x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Yemen's stand-in leader lacks political experience

Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi is running a country on the brink of civil war its leader recovers from assassination attempt.

The vice-president of Yemen, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, left, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh, attend a pro-Saleh rally in Sanaa in March.
The vice-president of Yemen, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, left, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh, attend a pro-Saleh rally in Sanaa in March.

SANA'A // Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi had spent most of his career in the military until he was elected secretary general for the ruling General People's Congress in 2008. Three years later he is running a country on the brink of civil war while President Ali Abdullah Saleh recovers in Saudi Arabia following a June 3 assassination attempt.

"He has no political experience and when he was involved in political issues, he was just acting as a firefighter for problems of Saleh - like when he was sent to sort out the separatists' problems in the south, though he did not succeed," Ahmed al Zurkah, an independent analyst and freelance writer, said yesterday.

Born in the southern province of Abyan in 1945, Mr Hadi graduated in 1964 from a military school in Aden. He went to Great Britain, Egypt and Russia for additional military study and training. Mr Hadi was the leader of an armoured division until the independence of South Yemen from Britain in 1967.

He later became the chief of the supply department at the defence ministry and then the assistant chief of general staff in the former south republic.

During the civil war in 1994, Mr Hadi was appointed Yemen's defence minister.

Mr Saleh named him vice president in 1994 in part to demonstrate that southerners were still partners in the united country after the south's socialist leaders were forced into exile.

After months of mass protests calling for an end to Mr Saleh's 33 years of rule and fighting in recent weeks between government forces and tribesmen, the burden is now on Mr Hadi to stop the country plunging into conflict.

The main opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties, the youth-led protest movement and the tribal leaders are pushing Mr Hadi to facilitate the transition of power from Mr Saleh as quickly as possible. "We will be able to overcome this exceptional situation with the co-operation of all political parties and civil-society organisations," Mr Hadi was quoted as saying by the state news agency, Saba, during a meeting this month with the minister of industry and commerce and business leaders.

Mr Hadi has the support of the opposition and many of the protesters. But the ruling party leaders and Mr Saleh's relatives have refused any talks on power transfer until Mr Saleh returns from Saudi Arabia.

Mr Saleh's son, Ahmed, leads the Republican Guards, an elite army regiment. Other relatives maintain senior positions in the military and security forces.

"He is in the middle of the hammer and the bench," Sultan al Atwani, a leader of the opposition, told the Washington Post. "Parts of the regime, the sons and nephews, do not see him as legitimate. They see him only as the vice- president until the president comes back."

Most telling is the fact that Ahmed Ali Saleh has moved into the presidential palace, not Mr Hadi.

Last week opposition leaders met Mr Hadi and two senior governing party officials at his Sana'a home in the first known meeting between the sides since the beginning of the year.Mr Hadi "is known for his wisdom and his tendency to compromise. His strength lies in the support of all opposition groups ... But his plight lies in the objection of his party and the relatives and cronies of Saleh ... They want him to remain just a watchdog till Saleh comes back," Mr al Zurkah said.

The US state department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said this month the US government has "been encouraged that vice president Hadi has started some outreach to the opposition and started some dialogue. Because ... we believe that there is no time to lose in moving on to the democratic future that Yemen deserves."

So far Mr Hadi has publicly rejected any suggestions that he replace Mr Saleh. As acting president he has worked to keep a ceasefire in the capital with forces loyal to Sadeq al Ahmar, the head of Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation.

"The man is not looking to hold on to power. He has not got the tribe or military that can turn him into a dictator," Mr Zurkah said.

"Any pressure on Hadi might push him to quit and this will embroil the country into absolute power vacuum and a potential civil war."

malqadhi@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Washington Post and Reuters