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Local and international parties have acknowledged the PLC, despite concerns about potential divergent views arising from its large membership.
Abu Bakr Batheeb
Since the Yemeni capital Sana’a fell into the Houthis’ hands in September 2014, Yemen has been in political turmoil.
Naturally, the situation has caused a frequent change in governance in the devastated country, torn between foreign loyalties and religious ideologies. When former Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi ceded power to the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) in April 2022, it was the ultimate turning point for the legitimate Yemeni government.
Observers described Hadi’s cession of power as a “constitutional declaration” that went beyond the provisions of the Yemeni constitution, which regulates the transfer of power.
However, the imperatives of this phase imposed a fait accompli on local forces and influential international parties, compelling them to acknowledge and support the legitimacy of the PLC, despite concerns about potential divergent views arising from the council’s large membership members.
Yemenis welcomed the new council with cautious optimism and hope that the new phase would bring a political movement that improves political, economic and humanitarian conditions after years of war. However, a comprehensive overhaul of Yemeni leadership may not necessarily alter the country’s challenging reality
The Third President
The PLC’s reformation has brought former Minister of Interior Rashad Muhammad al-Alimi to the forefront after years of working in the shadows as a political advisor to Mansur Hadi.
Al-Alimi has become Yemen’s third president since its unification in 1990, following Ali Abdullah Saleh‘s 21-year presidency and Hadi’s 10-year rule.
Over the years, al-Alimi has held various civilian, academic, security and intelligence roles. He also had a prominent party presence during Saleh’s era, particularly as a senior leader of the General People’s Congress.
Al-Alimi hails from Taiz, the most populous and least illiterate among Yemen’s provinces. The new president enjoys good and balanced relations with all political components, guaranteeing him a solid base to approach and communicate with diverse political forces.
The head of the PLC has distinguished relations with the United States, Saudi Arabia and the international community. During his tenure as Yemen’s Interior Minister from 2001 to 2009, al-Alimi had close relations with security agencies in Washington.
The Council of Contradictions
The PLC consists of seven deputies to the president from different political backgrounds and orientations. They played influential roles during the war and hold significant sway in various geographical areas of Yemen.
Notably, these regions have separate political administrations, primarily due to these figures’ influence on the ground and their power in terms of military and security. As a result, Yemen has become a collection of fragmented regions superficially connected by the Yemeni state’s form and legitimacy.
Yemeni political researcher Fares al-Beil suggests that the council was formed to overcome the prevailing political deadlock and address the minimum basic needs and demands of the Yemenis.
Al-Beil told Fanack, “Forming the council was intended to address the fragmented structure and entity of Yemen’s legitimate government. Local and regional parties sought to gather diverse and conflicting forces, holding them accountable for reorganising the legitimate government’s framework to confront the Houthis and restore the state. However, the PLC was formed without substantive meetings to determine the visions and missions it should undertake in the subsequent phase.”
The lack of vision during the council’s formation is reflected in the absence of clearly defined governing powers, influence and functions for each of its members and has introduced new challenges to Yemen’s political landscape. Moreover, the aim of having a large membership was to gather political forces under a unified framework. It, however, overlooked the challenges that arise from such a number when it comes to decision-making.
Hence, new issues have arisen in the Yemeni political scene, resulting especially from the fact that decision-making now requires political consensus under the umbrella of legitimacy. This development has added new complexity to dealing with issues related to the war and the political settlement with the Houthis.
Al-Beil believes that the PLC will be unable to meet the Yemenis’ aspirations since the participating political forces are pursuing their own interests at the expense of collective national interests.
In this regard, al-Beil asserts, “Yemeni political forces, in general, strive to maximise their gains within a short period, recognising that political agreements may not be repeated under different circumstances or alliances. Naturally, this mindset has been reflected in the PLC’s performance.”
He adds,”To overcome the existing divergences among its members, the Yemeni PLC must transcend personal agendas and abandon narrow tactical approaches, embracing a broader vision that serves Yemen’s interests. Without such a shift, the council will grapple with these problematic issues and internal strife throughout its tenure, hindering its ability to reach consensus on dialogue or settlements with the Houthis.”
Faces of the Legitimacy
Currently serving as Deputy Head of the Council, al-Aradah oversees one of the most important governorates in northern Yemen. Marib Governorate is strategically important due to its location and abundant oil and gas resources. It serves as a major stronghold for the legitimate government in the northern regions, and the Houthis sustained significant losses in lengthy battles in this province. Despite its significance, the governorate suffered from years of underdevelopment during Saleh’s presidency.
One of the PLC’s prominent figures is Brigadier General Faraj Salmin al-Bahsani, who previously held the position of governor of Hadramawt, the largest governorate in Yemen. Hadramawt’s significant oil fields, which contribute substantially to the state budget, have consistently been a focal point for Yemeni presidents, who have sought to exercise control over the region.
