Saleh
is unlikely to view Ahmar’s latest ultimatum, conveyed
privately, as anything more than a mild irritation. It is
unclear how the military, supposedly chafing under the
command of Saleh’s son, nephews, and other Sanhan loyalists,
fits into Ahmar’s strategy of popular opposition protests.
Ahmar will likely remain a vocal opposition politician and a
businessman before all else. As a tribal leader from the
rival Bakil confederation recently put it to us: "What if
Hamid tries to overthrow President Saleh and fails? He’d end
up weaker than before and never recover." END COMMENT.
SECHE
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