Islamists poised to run Yemen after emerging as biggest winners in anti-Saleh struggle


Yemen’s Islamists are poised to take power, having emerged as the biggest winners of the struggle to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but so far they appear satisfied to share the victory with other parties.

The Islah (reform) Party, the largest opposition group, is a melting pot of Islamists, including the local version of Egypt’s Muslim Brothers and the Saudi-influenced Salafists, two groups which locked horns in Egyptian polls.

Its members range from activist Tawakkol Karman, who won the 2011 Nobel Peace prize, to cleric Abdul Majid Zendani, who is suspected by Washington of financing terrorism.

The party also includes tribal chiefs, notably Sheikh Hameed al-Ahmar, the son of the late Sheikh Abdullah, a former head of parliament.

Ten months of nationwide protests demanding an end to Saleh’s 33-year rule that culminated last month in his signing of a Gulf-brokered deal which will see him out of office in February.

“Our party does not adopt the slogan ‘Islam is the solution’ because the question of Islam and the state is not a problem in Yemen, which is Muslim and homogeneous,” said Mohammed Qahtan, the party’s political department head.

“Our priority is to combat poverty, restore stability and build the state,” he told AFP.

Founded in 1990, Islah emerged from the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in 1968 by Yemeni students returning from Cairo where they were influenced by the persecuted group.

But it was a strong supporter of Saleh before switching to the opposition in 2005.

Its leader at the time of the partnership was the influential tribal dignitary Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar. Allied tribes fought alongside government troops in the civil war against southern separatists in 1994.

His supporters hold sensitive posts in the administration, including education and military institutions.

“The Islah party will be the main force” in post-Saleh Yemen, said analyst Fares al-Saqqaf, director of the Center for Future Studies in Sana’a.

He said the president’s party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), “will lose influence in favor of Islah, which will rise to power” in parliamentary elections stipulated in the power-transfer accord.

Islah is part of the opposition-led national unity government, sworn in last Saturday to manage the transition at a time when the army is divided, al-Qaeda militants well organized and the economy on the brink of collapse.

On the fight against terrorism, which Saleh championed to win favor with Washington, Qahtan stressed that the effort “must continue, but on the basis of a true partnership and not as it was with Saleh, who wanted to be paid to act.”

As for the presence of Salafists in his movement, Qahtan stressed Islah was an “open party” and that the “diversity of opinions is a healthy phenomenon.”

Qahtan also insisted Islah did not intend to govern Yemen on its own and that its alliance with other parties of the parliamentary Common Forum opposition would remain intact.

The Common Forum groups Islah with the Yemeni Socialist Party, which ruled the former South Yemen, as well as the Nasserist party and al-Haq party which represents the impoverished state’s minority Zaidi Shiites.

“If we rule alone, nothing would be achieved,” Qahtan said, predicting the alliance will stay intact for at least two elections.

For his part, Mohammed al-Sabri, a leader of the Nasserist party, spoke of an agreement with Islah “on the priorities,” stressing that “a national alliance is necessary to face the enormity of the task before us.”