Balances of the Presidential Leadership Council in Yemen
Eleanora Ardmagny/ On April 7, Yemeni interim President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi transferred his powers to the eight-member presidential leadership council, who were sworn in on the 17th of the same month, in Aden during the two-month truce across the country. This council is headed by the advisor to Yemeni President Hadi, Rashad al-Alimi, who, through his presidency of the council, now has authority over the army and the right to appoint governors and other key positions. The presidential declaration issued by Hadi also provided for the establishment of a reconciliation commission and legal and economic teams. Yemen's newly appointed Presidency Council is revealing the country's path. Combining officials belonging to internationally recognized institutions with leaders of armed groups who enjoy legitimacy on the ground and control in the field leads to an increase in the disparate and mixed nature of the composition of Yemeni leaders to its limits. It is, however, not a new feature in Yemen. It became commonplace to confuse the regular and irregular defense forces after the 2011 uprising and with the onset of the current conflict, which has been going on since late 2014. With the appointment of the Presidency Council, we are now facing a hierarchical political endorsement of this composition through the official assimilation of the mixed sovereign entities that de facto rule the country. . As a result, the composition of the Presidency Council maintains the status of regular and irregular players and confirms the course of the post-mixed balances phase in Yemen. The demise of politicians and national leaders The new council is expected to be more representative than previous institutions, as it will not include leaders belonging to political parties. In this context, it is noteworthy that after seven years of war, the General People's Congress has become fractured, and it is considered, along with the Islah Party, the two main national political parties in Yemen, at a time when the Islah Party has undergone a profound transformation. These two parties, due to their historical weakness, have not been able to put an end to the war that has been going on in the country for several years. Moreover, many traditional parties still pursue the idea of unifying Yemen, while local leaders aspire to consolidate autonomy in their regions, and they receive direct or indirect support from armed groups. The new council also paves the way for the rise of leading figures, both northern and southern, from groups with military origins, as well as the rise of local and provincial leaders. However, the biggest obstacle in Yemen will be integrating the competing minor powers into a cohesive national political landscape. Representative council, but incoherent The council represents many parties that have interests in what will happen to the country, but it is not coherent in a way that allows it to follow an effective decision-making mechanism. At the same time, the Presidential Council reveals the ongoing division in the country, highlighting the failure of previous attempts to form a coalition in the anti-Houthi camp. Most of the previous efforts failed miserably due to the overwhelming rivalries between the competing forces and agendas. It is the same division that applies to the Presidential Council. For example, Aidarous al-Zubaidi, a member of the council, is the head of the so-called Southern Transitional Council, which has officially joined the recognized government since late 2019. Another example of competition over priorities is that Tariq Saleh, commander of the National Resistance Forces, and Abu Zaraa, Commander of the Giants Brigades, they are both members of the Presidential Leadership Council, although they are officially affiliated with the military coalition of forces in the West Coast led by Saleh. So, in light of the many internal contradictions, the council may not have enough strength to reach an agreement with the Houthis. Unfortunately, and most likely, the political differences between the members of the Council regarding the control of lands and the arrangement of the hierarchy of leadership will not dissipate. In addition, local rivalries still exist, as a large number of Council members, such as the influential governors of Marib and Hadramout, were able to impose areas of control on the ground. De facto, by drawing on military and economic networks, it will be difficult to integrate them into a national framework. The issue of regional support is also of central importance, which places an additional obstacle on the path towards political cohesion. For example, Saudi Arabia, which is pursuing a military exit strategy from Yemen, has lobbied hard for Hadi to transfer power to the council. Riyadh also fully supports the leadership role that Al-Alimi is taking on. But the reality of the situation is that many members of the Council have important relations with the United Arab Emirates because Abu Dhabi provides support to their military forces. For al-Alimi, building some form of political consensus among council members is the first step — and a very difficult one — to engage the Houthis in negotiations for a permanent ceasefire, which he hopes will eventually lead to an end to the war. The post-mixed balances stage in Yemen While Yemen continues to advance towards a reality of balances that transcends the mixed formations through the formation of the Presidential Leadership Council, the line between regular and irregular forces, and between state and anti-state rule, is fading more and more, making the public scene more blurry and intractable. The newly appointed council, regardless of its effectiveness, is a true microcosm of the current balance of power in Yemen, which has turned into a group of mini-states ruling parts of Yemeni territory. In this context, the Presidency Council provides an opportunity for Yemen to conduct inclusive negotiations, although the divergent agendas of its members could easily turn into a political obstacle on the road to stability. Eleonora Ardemagni is a research assistant at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) and a teaching assistant at the Catholic University of Milan.