A year after signing power transfer deal, Yemenis divided over government’s performance
[SANA’A] Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani visited Yemen to mark the first anniversary of the deal that saw former President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquish power to his longtime deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
On November 23 last year, after 10 months of deadly protests calling for his ouster, Saleh was forced to sign the agreement initiated by the Saudi-led Gulf monarchies and backed by the West.
Analysts say Ban's visit to Yemen, which made him the first UN chief to visit the country, was mainly intended to push for launching the second phase of the power transfer deal, which includes holding an inclusive national dialogue, reorganizing the divided army and security forces, and rewriting the constitution.
“The UN chief's visit at this critical time was designed to demonstrate the entire international community’s support for Hadi and his power-sharing government, and deliver a warning message to those who are trying to hinder the process of transition,” Abdusalem Mohammed, chairman of the Abaad Studies and Research Center think tank, told The Media Line.
“The visit, which came as violence was raging between Gaza and Israel, was also aimed to deter any militant group from attempting to exploit the situation and stir chaos,” he added.
With the passage of one year since the ouster of the former president, many Yemenis are assessing the performance of Hadi and his power-sharing government.
“Actually, nothing has changed at all,” accountant Saleh Ali, 27, told The Media Line. “The same policies are applied. Only officials have been replaced and that essentially does not make any difference by itself.”
“We were better off before the revolution erupted. It only helped divisions to deepen, tensions to heighten and poverty to increase,” said Ali, who wore traditional Yemeni clothing including a Janbiya — a dagger with a short curved blade worn on a belt. Other passengers on the same bus disagreed sharply with Ali. One went so far as to call him one of Saleh's thugs.
College student Rami Khalid, 23, told The Media Line, “I feel like I was not alive before the overthrow of Saleh. Thank God he's gone. Things have looked up since he was ousted.”
However, Khalid, who was chewing leaves of Khat, a narcotic plant chewed daily by more than half of Yemen's population, admitted that living standards had dropped, but said this will be temporarily.
“Hadi and the national unity government managed to get things back on track after tensions were running high and the country was heading toward a civil war,” Ali Al-Sarari, political and media advisor for Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwah, told The Media Line. “They managed to restore relative security across the nation and drive out Al-Qa’ida militants from their strongholds. Any citizen can clearly notice the difference in the public services such as tap water and electricity.”
During the uprising against Saleh, public services significantly deteriorated.
Al-Sarari says he believes the government’s biggest accomplishment so far was achieved in the area of combating corruption. “The new government revoked the long-term contract with [marine terminal operator] DP World which had deliberately undermined the strategic Aden Port. It has also managed to negotiate with the French oil company Total a rise in the ‘unfair’ price that Yemen's liquefied gas is sold for,” he said.
“Hadi and his national unity government have so far been successful at their job at the helm of Yemen,” said Abdusalam Mohammed of the Abaad Studies and Research Center. “In the transitional stage, they are not required to boost development or improve the struggling economy, rather to prevent the country from descending into a full-blown civil war, which they did.”
Dr. Yahya Al-Thawr, chairman of Modern German Hospital in Sana’a, agreed with Mohammed and added, “So far, their performance has been satisfactory. But many people want to see improvements in the economy and development, and that's impossible because these sectors need time to progress.”
“Hadi is steering Yemen toward a successful, national dialogue and resolving long-standing problems,” Al-Sarari said.
While Al-Thawr and Mohammed shared his thinking, although they noted that the transitional process is very slow, political analyst Abdul-Bari Taher says that the indications do not show that Yemen is heading toward reconciliation.
“There are many challenges and obstacles facing the transitional process in the country. The situation is very complicated: Militant groups are currently amassing weapons, and the media war between the political factions is at its peak. Even the mosque's podiums have been used to spark tensions instead of easing them,” Taher told The Media Line.
“Actually, the situation looks as if Yemen is heading toward war — not dialogue and reconciliation. I'm afraid that neither President Hadi nor the prime minister will be able to do anything to stop the simmering tensions,” said Taher.
Mohammed, Taher, Al-Sarari and Al-Thawr all agree that in the coming months Hadi will have to take bold measures to end the divisions and disunity in the army. They say reorganizing the military is imperative for creating a conductive environment and laying the groundwork for the upcoming national dialogue conference.
Perhaps because of its strategic location – three million barrels of oil pass through the country daily – the international community showed considerable support for Yemen's stability and for President Hadi.
In a meeting in Riyadh on September 4, friends of Yemen pledged $ 6.4 billion in aid for Yemen's transitional period. At another meeting in New York on September 27, additional pledges totaled $1.5 billion, bringing the total to $7.9 billion.
In October, key Defense Ministry officials told local media outlets that Yemen is expecting an arms shipment from the U.S. as a grant for the poorest Arab state. The shipment includes four highly-advanced drones.