Catherine Shakdam
Last updated: 19 February, 2012

First Yemeni soldier to defect disappears, family appeals for his release

On the wake of the Egyptian Revolution, as millions of men and women poured onto the streets of Cairo to express their joy upon news that long standing President Hosni Mubarak had resigned, Yemenis dared to think that change was possible.

It started with a handful of protesters in front of the Egyptian Embassy in February 2011 and grew into a full blown popular uprising in a matter of weeks with tens of thousands of civilians making a stand for democracy and freedom.

With the calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster came the armored vehicles, the Central Security Forces and the Republican Guards. Soon protesters were under attack with live ammunitions and tear gas raining down on them.

One soldier decided that he could not “use his weapon to harm a fellow Yemeni, even in self-defense.”

Major Yehia al-Dheeb, a member of the Special Forces headed by Tarek Mohamed Saleh, one of President Saleh’s nephews, was the first soldier to defect despite the danger he knew he was facing in doing so.

The Major explained that although he had served the presidential family for years and considered himself a loyal servant of the Republic he could not condone the use of lethal violence against peaceful protesters, stressing that his first duty as a soldier was towards his country, his people and the Republic, not one family.

As one can imagine the Major’s defection did not go unnoticed. His salary was immediately frozen and even after General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar joined the rank of the revolutionaries promising that he would use his 1stArmored Division as a shield against Saleh’s army and offered protection to all defectors, Yehia’s salary was never reinstated.

Knowing that the State of Qatar had promised to cover all defectors’ salaries as a show of solidarity towards Yemenis, Major al-Dheeb publicly accused Gen. Mohsen of pocketing the funds for personal gain.

“Even Mohsen does not pay me my salary, as some of us defected from him as well – when we learned that he wants us to hold weapons to protect the youth, we refused his orders,” said Yehia in an interview last year. “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 other 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.”

Determined to unveil what he thought was a plot against the Revolution, the Major spoke against both the regime and Gen. Mohsen accusing both parties of working together to manipulate the situation to their advantage. “Ali Mohsen serves Ali Saleh: they both think of benefits for themselves, they have always deceived the Yemeni people,” he told on a TV interview back in May 2011.

Al-Dheeb went one step further in his attack of the regime when he crashed a pro-regime TV talk show, voicing his anger at President Saleh and his repressive methods, live, to millions of viewers.

Although his family said they feared for his safety since he had managed to anger not only the regime but also the powerful al-Ahmar clan, they explained that Yehia always refused to put his well-being above that of his countrymen, telling his loved ones that his duty was to the nation.

A week ago, Major Yehia al-Dheeb disappeared. Despite frantic searches, his family was unable to locate him and greatly fear for his life.

In desperation the family turned to the Human Right Ministry hoping that Hooria Mashour, the minister, would act on behalf of the family to open an enquiry and determined what had happened.

“Mrs Mashour was really helpful said the family, she promised to keep us informed on any development but so far it has been a complete blank,” said the family.

“The ministry is always very keen to help families in such stressful situations. Sadly kidnappings have become widespread methods of repression and we have yet to determined who is behind Yehia al-Dheed’s disappearance. We will coordinate with the family and the authorities,” said Hooriah Mashour.

Moreover a letter was sent to the American Ambassador to Yemen, Gerard Feierstein, in the hope that he would use his influence on the regime and the forces of the Opposition to organize Yehia’ release.

Date: February 17, 2012

Dear Mr. Ambassador Gerald Michael Feierstein

Embassy of the United States of America

Sana’a – Republic of Yemen

Dear Sir,


We are very sorry for interrupting your busy schedule reading this letter, as we do recognize your hard efforts supporting the whole Republic of Yemen during these difficult circumstances. However, we tried our best to resolve our problem without referring back to you, but it seems you are our last and final hope.

Our problem started when our brother, Yehia Ali Yehia Al-Dheeb a President’s Armed Forces soldier of Ali Abdullah Saleh, decided to practice his citizen right of saying no when things are not going right. On 20 February 2011, he was the first person from the President’s Armed Forces joined peacefully the protesters at Al-Tagheer Square.

During the previous year, he was called many times to attend to the president’s palace to discuss his demands, however, he was afraid of going back and he was believing that his demands are all Yemenis’ demands. Due to his refusal, and being the only one from the President’s Armed Force joining the protesters, the investigation team of General Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, tried their bests to locate his place to take him back to the base, but they couldn’t.

After General Ali Muhseen Al Ahmar joined the protesters, it became less important to capture him; therefore, he started to live normally, exiting the square and coming back home. He further decided to look after his family that consists of two wives and 3 kids (2 lovely girls and an ambitious boy). He borrowed some money and purchased a taxi that was making some decent income to recover the unpaid salary.

On 11 February 2012, we lost all contacts with him. We were unable to reach him via mobile and he did not show up again at home. Three days after, we received a call from someone, who said that he was with Yehia (as a taxi customer) when the President’s Security check point at Al Musbahi Square, in front of Yemen Germany Hospital, caught them. Yehia and his car were taken by the President’s Security Force and they hardly left the passenger after they ensured that he has no links with Yehia. We were lucky that Yehia gave our number to this passenger and we carry huge respect to him taking an action and calling us.

After many contacts with his colleagues, one of them confirmed that he saw his taxi in the President’s Palace Parking Yard. We tried many times to reach the Palace, and reached nowhere. Various calls made and the responses were contradicting by either denying him being in the Palace, or confirming that General Tariq wants him.

We did not stop here, we further protested in front of the Prime Minister’s Office. They were very cooperative as they requested three representatives to meet the Country Minister of Prime Ministry Authority, Mrs. Jawhara and we did. We gave her a copy of our complain letter as she promised to discuss it with the Prime Minister. She was very nice and cooperative as she further promised to contact the Minister of Defense to further discuss this topic with him. At the time we left Mrs. Jawhara’s office, we also met Mrs. Hooriah Mashhoor, Human Rights Minister, and discussed this topic with here. She was also cooperative as she promised to follow up and feed us back. However, the image is totally dark and this scares us.

You may have notice that we did our best, but reached nowhere and concluded no hopes. All family members are disappointed and we feel we lost him.

We wrote this letter as our last hope to get your support on this matter as we truly believe that USA, as a whole country, government and citizens are the leaders calling and fighting for democracy and we believe Yehia did nothing wrong other than practicing his democracy right.

We also know that this letter may not reach your hands, and we respect that, being busy resolving bigger nation issues, however, if it did reach your hands, please HELP for the sake of making a change in this country and for the sake of having a father back home looking after his kids, wives and parents.

Please accept our advance thanks and may god give you more health and power supporting Yemen overcoming the current critical circumstances.

Best regards,

Family of Yehia Ali Yehia Al-Dheeb

A protester and an ex-soldier of President Ali Saleh Armed Forces