With the support of the international community, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi came to power in Yemen as the consensus candidate – when the opposition coalition and the former ruling party signed an agreement on political transition put forward by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
After months of turmoil, the agreement ended the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh but it marginalised a large segment of Yemeni society, including those who led the movement for change.
Hadi’s “election” in February – in a national poll where he was the only candidate – did not sit well with many, but others welcomed it as a symbolic step to steer Yemen away from a potential civil war.
Some of Hadi’s initial decrees surprised critics, giving people hope that he would lead Yemen independently. His decisions to reassign military and security officials from their posts, and his appointments – such as replacing the governor of Taiz – were widely welcomed.
Also, on 22 September he signed a decree authorising the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations during the 2011 uprising – though with the immunity law, the chances of prosecution are near impossible.
The immunity law, stipulated in the GCC agreement, is not the only obstacle. A continuing problem is that the GCC’s transition agreement places a lot of importance on President Hadi, without any reference to what would happen in his absence. Analysts worry that this makes him an easy target for those who would benefit from derailing the transitional process.
Fearing for his life, Hadi has been protected by the military’s First Armoured Division (FAD) which supported opposition protests against Saleh last year. The head of the FAD, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar (a kinsman of ex-president Saleh who eventually turned against him) is known for his bloody past, making him more valuable as a friend than an enemy.
Hadi’s relationship with Ali Mohsen is seen by many as one of convenience, where protection is exchanged for loyalty, and there are some worrying indicators that Ali Mohsen may be gaining influence through President Hadi’s tacit and sometimes declared approval.
For example, people welcomed the creation of a new Presidential Protection Force made up of three brigades of the Republican Guard, headed by Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali – and one brigade from the FAD – as essential first steps towards unifying the military.
However, the 314th brigade of the FAD that was affected by this decree was one that had refused to defect with Ali Mohsen during the uprising and always remained loyal to Saleh. Hence, this decree only reduced the power of Saleh loyalists, leaving intact Ali Mohsen’s influence over the military.
The Hadi-Mohsen relationship instilled fear in people that the patronage system – one of the hallmarks of Saleh’s rule – may continue under a different guise in favour of the Islamist party Islah, the dominant force in the traditional opposition, due to its close ties with Ali Mohsen.
According to reports by local newspapers, employees at the ministry of electricity filed an official complaint against the minister for employing his relatives and friends without merit. They listed 19 new employees all of whom are affiliated to Islah.
One government employee stated on condition of anonymity: “In the past, the minister would only employ his pro-regime friends. Today, the new minister brought his friends from the party to take over the leadership of some divisions without the required skills. It’s like one mafia replaced another.”
These practices might affect Hadi’s credibility and thus affect the goals of the National Dialogue, which is one crucial test for the president.
Among other things, the dialogue intended to begin next month needs to build trust with the rebellious Houthis in the north and the separatists in the south. It is of vital importance for Hadi to address their grievances and include these marginalised yet powerful groups in the process for a successful dialogue.
So far, no members of the important technical committee for the National Dialogue are affiliated to the Southern Movement, though there is talk of the state issuing a public apology for past wars in the south and north – which may restore trust in the process and facilitate their involvement.
A widespread perception, though, is that the National Dialogue will only empower political parties and will neglect the people and their needs.
Last month, Hadi issued another decree to add six new members to the technical committee, four of whom are from the Islah party, shifting the balance. It also decreased the number of women to less than 30%, which has been commonly accepted as the minimum quota for women’s participation in the various committees.
For Yemen to move forward, a sincere healing process needs to begin, and a bottom-up approach needs to replace the top-down elite model for the dialogue to succeed or else it will become just another political conference. If the National Dialogue fails, so will Hadi’s legitimacy.
Another indicator that the leadership is not taking people’s opinions into account is Hadi’s recent statement praising the efficiency of drones and acknowledging his approval of the strikes which have resulted in many civilian deaths.
With no mention of the civilian casualties from his home province of Abyan, Hadi’s legitimacy is slowly fading. A backlash against his statement was immediately felt in the country.
After his speech, Hadi quickly acquired new nicknames including “Abdu Drone Hadi”, coined by activist Abdulrahman Alansy. “Exchanging local support with international glamour rather than striking balance between both will simply turn him into a Yemeni version of the weak and ineffective Karzai,” said Ibrahim Mothana, youth activist and co-founder of the al-Watan party.
More than seven months into his presidency, it appears that Hadi is not interested in bargaining with the masses, and instead is focused on pleasing the inner political circle, extending the exclusionary politics of the Saleh era into the new transitional government.
Hadi should take on this historic responsibility with a vision for the country and move beyond managing the power struggles, which is what Saleh did for 33 years and which cost him the presidency. With all the difficulties Yemen is facing, it is not to his advantage to sideline revolutionaries and other important and powerful groups in Yemen, from whom he should gain his legitimacy.
Gone are the days when legitimacy only comes from a small inner circle. The extent to which the people are able to push for reforms will demonstrate whether Yemen will move towards a more inclusive political process.