Will a new presidential council help end Yemen's war?

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7 min read
14 April, 2022
Analysis: Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has resigned and handed over power to a new council. The move is seen by many as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to unify UAE and Saudi-backed forces against the Houthis.

At dawn on Thursday 7 April 2022, the Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi handed power over to the newly-formed Presidential Leadership Council (PLC).

He dismissed his vice-President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar in a sudden development believed to have been pushed by Saudi Arabia, which rewarded the step by pledging $3bn in financial aid to support the Yemeni economy in partnership with the UAE.

In February, informed sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, that the Saudi leadership was convinced that the establishment of such a council was necessary to correct the inherent weaknesses of the Yemeni presidential system.

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Yemeni consultations in Riyadh are thought to have been arranged to provide legal cover for such a move.

However, what was noticeable was that the power transfer announcement happened prior to the planned conclusion of the Riyadh consultations, which was set for later on that day. 

The declaration is purported to have left attendant advisors at the consultations in disarray and sparked fierce argument among those angered at the way in which Hadi's powers had been reduced.

"Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi handed power over to the newly-formed Presidential Leadership Council, dismissing his vice-president in a sudden development believed to have been pushed by Saudi Arabia"

Suspicions that a hidden agenda lay behind the move increased after Sheikh Sultan al-Arada, the governor of Marib province, was suddenly summoned to Riyadh. He had previously refused to participate in the consultations, justifying his refusal due to continuing Houthi threats on the outskirts of the oil-rich governorate.

Who is the council president and what are his powers?

The leadership of the PLC has been passed to Rashad al-Alimi, one of former president Hadi's most prominent political advisors since 2014.

Before that, al-Alimi was one was a well-known personality in the former regime, in which he held a variety of senior positions in the security and intelligence sectors between 2000 and 2011 when he survived a rocket attack on the presidential palace in Sanaa.

Al-Alimi continued to be active behind the scenes in the years that followed as a leading figure in the General People's Congress (GPC), affiliated with the recognised government, as well as being one of the instigators behind the establishment of the National Alliance of Yemeni Political Forces (NAYPF) – a bloc opposed to the Houthi coup.

Will a new presidential council help end Yemen's war?
Former Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has handed power to the newly formed Presidential Leadership Council in a move backed by Saudi Arabia [Salah Malkawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty]

In addition to his cordial relations with a wide array of internal political forces, al-Alimi has close ties to Saudi Arabia and the US. Just hours before his appointment, US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking met with him to discuss the Riyadh consultations.

By ensuring that influential figures with close military links are included in the new council, the architects of the power shift hope to avoid a repeat of the fragility of Hadi's presidency. They also hope to shore up stability by granting the leader of the council absolute powers which council members cannot override (in which case he could be reduced to a figurehead).

As well as the general tasks entrusted to the PLC, from the political and military administration of the state, setting foreign policy, and facilitating the government's exercise of its powers, the decision grants the head of the council exclusive powers, including general command of the armed forces and "representation of the republic at home and abroad".

"By ensuring that influential figures with close military links are included in the new council, the architects of the power shift hope to avoid a repeat of the fragility of Hadi's presidency"

Likewise, the head of the council alone will possess exclusive powers to appoint provincial governors, managers of the security services, judges of the high court, and the governor of the central bank, after consultation with the prime minister, provided that the names are agreed by members of the PLC. Similarly, he will be responsible for appointing ambassadors and ratifying laws.

Deputy chairmen                                                                                  

The PLC is composed of a chair and seven deputy chairmen including Sheikh Sultan al-Arada, whose retention of his position as governor of Marib remains uncertain.

In addition to the chair, Rashad al-Alimi, the council includes two others from the GPC: Brigadier General Tareq Saleh, nephew of the late former Yemeni president, and Sheikh Othman Megali, who was previously one of Hadi's advisers.

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An equal divide between north and south

There appears an even split between council members from the north and south, with al-Alimi, Saleh, al-Arada and Megali hailing from north Yemen while Abdulrahman Abu Zara'a Al Muharrami, Aidrous al-Zubaidi, Faraj al-Bahsani and Abdullah al-Alimi Bawazeer come from the Southern provinces.

Council members from the south appear to have strong ties to the UAE. This includes al-Zubaidi who leads the Southern Transitional Council (STC), Al Muharrami, commander of the Salafist (and UAE-backed) 'Giants Brigades', and al-Bahsani, who is governor of Hadhramaut. From the northern members, Saleh is also closely aligned with the UAE.

In terms of political parties, the Islah party has secured two seats in the council through Bawazeer, who served as Director of the Office of the President (during Hadi's tenure), and the pro-Islah governor of Marib, Al-Arada.

"Integrating Yemen's political parties does not appear to have been the primary goal of those orchestrating the handover. Rather, the aim seems to be to forge an apparent consensus between the largest military forces on the ground"

However, integrating Yemen's political parties does not appear to have been the primary goal of those orchestrating the handover. Rather, the aim seems to be to forge an apparent consensus between the largest military forces on the ground, especially the Giant's Brigades, the STC, Saleh's forces and those of al-Bahsani, who oversees the Yemeni armed forces in the second military region and may take over command of the first military region.

Moreover, because of the instability which has become endemic to the Yemeni political scene, in cases of a lack of consensus around decision-making, "decisions would be taken via a simple majority vote, and in case of an equal number of votes being cast then the side for which the chair had voted would win".

Accordingly, "If a simple majority is not present, the matter is referred to a joint meeting with the presidency of the Consultation and Reconciliation Commission", the announcement continues.

Decisions are then taken in a joint meeting of the PLC and the Presidency of the Consultation and Reconciliation Commission, by a simple majority vote of those present, and in case of equal vote numbers, the side on which the president of the PLC voted will win.

Will a new presidential council help end Yemen's war?
The conflict in Yemen has caused the deaths of over 377,000 people according to the UN. [Getty]

What is the stance of the Houthis?

Though the majority of active forces on the ground in Yemen - aside from the Houthis - have become partners in the council, the Houthi reaction remains to be seen. They are addressed as "Ansar Allah" in the decision, for the first time (rather than the "coup militias"), perceived as signalling a desire to open dialogue with them.

While a leading figure of the Houthis, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, quickly criticised the step to hand over power, tweeting that "Hadi doesn't hold any powers for them to be transferred to anyone else", he soon deleted the statement from his official page.

Executive director of the Sana'a Center for Strategic Studies, Maged Al-Madhaji, thinks that it is not clear yet how this change will be reflected in the relationship with the Houthis, but a complete restructuring of the bloc fighting the group will certainly "be a source of anxiety for the Houthis".

"Setting up this council opens up the opportunity either to begin an actual path to negotiations or to re-organise the battle against the Houthis militarily and politically"

Al-Madhaji adds: "Setting up this council opens up the opportunity either to begin an actual path to negotiations [with the Houthis] or to re-organise the battle against the Houthis militarily and politically.

"The decision will give impetus to either path, but it will take time before we see the results, because first we will see a transitional stage and witness resistance from some with vested interests who rose to influential positions around president Hadi and surrounded him in the last period".

Moreover, the Yemeni researcher believes that with Hadi's withdrawal and absolute powers being granted to the chair of the PLC, Yemenis are seeing a different political approach.

"The opportunities and scenarios this step could engender are numerous. One change could be in that the effective reintegration of the UAE and its allies into the Saudi fold could drive further movement and ease the severe tensions which exist on that front".

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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