x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Predecessor's meddling muddies the waters for Yemen's new president

Tensions rise between the two statesmen as efforts continue to reform the military and improve the economy.

SANAA // Yemen's new president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, appears as the antithesis of the "table-thumping vociferous fireball" as one politician described his predecessor.

Over the past week, tensions rose between the two statesmen.

Former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, reportedly threatened to pull all members of his General People's Congress Party (GPC), of which he remains leader, from the unity government, before calling for prime minister, Mohammad Salem Basindawa, to be arrested.

Word soon spread that Mr Hadi, frustrated by the former leader's meddling, was contemplating disbanding the cabinet.

Despite Mr Saleh finally agreeing to relinquish power in November, many suspected that Yemen had not seen the last of him.

The leader who ruled for more than three decades continues to overshadow the political scene and, crucially, the country's military, that is still in the hands of his sons and extended family members.

"Saleh is frustrated that he doesn't have the power anymore," said one member of the unity government who did not want to be named. He thought he could control Hadi but he's been disappointed. Saleh has to realise he's not Yemen's president anymore."

The threats and posturing from Mr Saleh are just one of the challenges facing Mr Hadi.

With a fractured nation, swathes of which are outwith government control, a divided army and an economy on its knees, the new president is attempting to steer Yemen through a two-year period of transition.

Under the terms of Gulf Cooperation Councils' transition deal, signed by Mr Saleh, the army has to be restructured, national dialogue with all groups - including the long isolated northern Houthi rebels and the secessionist Southern Movement - must take place before a new constitution is drafted and, finally, parliamentary elections held in 2014.

Despite this, many believe the media-shy Mr Hadi is the right man for the job and the contrast with his predecessor is exactly what Yemen needs.

"Saleh has proven to be manipulative, determined to control, power hungry, shrewd and calculating," said the Yemeni political analyst, Abdul Ghani Al Iryani.

"By contrast, Hadi is prudent, very cautious and less power-hungry."

Mr Hadi also appears to have popular support on his side. Tens of thousands of protesters streamed into city centres across Yemen on Friday, demanding that their ex-president be stripped of immunity from prosecution and be put on trial for the deaths of demonstrators.

Some protesters on Friday carried posters showing Mr Saleh with a noose around his neck.

During the rally in the Sanaa, activist Abdel-Hadi Al Azazi said Mr Saleh was "still working on sabotaging the revolution".

The relationship between Mr Saleh and Mr Hadi began to change a year ago when General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, commander of the First Armoured Division, defected from the army and sent his men to protect the anti-government protest site in Sanaa.

Instead of affirming his loyalty to Mr Saleh, Mr Hadi instead opted for the middle ground, meeting regularly with the renegade military leader.

Mr Hadi had served as Mr Saleh's deputy for 17 years, a reward for his assistance in crushing the 1994 civil war against his fellow southerners.

As a result, Mr Hadi was labelled an Al Zumara - meaning a native southerner who joined the northern enemy to survive.

But in spite of his near two decades of service to the former regime, there is willingness to forget the past and view Mr Hadi as Yemen's last hope after a year of political turmoil.

"History will judge him [Hadi] from the day he took power," said the former GPC member, Mohammed Abu Lahoom, who turned his back on Mr Saleh last year to found the Justice and Building Party.

Mr Abu Lahoom compares Mr Hadi favourably to the former Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, who was noted for changing the direction of Egyptian politics after 14 years as a close confident of his predecessor, Gamel Nasser.

"Sadat turned out to be one of the finest leaders Egypt has ever seen. Hadi can be the same," said Mr Abu Lahoom

"You can't judge a number two until you test them."

Mr Hadi certainly faces many tests. He has already begun the delicate process of reforming the military, with several prominent military commanders replaced in the month since he took office. But Mr Saleh could still prove to be a thorn in Mr Hadi's side.

Mr Al Iryani believes Mr Hadi can't deal with Mr Saleh on his own, but needs the support from the international community and even the United Nations.

"Don't forget, Saleh still controls the guns," he warned.

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press