Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Yemen: Deadlock (2011 – 2012)

Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi former president of Yemen
Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi former president of Yemen

It is difficult to ascertain the number of dead or wounded. Mid-September 2011, Human Rights Watch confirmed 219 deaths in attacks by security forces and pro-government gunmen (other sources quote much higher figures). The number of wounded was much higher.

On 23 September 2011, Saleh suddenly returned from Saudi Arabia, once again taking full control. However, it soon became clear that he was running out of options. Saudi Arabia, an important provider of funds, stepped up the pressure and called for his resignation.

In conjunction, on 21 October, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for his resignation (by implication approving the deal on Saleh’s and other officials’ immunity, which is controversial for political and legal reasons).

Although the resolution does not address any sanctions that might be imposed on Saleh and other high-ranking oficials, the President must have realized that these were on the horizon if he refused to comply.

On 3 November 2011, Saleh finally caved in under increasing pressure, or so it seemed, and signed the transition agreement in the presence of Saudi King Abdullah after flying to Riyadh. Saleh transferred his presidential powers to the Vice-President, al-Hadi, who was to take care of state issues for a period of 90 days, until the early presidential vote on 21 February 2012, in which al-Hadi was sole candidate.

Al-Hadi took oath of office on 25 Febrary 2012 and is now President of Yemen. His administration is acting together with a transitional government headed by Mohammed Basindwa, a well-respected opposition politician, and including representatives of both the General People’s Congress (GPC) and the Joint Meeting Parties (the Civic Coalition of Revolutionary Youth (CCRY) kept its distance; the parallels with Egypt are striking).

GPC-ministers were awarded important portfolios such as Defence and Foreign Affairs, whereas opposition ministers were given the portfolios Home Affairs and Finance, which cause frequent political headaches.

This is the first of a two-stage program of political reform. The second started with al-Hadi taking up the post of President. He will serve a two-year term, after which new presidential elections and a referendum on a new constitution will be held.

During the transitional period tensions soon rose between Saleh – formally Honorary President until 21 February 2012 – and Interim-President al-Hadi. Saleh caused affront when, on 27 November 2011, he announced a general amnesty for all those who had ‘committed errors during the crisis’ (except for those involved in the bomb attack on Saleh on June 3rd).

Asides from the fact that he no longer had the authority to decree such measures, it also became clear that his supporters would stand to benefit first and foremost (on 8 January 2012, the transition government approved an amnesty law; on 21 January, the Parliament, in which Saleh’s GPC holds a wide majority, followed suit). Furthermore, behind the scenes Saleh still exercised great influence on the transitional government through his GPC stooges.

The protestors’ demand  for the necessary political and economic reforms will not be met as long as high-ranking officials of the Saleh regime – either heading or supported by army units and security services – remain in power. The opposition is split. Part of the former ‘loyal opposition’ has joined the transition government.