x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Yemen needs help closing the book on Saleh

Yemen's long-time ruler and his allies are having their fingers pried from the levers of power. But the new government needs foreign friends to help with the work.

Of all countries passing through Arab Spring revolutions, Yemen is probably the most complicated and least reported. Yet it is the one with the most potential to affect the countries of the Gulf. The challenges of security, of water, of labour migration and of economic growth all will have a direct impact regionally if left unaddressed. And the best way to make progress on all these points is to see the emergence of an effective Yemeni government.

Yet building a new, stable Yemeni state has not been easy. Since the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step aside at the start of this year, his successor, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, has faced an uphill battle to bring elements of Mr Saleh's family and supporters under government control. The security apparatus has proved a sticking point: Mr Saleh's regime felool - "remnants" - have fought tooth and nail to hold on to their weapons. This struggle has destabilised the country further.

That is why Mr Hadi's latest move is so important, and so risky. On Wednesday, the president announced the restructuring of the military into five branches. One move scrapped the elite Republican Guard, and reduced the power of Mr Saleh's son, Ahmed. Another overhauled the Central Security Forces, led by Mr Saleh's nephew Yahya, and the First Armoured Division, led by the powerful Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar.

The question, of course, is whether Mr Hadi has the political capital to see this restructuring plan through. Mr Hadi clearly has huge public support. On Friday, hundreds of thousands of people turned out in every single province of Yemen to support his move. But Mr Saleh has not gone far. He remains in the country, and it will take more than a flourish of a pen to close the book on decades of authoritarian rule.

There will be a backlash from these elements and President Hadi will need political backing to weather it. This is where strong support from the Gulf, and from the US, is vital. These governments helped push Mr Saleh from power, and they must stand beside the man who replaced him.

A carefully orchestrated overhaul of the security apparatus could be a first step towards healing Yemen's tribal and political grievances. Or, an unsuccessful one could have the opposite effect.

During Mr Saleh's time in power international interest in Yemen was almost exclusively tied to counterterrorism; most American aid was funnelled to the security apparatus. Mr Hadi has done his part to overhaul Yemen's security forces. Outside powers must do the same, and rethink their relationship with Yemen.