Mujahid Abu Shawarib (1939–2004)
On 17 November 2004 Major-General Mujahid bin Yahya Abu Shawarib, Personal Adviser to the Yemeni President, was returning to Sana’a from a visit to his farm at ‘Abs in the far north-west of Yemen when, just half an hour’s drive from the capital, his vehicle was involved in a fatal accident.
He was one of the pillars of the republican movement which in 1962 overthrew the Zaydi Imamate that had ruled in Yemen for more than a thousand years. He was to play an influential role, as soldier and politician, through the many vicissitudes which beset the Yemen Arab Republic in its eight year civil war with the royalists; and then, after the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, in the early troubled years of the Republic of Yemen.
He was born on 3 April 1939 at Warwar, a village not far from Dhibin, some 55 miles north of Sana’a. A tribal shaikh, he ranked near the top of the great tribal confederation of Hashid which, along with the confederation of Bakil, had dominated tribal life in northern Yemen for centuries. It is said that the family had originally been known as Zahir but that one of Mujahid’s ancestors, having grown an enormous moustache, had been duly nicknamed ‘Abu Shawarib’, and that the name had stuck ever since.
Mujahid’s father, Yahya, fought with his tribe, Hashid Kharif, alongside Crown Prince Ahmad during the Saudi-
Yemeni war in 1934, and the latter (now Imam) had swiftly brought to justice members of a neighbouring tribe who had murdered Shaykh Yahya in 1951. Despite this, in 1959 Mujahid joined the paramount shaikh of the Hashid, Husayn, in an unsuccessful plot to overthrow Imam Ahmad after his return from medical treatment in Italy. Husayn (whose daughter Mujahid was later to marry) was executed, but the young Mujahid was spared and imprisoned, a period which he used to study mathematics, geography and history from books smuggled into prison.
After the revolution of 26 September 1962 which deposed Imam Muhammad al-Badr, Mujahid espoused the republican cause, commanding republican troops in numerous skirmishes. In one such engagement a bullet punctured a kidney before lodging in his lower abdomen. Despite the pain Mujahid refused to allow surgery to remove it when he was told that the operation might render him sterile.
Mujahid played a decisive role in raising the royalist siege of Sana’a in the winter of 1967–68. In February 1968, with 2000 men supported by tanks, he drove royalist forces from their position on Jebel ‘Attan, just to the west of Sana’a, initiating the collapse of the 70-day siege.
In 1973 Qadhi Abd al-Rahman al-Iryani (President from autumn 1967) appointed Mujahid military commander and governor of the mountainous province of Hajja some 80 miles north-west of Sana’a. There he is still remembered gratefully by its inhabitants, who had chronically suffered from bilharzia, for organising the supply of clean water to their mountain fastness, pumped up from the wadis below.
After the bloodless coup of June 1974 which ousted al-Iryani, Mujahid became a member of the 14-man Command Council convened to choose a new Yemeni leader. Following his election as president, Lieutenant-Colonel Ibrahim al-Hamdi appointed Mujahid (now Brigadier) as deputy chairman of the newly constituted ruling Command Council of 7, and as deputy commander of the Army.
Al-Hamdi was assassinated in October 1977, and when the next President, Ahmad al-Ghashmi, met the same fate the following June, many of the Hashid shaikhs wanted to see Mujahid as head of state, but Ali Abdullah Saleh (then a lieutenant-colonel, now a field marshal) was eventually elected president on 17 July 1978. Appointed one of three deputy prime ministers, Mujahid was made responsible for Internal Affairs. He retained these posts after the union of North and South Yemen as the Republic of Yemen on 22 May 1990.
Mujahid did his utmost to prevent the 3-month civil war which broke out in April 1994, urging reconciliation between the two sides. Later that year he was appointed personal adviser to President Saleh, a post which he held until his death.
Mujahid was respected for his patriotism as well as for his strong pan-Arab outlook. For many years he had been the most prominent tribal member of the Arab-nationalist Ba’ath party, and only withdrew his membership after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. His world extended far beyond that of his own tribe and its interests. He never took advantage of the fact that Shaikh Abdullah bin Husayn al-Ahmar, paramount leader of the Hashid and Speaker of the House of Deputies, was his brother-in-law. In his breadth of vision Mujahid resembled his close friend Major-General Yahya al-Mutawakkil who was killed tragically in a road accident in January 2003.
Mujahid is survived by his two wives, four sons (the eldest of whom, Jibran, succeeds him as Shaykh of Hashid Kharif), two daughters, and by his mother (now over 100 years old) to whom he was devoted. He also had an adopted son.