Yemen's other Islamists

Our loyal guest blogger in San‘a sends us this well-researched piece on the role and structure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen. YPP's leadership pretends no significant knowledge on this subject. Reader comments, as always, are welcomed. In Yemen, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) begins to position itself directly within the post-Saleh political structure. While their primary struggle to date has been an internal balance within at-Tajammu al-Yemeni lil-Islah‎ (The Yemeni Congregation for Reform), the two month old anti-government protests have allowed the Brotherhood sufficient opportunities to either split from al-Islah or become the primary ideological force, possibly marginalizing the more radical Wahhabi elements.

While their physical presence inside the Sahat al-Tagheer (Change Square) remains minimal at a tent named after Abdo Mohammed al-Mikhlafi (major MB personality in 1960s), the Brotherhood is well organized under highly influential and charismatic leaders. Since the 1994 Civil War they have remained behind the scenes as part of al-Islah, led by radicals such as Shaykh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani and other Muslim Brothers within Wahhabi networks. But now they attempt to follow the approach of Egypt’s Brotherhood within the context of the Popular Revolution. This more covert approach in Yemen was revealed by President Saleh during his interview on 28 March with the Saudi network al-Arabiyya, joining the fear-mongering chorus appealing to the West. This approach to attack Brotherhood elements, instead of pro-Saudi Wahhabis, was followed by comments from Abdo al-Janadi, Deputy Minister of Information, to a Yemeni newspaper (Yemen Observer utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter) Al-Janadi directly linked the Brotherhood to the leadership of the Joint Meeting Party (al-Mushtarak) through al-Islah, and argued that the “Muslim Brotherhood has managed to convince America that they are liberals” and be part of the negotiations for the transition plan.

The leadership

There are many major political personalities that while they remain behind the scenes today most analysts are quick to recognize their particular roles. Under the current Morshed (Guide) Yassin Abd al-Azziz, who happens to be Tawakkil Karman’s maternal uncle, the network extends to local preachers as well as major personalities atop Islah’s leadership, such as Mohammed Al-Yadomi, Chairman of al-Islah and Abdul Salam Khalid Karman, former Minister of Legal Affairs and member of Islah’s Majlis As-Shura (father of Tawakkol Karman). Amongst the leaders we also find Ministers of Parliament such as Mohammad al-Hazmi (, Muhammad al-Sadeq (often mentioned as a successor to Shaykh Zindani), Haza al-Maswary, as well as Shaykh Hamud Hashim al-Dharihi, Abdullah al-Homeidi and Muhammad Hassan Dammaj (former Minister of Local Administration).

Personalities in political leadership positions may still number a few, but the Brotherhood relies more on local group leaders at Universities, such as al-Iman, and inside mosques in every city, which grants it a major force multiplier within al-Islah in regards to popular mobilization. The Brotherhood still operates through small cells developed from within mosques or institutions, secret groups that remain apart from other members and leaders. Many members are recruited in their early teens, and are groomed and indoctrinated at week-long summer camps in areas outside Arhab (near Sana’a), Mahweet or near Taiz. Here students get to interact with major personalities such as Shaykh Zindani, Mohammad al-Hazmi and Abdullah Sa’ttar. Such structures may present a difficulty in separating Brothers from other Salafi adherents loyal to al-Islah, but it may all become clear once the dust settles if Saleh is removed from office. The aftermath may see a proliferation of political parties gaining advantages in a political vacuum, but a fractured Islah party, Wahhabis and Brotherhood, may lead to a strategy whereby conservative Islamists may gain a larger majority in the new legislature due to their abilities to mobilize support and produce a larger alliance within Parliament obscuring more secular parties. This fragmentation of al-Islah will also guarantee the dissolution of the JMP, which may render Socialists, Nasserists and Ba’thists completely marginalized without major constituencies.

The politics of the Brotherhood in Yemen

While President Saleh engaged a demonizing campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, his history with the Brothers paints a different picture. Some members, like Shaykh Hamud Hashim al-Dharihi are said to have been close allies like Shaykh Zindani. Also, even though analysts cannot directly confirm dates when people like Brg Gen Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar (Senhan) gave their bay’a (allegiance) to the Brotherhood, they are clearly identified as part of the organization. Even Shaykh Hamid b. Abdullah b. Hussein al-Ahmar is said to have a loose relationship with the Brothers, primarily as a financial supporter. The latter has maintained a rather conflicting relation since the major source of support has traditionally come from areas like Ibb and Taiz, where major economic competitors to Shaykh Hamid are more interested in marginalizing him within the Brotherhood. Al-Ahmar gained a stronger footing within the organization due to his strong financial support for al-Islah during the 2006 presidential campaign.

Public attacks by Saleh’s regime on the Muslim Brotherhood intensified after the 18 March massacre. This has to do more with Ali Muhsin’s ‘defection’ and support for anti-government demonstrators. Observers in Yemen have commented on the large Brotherhood-based network maintained by Ali Muhsin, within al-Firka (1st Mechanised Division) and civilians extending to the 1994 Civil War. Some of the most public figures within this network include Mr. Nasr Taha Mustapha (former manager of Saba News), Mr. Faris al-Saqqaf (former Chairman of the Book Authority), Ambassador Abd al-Malek Mansour (Arab League), Omar al-Arhabi (Director of Yemen Oil Company and nephew of Abd al-Kareem al-Arhabi, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation), Muhammad Abdulillah al-Qadhi of Senhan (nephew of President Saleh and alleged acquaintance of Sahykh Omar Abd al-Rahman), and Ambassador Abd al-Wali al-Shamiri (co-owner of al-Saeeda TV and former Arab-Afghan). The latter is said to have raised his profile during the 1994 Civil War as a recruiter of Jihadi militias for Ali Muhsin.

This network also includes brothers Hamed and Abd Ghani al-Shamiri, the latter was by Ali Muhsin’s side in Aden in 1994 and now allegedly serves as a main communication’s advisor to the general. Both men work as executives of Saeeda Television, which is said to have captured much of the advertising funds from the Hail Saeed Group after family members hailed their support for the anti-Saleh demonstrators. When we analyse the background of most of the officials who resigned and sided with Ali Muhsin we can see the other face of Saleh’s intentions when attacking the Brotherhood. His intent was to discredit a faction of the Islamist party without attacking the Wahhabis, linked to Saudi Arabia, and also raise suspicions among Western diplomats looking for reliable alternatives to president Saleh and to marginalize some of those approached to take part in the dialogue process proposed by the US and EU Ambassadors.