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In Yemen, fight of “squales” in the Bay of Aden

By Louis Imbert

Posted today at 5:00 p.m.

A dozen solicitors are waiting at the home of Yemeni businessman Ahmed Saleh Al-Essi in Cairo. They chat with his bodyguards, in this apartment around which revolve their compatriots refugees in the Egyptian capital – nearly a million have fled Yemen since the start of the war, in 2014. Mr. Al-Essi receives them in a cabinet decorated with 18th century country landscapese French century in wallpaper, framed with gilded moldings. To one, he finances hospital treatment. At the other, he pays a scholarship for university studies, without worrying about the social origins or the political opinions of his visitors. It distracts him.

Solicitors wait at the home of Yemeni businessman Ahmed Saleh Al-Essi (center), in Cairo (Egypt), May 15, 2022.

At 54, Sheikh Al-Essi – known as “the shark” – is a concerned man. Barely a year ago, he still believed himself to be the king of Yemeni oil. He was fighting for control of the port of Aden, where his ships conveyed the black gold. He saw himself as bigger than the state he helped carve up, while taking care not to kill the beast. He dreamed of being president of Yemen, in place of his ally, former president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi (2012-2022), who, more than anyone else, contributed to his fortune. Mr. Al-Essi acted as a private bank for his government. He claims to have avoided bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016. He filled the holes in the budget until 2019.

new masters

The ace ! Aden, exasperated by his grip, ended up kicking him out. He can no longer go to the largest port in the country, which saw him born in 1967 and which has assumed the role of “temporary capital” of Yemen since 2014, when the Houthi rebels, these Shiite militias allied with Iran , took control of Sanaa. Mr. Al-Essi, a small man with a thin gray mustache, slow-moving, cold, witty, capable of exquisite politeness, speaks of himself in the third person: “You said that Al-Essi controlled the air, the land and the sea… But where are they now? » Since new masters imposed themselves on Aden, banishing its ships, it must be recognized that the city is not doing any better. Mr. Al-Essi is ironic and threatening, he challenges his victors to find grounds to prosecute him for corruption.

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In this battle of great “squales” on the lookout for the riches of Aden, he was defeated. Independence militias, who dream of resuscitating the former People’s Democratic Republic of South Yemen, the only Marxist state in the history of the Arab world (1967-1990), have assumed control of the port. They offered it to businessmen from the South, who are loyal to them. Saudi Arabia, which for ten years had been protecting President Hadi, his sons and the clique of businessmen around them, in the forefront of which was Mr. Al-Essi, ended up getting tired of them. On April 7, President Hadi was forced to resign.

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