Yemen’s new Presidential Council faces challenges
Eight years later, Yemen faces a new chapter in its bloody civil war. In one of the most significant political moves since the start of the war in Yemen in 2014, President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was elected to power in 2012 as the sole candidate, handed over power last week to a new Council presidential leadership.
After a ten-day dialogue brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, various Yemeni rivals and other stakeholders agreed to form the eight-member Presidential Council. The breakthrough came just days after the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis agreed to a two-month truce. President Hadi is no longer at the helm.
The formation of the new council drew congratulations and approval from many countries.
The formation of the new council has drawn congratulations and approval from many countries, including the United States and the European Union. “The United States welcomes the announcement of the formation of a Presidential Leadership Council in Yemen,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement. “We support the aspirations of the Yemeni people for an effective, democratic and transparent government that includes diverse political and civil society voices, including women and other marginalized groups.
The Presidential Leadership Council will assume broad military, security and political responsibilities to bring peace and help alleviate the suffering of the people in Yemen. While this reshuffle of power is positive, meaningful and encouraging, formidable challenges await Yemen to achieve a lasting and comprehensive political resolution.
The first daunting mission the council will face will be to negotiate with the Yemeni Houthi group. The difficulty of this task should not be underestimated: it will be difficult to convince the Houthis that this new Presidential Leadership Council is a legitimate representative of the Yemeni people, given that the Houthi leadership considers all Yemeni officials allied with the Saudi Arabia as mercenaries, and that they disdained any discussion with them. Even if the Houthis agreed to meet with the new council for talks, their conflicting ideas and priorities would likely hamper any rapprochement.
The Houthis immediately dismissed the Presidential Leadership Council.
Indeed, immediately after the announcement of the Presidential Leadership Council, the Houthis rejected it. Although the GCC invited the group to join the talks, it declined the invitation, saying the Houthis would not attend any talks hosted by an enemy country.
Houthi spokesman and chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam said: “Yemen’s future and present are decided inside Yemen, and any activity outside the Yemeni border is a sketch and game.” of entertainment played by countries of aggression.
With the Houthis’ persistent view that their opponents are illegitimate, the Presidential Leadership Council is unlikely to bring peace and stability to Yemen through a political approach.
The second salient challenge is the inherent ideology of the Houthis, which goes against the principles and rules of democracy and power-sharing. According to the group’s school of thought, a leader must be a descendant of the family of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). This is a core belief of the Shia sect of Islam, and as such it will be difficult to convince the Houthi group otherwise.
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For the Houthis to ask them to end their forcible takeover of the northern provinces of Yemen in exchange for their participation in a consensus government is both anti-Islamic and illogical. Peacemakers must always bear this in mind when working to end the war in Yemen. To be sure, political and economic issues are major factors in the conflict, but sectarian motives for the conflict have also played a key role in prolonging the civil war.
“This council is for peace, but it is also a council for defense, strength and unity of the ranks.”
Amid the Houthis’ continued defiance and adherence to their ideologies, the new head of the Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, delivered a televised speech addressing the Yemeni people on March 8. He expressed the intention of the Presidential Leadership Council to reach a peaceful solution. , but he did not rule out the possibility of using force. “This council is for peace”, he asserted, “but it is also a council of defence, strength and unity of the ranks, charged with defending the sovereignty of the nation and protecting civilians”. .
The new council’s third challenge is the possibility of infighting between anti-Houthi Yemeni factions. Currently, three actors are hostile to the Houthi group: forces loyal to the former UN-recognized government, southern separatists and military units commanded by Tareq Saleh, the nephew of former President Ali Saleh whom the Houthis have killed in 2017. All of these actors are represented on the Presidential Leadership Council, but their agendas are not fully aligned.
The success of the board depends on strong cohesion and unity among its eight members. Ironically, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, the head of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), one of the eight members appointed to lead the country in this difficult time, has been waging tremendous efforts since 2017 with the aim of separating from the northern part of the Yemen. Today, separatists under his command control four southern provinces – Aden, Lahj, Abyan and Dhale. However, Zubaidi has limited popularity in the other southern provinces of Yemen.
The success of the board depends on strong cohesion and unity among its eight members.
The separatists aspire to regain the independence of southern Yemen, which merged with the north in 1990. Thus, it is undeniably difficult for the new Presidential Council to convince the separatists to abandon the idea of separating from northern Yemen. , to surrender their weapons and to obey government authority. For the new leadership to be successful in dealing with separatists in southern Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition – particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – should pressure the separatist movement to work in harmony with the Presidential Leadership Council. Moreover, secessionist leaders must abandon any rhetoric that encourages separatist momentum.
Essentially, challenges abound facing any leader seeking to stabilize Yemen. The humanitarian situation is dire and the economy is in tatters. Insecurity is widespread and peace remains distant. If, however, the Yemeni rivals manage to come to terms and work together to end the tragedy, these challenges can be overcome.
The creation of the Presidential Leadership Council is an opportunity to accelerate the pace towards peace, and its failure will mean the continuation of the deadly war that has been going on for years. The coming days will reveal whether Yemen has entered a new chapter of conflict and made progress towards stability.