Ten meters from a gas station in Haddah Street, central Sana’a, a man has been camping in a tent with his four children since April 2008.
Naji Mohammed Al-Qulaifi is seeking justice from the state; he chose his new home of the last three years because the gas station is close to one of the homes of president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“My cause began before any revolution,” said Al-Qulaifi from his camp at the gas station. He believes that if Saleh had responded to his cause, the protests demanding that the president step down would not have happened.
Many camp in tents these days seeking rights and justice, but al-Qulaifi has a different cause, he did not join the people in their anti-government sit-ins, and he claims he began the idea of camping to gain his rights.
In Yemen you might hear people complain that the president has full authority over in every element in the country – even people’s daily lives. But although he might give orders to hire someone, return land or settle a dispute, his orders are often ignored by officials – as Al-Qulaifi’s story proves.
Saleh’s orders ignored
He told the Yemen Times that he had twice received orders from the president to turn around the injustices he and his family have faced – but each time the order came to nothing.
From his tent covered in appeals and objections, just 10 meters from a queue of 15 cars at the petrol station, Al-Qulaifi told the Yemen Times his story.
“I pray to God and cry every night to find justice,” said Al-Qulaifi. “I have ‘lost’ two daughters and sons and above all my wife since this all started”.
Al-Qulaifi’s story began after a car accident in 2001 while working as the director of roads and constrictions in Otma district. While injured, members of the local council of Otma took advantage of his absence to build illegal buildings. Two months later when Al-Qulaifi returned to work and found out, he complained to the local council. But following his complaint, the local council suspended him temporarily in 2002 and permanently in 2003.
According to Al-Qulaifi, the local council tricked him into going to the local jail to receive some papers to resume work, but when he arrived he was arrested. “When I entered the jail they closed the doors. I asked why and they said ‘you are under arrest’,” said Al-Qulaifi. He spent three months in jail without a warrant. On the second morning after his arrest, security forces broke into his house.
“When I got out of jail I found out that security forces were occupying my yard and had built a compound.”
After his release, Al-Qulaifi raised the cause with Rashad Al-Alimi, the interior minister at the time. Eventually Al-Alimi decided that Al-Qulaifi could have 10 meters of his own 30 meter yard returned to him, with 20 meters remaining as a security compound.
“My wife died of a heart attack after the security forces broke into my house, with no respect for the women inside.” His sons then decided to smuggle two of his older daughters to their tribe, fearing their reputations after security occupied his yard. They left him with the four younger children, aged between four and seven, to deter him from using violence to get revenge.
And Al-Qulaifi did succeed in raising attention for his cause; twice the president stopped as he passed by on his way home during Ramadan last year. He gave him a signed order to resolve the situation but it was not implemented.
In a bid to put an end to his protest, Al-Qulaifi was again was taken to jail – with his four children – at the beginning of this year, where they were kept for a week.
“Many police cars came took him by force when took him,” said Mohammed Al-Jabry, the workshop owner at the petrol station. “At first he was resisting with his Jumbya but they managed to take it from him.”
However, Al-Qulaifi has vowed to stay where he is until his cause is solved either by a new government or by president Saleh. He still receives his salary of 40,000 YR but wants his house and job back, and compensation.
Formal system is ‘ineffective’
A report by the The Hague Institute for Internationalization of Law last year found that many of Al-Qulaifi’s concerns reflect the most important legal issues for Yemenis. However, it added that the formal system is seen as costly, overloaded, corrupt, inaccessible and ineffective. “This is why most Yemenis give up on claiming their rights through the official channels and resort to other means whether through mediation or arbitration or using any form of protest,” it said.
And while Al-Qulaifi’s might be extreme, it is yet another example of the corruption and lack of a rule of law, endemic in Yemen.
Last year Yemen ranked 146 out of 178 countries in the world corruption index, compiled each year by Transparency International. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most transparent, Yemen scored 2.2. This was a fall of eight places since 2009 when Yemen ranked 156 – and it remains to be seen how nine months of unrest has affected the situation this year.