Saleh’s Servants

Long before the current upheavals across the Middle East, Yemen was a constant source of worry for America’s State Department and a font of instability in the region.

From a chaotic breakup of the country in the 1960s to a fitful reunification in 1990, followed by yet another North-South conflict in 1994, Yemen has seen more than its fair share of conflict.

By 2000, the country of origin of Osama bin Laden’s family had become a hotbed of Islamic extremism, culminating in a deadly suicide bomb attack on a US naval vessel in the port of Aden which killed 17 US sailors.

Since then, Yemen has been the scene of a number of other daring terrorist attacks including the bombing of the US Embassy in Sana’a.

In addition to these events, the country has also been struggling with a tribal uprising along its border with Saudi Arabia which has seen fierce fighting and heavy losses on both side.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has tenaciously clung onto power from taking over in a military coup in 1978. In June, Saleh was badly injured in an attack on the presidential compound and had to be flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment. At the time, hopes were raised that he would stay there, avoiding further conflict. By September, however, he was well enough to return to Yemen, causing further unrest.

Finally, after months of heavy fighting between rival tribal groups in the capital and at other flashpoints across the country and a deteriorating economic situation in an already impoverished country, Saleh finally agreed to a transition of power on 23 November.

Jan Banning visited Yemen as part of his extensive comparative photographic study of the culture, rituals and symbols of state civil administrations and its servants in eight countries on five continents. Below are images of Yemen’s bureaucrats, a class of civil servant somehow intrinsically enmeshed in Yemen’s decades of political stagnation.

Abdullah Hussein Mohammed Al-Harazi (born 1962), manager at the planning and infrastructure department of the district of Dhi Sufal, Ibb Governorate. Yemen.

Alham Abdulwaze Nuzeli (born 1982) works at the regional office of the Ministry of Tithing and Alms in the city of Al Mahwit, Al Mahwit governorate. Yemen.

Abdulwali Azablani (born 1955), head of the district of Dhi Sufal, Ibb Governorate. Yemen.

Adil Mohammed Al-Ghobari (born 1974), deputy manager at the regional office of the Ministry of Awqaf (Endowments) and Religious Guidance in the district of Thula, Amran Governorate. Yemen.