The first soldier to be featured in our “Faces” series also happens to be the very first soldier to defect from president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed forces to join Yemen’s peaceful revolution. Majior Yahia al-Dheeb, 26, was one of Saleh’s personal guards before he made headlines for joining the revolution, bravely,challenging the armed forces, and inspiring great courage in colleagues who later joined him against the regime.
He used before March, 2011 to risk his life protecting the president for no more than 26,000 YR per month. “I was a bodyguard for the president and sometimes his family as he [the president ] does not trust any guard enough to keep him as a permanent bodyguard…he fears that we can learn too much about his life,” said Yahia.
Yahia learned to adopt peaceful ways as a result of the revolution. Although he is a member of the armed forces, he disobeys any orders to use violence either against civilians or armed forces loyal to president Saleh.
“I refuse to hold any weapon after joining the peaceful revolution. I swear to God my hands will never hold a gun against any Yemeni. I would prefer to die peacefully than kill any Yemeni, even in self-defense” he said.
Yahia has suffered as a direct result of being the first soldier to defect. He received death threats and was chased by Saleh’s thugs. He has not received his salary, which amounts to only US$130 per month, since late last year.
His problems have continued even after key figures in Saleh’s regime defected and vowed to protect the protesters.
According to Yahia, when the state stopped paying defected soldiers’ salaries in March, Qatar took on that responsibility. Yahia contends that leading army defector Ali Mohsen receives direct financial support from the Gulf nation to pay soldiers’ salaries.
“Even Mohsen does not pay me my salary, as some of us [the armed forces coalition in the square] defected from him as well – when we learned that he wants us to hold weapons to protect the youth, we refused his orders,” said Yahia. “They told me that if you want your salary, you have to hold the weapon and kill whoever assaults the protesters. They will make us kill each others and they will not care how many of us die. Eventually Mohsen or Saleh will call the other and apologize; it’s us Yemenis who die.”
“We said we will not face weapons with weapons; we will face fire with our bare chests.”
Yahia urges all the protesters to remain peaceful, saying that before the army defected, the youth were managing to gain more opposition-held grounds. “Before March 18, the youth reached Al-Irani Hospital; on March 18, we reached the old university without weapons and without Ali Mohsen’s forces either,” he said. “Now after all those deaths in marches, Ali Mohsen makes deals with the regime and surrendered Kentucky Round.”
Yahia strongly feels that Mohsen is implementing Saleh’s plans in Change Square by controlling the square in the name of protection. “Ali Mohsen serves Ali Saleh: they both think of benefits for themselves, they have always deceived the Yemeni people. Why would they stop now?” said Yahia. “We [the revolutionaries] achieved a lot in our efforts to topple Ali Saleh before Ali Mohsen joined us, and today we hardly move forwards.”
Yahia’s is an honest voice. He speaks his mind, highlighting issues, with little concern for the consequences.
“President Saleh’s picture still hangs in Ali Mohsen’s office. How stupid they think Yemenis are! When Mohsen joined the revolution, he said that he would only protect the youth…today he’s the only commander of the square” said Yahia angrily.
Yahia told the Yemen Times that Ali Mohesn recruits civilians into his army, calling them “revolution supporters,” and that the Army loyal to Saleh is doing the same, in that case calling recruits “legitimacy supporters.”
Despite his angry language when expressing how the regime benefits from Ali Mohsen’s defection, Yahia is a fun person, always joking and smiling no matter what threats he receives. In particular, he is known for a trick he pulled on Yemen TV. The resulting video has been shared by many opposition Facebook groups. Yahia called Yemen TV to participate in a program against the revolution. As the program receives only receives calles from Saleh supporters, Yahya posed as one, cursing the revolution. As soon as he was put on-air, he spoke truthfully about the Republican Guard having shot protesters.
The program’s host was taken aback and Yahia’s call was cut, but not before he had a chance to speak his mind.