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Reasons Behind Bahah’s Sacking In New Yemen Reshuffle

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Abdel Bari Atwan

On Sunday, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi sacked his Prime Minister and Vice-President, Khaled Bahah and replaced him with a new Prime Minister, Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, while General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar was appointed Vice-President. What is behind this sudden reshuffle?

Al-Ahmar is a powerful figure who played a leading role in the Arab Spring revolution that toppled former President Ali Abdullah Saleh; the latter is now allied with the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Bin Daghr was an official in Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party before defecting to Hadi.

Bahah rejected the reshuffle which he said was unconstitutional – article 130 clearly states that the Prime Minister ‘in consultation with the President’ appoints ministers. Hadi himself is actually no longer officially the President – that transitional role was created to end the political deadlock in Yemen after the revolution and Hadi, as Saleh’s Vice-President, was the only contender in the first elections. He was elected for two years which have now expired.

Why did Bahah fall from grace? He was appointed V.P in December in an apparently conciliatory gesture from Hadi after a period of antagonism between the two men. Hadi issued a statement saying that Baha’s government had “failed to ease the suffering of our people, resolve their problems and provide their needs”, but it appears more likely that other matters informed the decision.

For one thing, Bahah, who was Yemen’s permanent representative at the UN until he was made Prime Minister last year, is widely viewed as a natural choice as an alternative to Hadi. An unnamed diplomat told Reuters this week that Hadi is viewed as an obstacle at the UN, whereas Bahah is viewed as a capable technocrat and has support inside Yemen.

Bahah’s main problem is that he has fallen foul of the Saudis. Attempts at rapprochement between Bahah and Riyadh last month failed. As a Houthi delegation meets officials in Riyadh, there is some hope that the truce due to come into effect on 10 April and the talks scheduled for Kuwait on 18 April, have a better chance of success than previous efforts at ending the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, General al-Ahmar was one of the founding members of the Yemeni al-Islah party which was founded with Saudi financial assistance. Its closeness to the Moslem Brotherhood (which Riyadh has now black-listed) adds another twist to this convoluted tale.

We must also view this reshuffle in the light of last week’s demonstration in Sanaa, marking the first anniversary of the Saudi launch of ‘Operation Decisive Storm’, which was attended by up to 1.5 million Yemenis who voiced their support for former President Saleh. The latter made a surprise appearance at the rally and gave a speech which viciously attacked Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, to enthusiastic cheers.

Al-Ahmar and Bin Daghr are more personally embittered against Saleh and will lead renewed efforts to shake up his power-base. Al-Ahmar by military means, attempting to mobilize more tribesmen against the Houthis, and Bin Daghr by offering attractive administrative roles, bank-rolled by Riyadh, as a means of enticing support away from Saleh.

The Saudis are also attempting to isolate Saleh by creating division between him and the Houthis. As we have mentioned, a Houthi delegation is currently negotiating in Riyadh. It is significant that the person who announced the presence of the Houthis in Riyadh was Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the deputy crown prince and defence minister who ‘master-minded’ the Saudi military intervention in Yemen. It is not certain that efforts to split the Saleh-Houthi alliance will succeed, given the deeply tribal nature of Yemeni society, but hosting the Houthis in Riyadh is undeniably quite an achievement.

Another aspect of the situation worth considering is the role of the UAE, which has played an active role in ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ and has sacrificed a great deal in terms of human and economic costs, having played a major role in liberating Aden. The UAE supported Bahah and had refurbished the palace which he and his family occupied in Aden on his return there in January. As leaders of the campaign to outlaw the Moslem Brotherhood, and with their own al-Islah group to worry about, the UAE will be ambivalent about al-Ahmar’s appointment given his close association with the Islamists.

 

We hope the peace talks for Yemen succeed but one thing for certain is that one can never predict anything when it comes to this turbulent country – except that more surprised lie ahead.

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