Does he know the new president personally? Of course he does! General Ali Mohsen is irritated by the superfluous question. He is friends with him, he adds, "very, very, very good friends, as a matter of fact." The general is almost effusive in his description of his colleague. The new President of Yemen, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is also a military man. He is a field-marshal and served with the armed forces in the south when Yemen was still a divided country.
When North and South Yemen reunited in the spring of 1990, Hadi was one of the main treaty negotiators. He then set aside his army uniform, moved from Aden to Sanaa and was made vice president. Now he is president and has been tasked with leading Yemen into democracy. It is nothing less than a Herculean task.
The general is ensconced at the military command centre in the western part of the Yemeni capital. The area is heavily guarded. There is barbed wire, concrete blocks and sandbags all over the place. Men in uniform crawl across the dusty ground or use a rope to jump from a watchtower to the ground.
The young demonstrators' guardian angel
"We are training new soldiers," explains the officer at my side. General Mohsen's First Brigade needs new soldiers. Their number was decimated over the course of the five months of bitter fighting and losses. Many have moved back to the regular Yemeni army. Critics of the general, who flatly dismiss the members of his brigade as a "mob", say that these soldiers have left behind young, inexperienced recruits who would not otherwise have found a job.
"We are the youngest brigade of all," retaliates the officer, "young soldiers from all over the country." The general compares himself and his unit to Libya's National Liberation Army, which abandoned Gaddafi and sided with the protest movement. "We stand for the revolution," he says, portraying himself as the guardian angel of the young demonstrators, "to prevent more bloodshed."
There has already been quite enough bloodshed. Last year, Mohsen's First Brigade was involved in a bitter struggle with government troops. It occupied the university and set up its camp there. The general brought one-third of Sanaa under his control and threatened to take the entire city.
When the leader of the Ahmar clan, which dominates the capital, got involved in the fighting and demanded his share of the territory, the commander transformed himself into an apostle of peace and lent his support to the international community's road map for solving the crisis.
By Birgit Svensson; Translated by Aingeal Flanagan
[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]