Profile: Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar

Chief of the Yemeni Hashed tribe has become a key player in the popular uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Born on October 6, 1956, Sadiq al-Ahmar is the current chief of Yemen’s powerful Hashed tribe. He is the son of Sheikh Abdullah bin Husayn bin Nasser al-Ahmar, his predecessor as chief and a key political and tribal figure in Yemeni history.

Sadiq was born in al-Khamri village in Amran governate, the main town in the Hashed homeland. When North Yemen declared independence from the United Kingdom, his father, then the tribal chief, moved the family to Sanaa, the capital of the country.

For his undergraduate studies, his father sent him to study in Egypt. When the elder Ahmar’s relations with that country soured, however, Sadiq’s scholarship was withdrawn and he was forced to return to Yemen to complete his courses.

After graduating in Yemen, Sadiq was sent to the United States in 1982 to continue his studies. In 1987, he gained his pilot’s licence for small civilian aircraft and returned to Yemen soon after.

In 1993, Sadiq made his formal entry into Yemeni politics, becoming a member of the Yemeni Representatives Council.

The al-Ahmar family has continued to play a prominent role in Yemen, and while Abdullah (Sadiq’s father) was a loyalist of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, his sons appeared to be less so. Hamid, Sadiq’s brother and a prominent businessman, has often been tipped as a possible successor to Saleh.

When Abdullah died in 2008, Sadiq was chosen to replace him as the chief of the Hashed tribe, which includes Saleh’s own tribe.

Sadiq resigned his position in the Yemeni General People’s Congress in February 2011, as a popular uprising against Saleh began to gather momentum.

On March 20, 2011, Sadiq hardened his position against Saleh, issuing a statement asking him to respond to protesters’ demands and to leave office peacefully.

That statement had been co-signed by several religious leaders, and came as Major General Ali Mohsen Saleh, the head of the country’s northwestern military zone, also declared his support for the protesters.

The tension between the Hashed chief and Saleh boiled over on May 24, 2011, when violence broke out between guards loyal to Sadiq and government forces.

That outbreak led to days of fighting, during which Sadiq’s forces launched attacks on government targets, including the interior ministry, and Saleh’s government forces reportedly attacked Sadiq’s Sanaa residence.

By May 26, the number of people killed in the fighting was more than 40, with scores more reported wounded.

Saleh issued arrest warrants for Sadiq and his nine brothers on that day, on charges of rebelling against the government. In a statement, al-Ahmar accused Saleh of attempting to “ignite discord and civil war between Yemenis”.

Source: Al Jazeera