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Restructuring Yemen’s Security and Military Institutions and the Faceoff between Supporters of Hadi and Saleh

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hassan Ahmadian
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Tehran and Expert on Middle East Issues

More than a year has passed since the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the opposition political forces reached an agreement for the transfer of power which was mediated by the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC]. However, during that period, the people of Yemen have seen no tangible change in political conditions of their country. One year after the escalation of protests in Yemen’s streets forced Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign the (P)GCC’s initiative and step down, the people of Yemen have found themselves forced to take to the streets again. This time, however, they have to shout slogans against Saleh and urge for the expulsion of his supporters and close friends from the country’s security and military institutions, and also to voice their support for the incumbent president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. In fact, during the past year, Yemenis have frequently taken to the streets to put forth their demands because more than a year after deposition of Saleh, they have found themselves at the very beginning of the road again. During this period, neither security and political institutions have been restructured, nor Saleh has been totally ousted from power; neither the National Dialog Conference has been held to take the country through multiple and multilayered crises with which Yemen is now faced, nor promises given by the so-called “friends of Yemen” have done anything to cut the Gordian knot of the country’s economic and livelihood problems.

One of the main provisions of the (P)GCC initiative which was actually imposed on Saleh by his opposition and the protesters, was the call for restructuring Yemen’s military and security institutions. Restructuring not only meant restoring unity to the Yemen’s armed forces -- which had been almost lost as a result of the developments which took place in 2011 --, but also to end the influence and control that close aides of Saleh swayed on security and military forces. Yemenis took Saleh’s inability to fulfill his vows for granted and could not forgive him for that. He is known to have gone back over his promises quite easily and under various, and often groundless, pretexts. Thirty years of unrivaled rule, especially the fact that he turned his back on the main party to the unity of Yemen following the 1994 war, as well as the way he played with the opposition parties and political forces, further supported this conspiracy-based viewpoint. The people of Yemen will never forget that Saleh accepted to sign the (P)GCC’s initiative only after domestic, regional, and international consensus was reached over his deposition. Many of them still believe that Saleh is making plans to return to power through his close aides and supporters who are now swaying great influence in military and security institutions. This viewpoint is not just a result of the pessimism that the conspiracy theory usually fosters. Even Yemeni officials in Hadi’s government have talked about Saleh’s efforts to pave the way for his return to power.

In addition to Saleh’s past cunning political ploys, this viewpoint is also the result of more than one year of resistance by him, his supporters and close aides against restructuring of the country’s military and security institutions and their obstructionism of Yemen’s transition process. Hadi, who has been elected president for a transition period of two years in order to implement the power transfer agreement, has not been able to fulfill his mission in a satisfactory manner during the past 1.5 years as a result of the staunch resistance he has faced from pro-Saleh forces. The most important point on which Hadi has failed is, perhaps, the restructuring of the security and military institutions and paving the way for the National Dialog Conference.

Although many official decrees have been issued for the restructuring of the aforesaid institutions, the reform-seeking faction has practically failed to get those decrees implemented due to open rejection of those decrees by Saleh’s faction. As for organizing the National Dialogue Conference, the main obstacle was first a difference over division of the seats in the conference among various parties. The difference was finally resolved through mediation by the special envoy of the United Nations secretary-general to Yemen, Jamal bin Omar, after which most parties, except for Saleh’s party, agreed to an arrangement for the division of the conference seats. In the meantime, Harak separatist forces in the southern part of Yemen, and al-Houthi separatists in the north, remained silent waiting to see what would happen next. From the viewpoint of these political currents, restructuring should be given priority in order to pave the way for dialog over the future order in the country and allow all involved parties to put forth their views and play their deserved role in building the political future of Yemen.

On the other hand, Saleh’s Popular Congress Party won 112 out of 565 seats at the National Dialog Conference according to the division made by Jamal bin Omar, though party officials claimed that their share was not fair. The approach taken to the (P)GCC’s initiative by Saleh’s party should be considered along the same lines. Despite stepping down from presidency, that faction still seeks to maintain its illegal powers and refrains from accepting a new order which could be achieved through agreement on the aforesaid (P)GCC initiative. Restructuring military and security institutions of Yemen has been largely stalled due to this problem. All parties involved in the Yemen conflict are unanimous that Saleh’s faction is actively obstructing the natural process of the transition period.

The interferences and obstructionism by the faction was such that the usually serene and urbane Moroccan diplomat, Jamal bin Omar, broke his silence and arrived in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, on December 18, 2012, bringing with him a host of threats as well as promises against obstructionist political forces and those who tried to hinder Yemen’s march toward establishment of its new political system. He threatened that if Saleh’s faction continued its obstructionist behavior, it would have to face the serious reaction of the international institutions. He also rushed to meet with the country’s president, Hadi, during the same day. As a result of the promises of international support which Jamal bin Omar gave Hadi, the latter issued new orders on the restructuring effort on December 19, 2012. Unlike past instances, Hadi said goodbye to moderation and using a tone, which was imbued with an unprecedented sense of confidence, called on all political forces that are against transition to democracy to avoid creating obstacles on the way of the implementation of new decisions. More importantly, the new decisions will actually cut the hands of Saleh’s supporters and close aides off the security and military institutions. Saleh, who has reportedly received warnings from inside and outside the country, has so far, preferred to concede to the new, though bitter, realities. However, will compliance of Saleh’s faction with new state decisions continue? According to various state and opposition sources, Saleh aims to cause Hadi fail in going ahead with his plans for the transition period during his legal two-year term in office. As a result, in the legal void which will follow termination of Hadi’s term, Saleh will be able to nominate his son, Ahmed, and return to power. The main problem facing Saleh is that his plan has been laid bare and a unified domestic and international front has been formed against Saleh. The main question now is “will there be an alternative to Saleh’s plan?” There is no sign of a new plan or even conspiracy on the political horizon of Yemen right now, but Saleh has proven that he is an indefatigable player. At any rate, if Hadi manages to go ahead with the restructuring in a correct way, Saleh will be stripped of his most important tools and will practically have limited capacity to react to possible future changes.

Key Words: Yemen, Security and Military Institutions, Hadi and Saleh, National Dialogue Conference, Ahmadian

More By Hassan Ahmadian:

*Palestine Observer State in the Light of Regional Groupings: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Palestine-Observer-State-in-the-Light-of-Regional-Groupings.htm

*Hamas in the Light of Regional Developments and Increased Arab Support: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Hamas-in-the-Light-of-Regional-Developments-and-Increased-Arab-Support.htm

*Crisis in Kuwait: The Faceoff between Ruling Family and Radical Opposition: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Crisis-in-Kuwait-The-Faceoff-between-Ruling-Family-and-Radical-Opposition.htm

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