With over four decades of military experience, al-Bahsani previously served as commander of the Second Military Zone, which led prolonged battles against Al-Qaeda, which took control of Hadramawt in April 2014. By establishing a military force known as the Hadrami Elite and with support from the UAE, al-Bahsani successfully liberated the governorate in April 2015.
The Yemeni South Man
Aidarus Qasim al-Zubaidi, hailing from the Dhale Governorate in southwestern Yemen, holds a deputy position in the PLC while also serving as the head of the Southern Transitional Council. Al-Zubaidi is the most prominent figure actively advocating for self-determination and the secession of southern Yemen from the rest of the country.
People in the southern provinces consider secession desirable as a result of their political marginalisation and the exploitation of their resources since the establishment of the Yemeni unity in May 1990.
Al-Zubaidi was governor of Aden. His name emerged during the Houthis’ invasion of Aden and several southern provinces in the summer of 2015. He played a role within the ranks of the southern resistance factions that compelled the Houthis to withdraw from Aden.
Other PLC Members
Abdullah al-Alimi Bawzer, the youngest member of the PLC, hails from the city of Bayhan in Shabwah Governorate, southern Yemen. He represents the Islamic al-Islah Party in the Council. Al-Alimi was the head of the Presidential Office during the final years of Mansur Hadi’s presidency.
Observers note that Bawzer has nurtured significant political, local, internal and regional relationships during a challenging and complex period. His balanced relationships imposed his presence, making it difficult to be overlooked as he represents a major regional, geographical, political and partisan influence.
The Council also includes Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, the nephew of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh served as his uncle’s personal companion and was close to him before his assassination by the Houthis.
During his uncle’s tenure, Tariq Saleh led the Republican Guard and the Third Brigade until his dismissal in April 2012 following a decision to restructure the Yemeni Armed Forces.
Tariq Saleh is known for his previous alliance with the Houthis, lasting from 2015 to 2017, following the start of the Arab Coalition‘s operations to restore legitimate governance in Yemen. This alliance, however, dissolved rapidly after the former president’s assassination, compelling Saleh to flee. With the support of the UAE, he later established the National Resistance Forces, which was stationed on Yemen’s western coast.
The council also includes parliamentarian and former minister Osman Hussein Mujali, who originates from Saada in northern Yemen, the birthplace of the Houthi group. Mujali has consistently opposed the Houthis since the start of their rebellion against the state in 2004.
Mujali’s inclusion in the PLC aims to balance representation through the inclusion of a deputy from Saada. His inclusion also enriches the Council with a representative from the northern provinces, equalising the number of members from both the northern and southern governorates.
The Salafi Presence
Abd al-Rahman Abu Zara’a al-Muharrami, born in the renowned city of Yafaa in the southern province of Lahj, is a prominent Salafist and a surprising member of the Yemeni PLC since he is known to prefer to maintain a low profile and has consistently avoided the forefront of political activities and media exposure in Yemen.
His remarkable command of military operations in al-Hudaydah and leadership of the Giants Brigades, a part of the Arab Coalition’s joint forces, was of interest to observers. His achievements prompted influential forces in the Yemeni landscape to include him as a member of the council. Al-Muharrami’s confrontations with the Houthis in various areas were fierce and violent, often resulting in his victories.
Veena Ali-Khan, a researcher in Yemeni affairs, believes the PLC is “too weak to be the Houthis’ counterpart,” especially since it has been divided from the outset. According to Ali-Khan, the PLC “does not govern as a single entity, and it lacks a clear strategy for getting to UN-led peace talks.”
Ali-Khan further notes, “Western powers … want a united PLC but lack a clear policy as to what should be done to bring its members together.”
On the other hand, Yemeni Ambassador Mustafa Numan believes that the PLC is “too weak to form a unified political bloc with a common goal that enables them to speak with one voice.”
Numan adds, “Despite the president’s attempts to navigate the disputes within the council, his attempts have been unsuccessful due to the Council’s composition and because of his indecisive character, which has rendered him unable to declare a clear, convincing vision regarding the country’s crises and to persuade people of his capabilities.”
All these factors foretell a grim and uncertain future in which the state’s influence, military presence, economic impact and developmental role are dwindling. Moreover, the Houthis hold varying perceptions of the council as a legitimate negotiating party and a counterpart for a permanent settlement.
Multiple sources have reported that the Houthis have informed international and regional parties of their refusal to heed the PLC’s calls for dialogue. This rejection has contributed to an intensified political crisis surrounding the council. It explains the Houthis’ silence in response to political initiatives and approaches as they leverage the current temporary ceasefire while preparing for upcoming confrontations.