By Sama’a Al-Hamdani
On April 10, President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, boldly issued a decree to continue Yemen’s military restructuring. This decree was welcomed by the international community and dubbed as “historical” and “unprecedented”. Its most notable achievement was the announcement of new diplomatic posts for many of former president Ali Abdallah Saleh’s relatives; with Saleh’s allies out of the nation, his grip over the army and the security apparatus is significantly weakened.
There is a lot at stake for Hadi with this decree. Indeed, the President is trying to find a way to lessen the tensions that have paralyzed the country for the past two years. In Yemen, people reacted differently to the decree. Those who are doubtful of the transitional period are appeased that Saleh’s men are leaving Yemen, and those who opposed Saleh’s immunity view these appointments as “rewards” to criminals. This move is aimed to define the function of the new military, but it might increase tensions in the long run rather than solve them.
The key points on the new structure are the following:
- Ali Mohsen’s First Armor Division (FAD) and Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali’s Republican Guard are dissolved.
- Regional Military Commanders are independent from local military units.
- The Military reserve now follows the Ministry of Defense and no longer the President.
- Military divisions are now based on tasks and have each designated weapons.
- The Military will be composed of seven commands based on geographical divisions:
- Region 1: Seiy’un
– Region 2: Al-Mukalla
– Region 3: Mareb
– Region 4: Aden
– Region 5: Hodeidah
– Region 6: Amran
– Region 7: Dhamar
The Threefold Military: Understanding New Divisions
General Ali Mohsen, a Northerner who is already influential in Yemen’s army and defector from Saleh’s regime in March 2011, managed to maintain his influence in the army as he was appointed the new Chief Military Advisor. The Islah party also gained some control over the army and is strengthening its relationship with Ali Mohsen. Together, they control almost half of the military. Under Mohsen’s direct influence are Major General Al-Sawmali, First Regional Military Commander (Seiy’un), Major General Al-Maqdashi, Sixth Regional Military Commander (Amran), and Brigadier General Shamiri, Commander of the 27th Mechanized Brigade. As for Islah, their most influence is on Brigadier General Muthana, Seventh Regional Military Commander (Dhamar).
In the South, President Hadi almost took control over the remaining half, by distributing a generous amount of positions for people who were once members of the former Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP). Some might consider it a “peace offering” to the Hirak – also known as “Al-Hirak Al-Janoubi” or the Southern movement –, but this is not the case. In fact, many of these individuals abandoned their former allies and are now loyal to Hadi.
Moreover, Hadi is following Saleh’s techniques of influence of surrounding himself by allies; in Saleh’s case it was people from the region of Sanhan. For example, the newly appointed Chief of the Intelligence Bureau, Major General Mhanaf, replaced the Southerner Al-Yafi’i, mainly because Mhanaf is from the same part of Abyan as Hadi. Not to mention that the new Advisor to the Minister of Defense, Brigadier General Hujairi, and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Human Resources, Major General Fareed, are both Hadi’s men.
The new military is now clearly in the hands of Ali Mohsen and Islah in the North and Hadi’s in the South. The President decided to get rid of Saleh’s men and, diplomatically, gave them ambassadorial and consular positions. Colonel Hashem Al-Ahmar – Al-Ahmar family is the head of the powerful tribal confederation Hashed and very close to the Islah party – was sent to Saudi Arabia as part of Saleh’s men to hold the position of Defense Attaché. However, the family still can rely on Islah and the remainder of their men in the military. Ahmed Ali Saleh, previously expected to inherit Yemen’s presidency, will settle for the position of Ambassador in the United Arab Emirates. As for the rest of Saleh’s family and allies, they were appointed as Defense Attachés to the following countries: Qatar, Egypt, Germany and Ethiopia. However, members of Saleh’s regime are not completely out of power yet. Out of the new seven military commanders, two are the former president’s allies.
Anticipated power struggles
This new decree was obviously unable to reconsider and impact customary tribal influences. Coupled with this redistribution of forces, new ideological, political and regional differences will arise.
First, the Houthis – a zaydi revivalist movement – who control an almost autonomous area at the border with Saudi Arabia will feel threatened by the strengthened powers of Ali Mohsen and Islah. From 2004, the government – or on the ground Ali Mohsen under Saleh’s orders – fought a six-years on-and-off war against them until a ceasefire was signed in 2010. The agreement was mostly respected since then; however, many clashes took place between the Houthis and tribal/religious militias linked to Islah, making observers fear the rise of sectarianism in the region.
The loss of the FAD by Ali Mohsen is compensated by his appointment as Hadi’s Chief Military Adviser. Moreover, at least one of the new regional commanders in the regions surrounding the Houthis’ stronghold in the North is his ally. The Houthis have of course protested against this restructuring, analyzing it as way for their enemies to surround and destroy them. If they feel trapped, their reaction could be extremely dangerous.
Secondly, Hadi will most likely try to limit Hirak’s influence in the South. Despite the fact that members of the movement are currently in Sana’a, most of its leaders have refused to officially join the National Dialogue conference, and are instead pushing for secession. Moreover, Ahmed Ben Fareed Al-Suraimah, deputy president of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) and head of the Southern Issue working group announced his withdrawal from the conference as it not “tackling the rights of southerners to self-determination.” The southern leaders – who in the past were mostly part of the YSP – are now divided between those who support Hadi and the unity, and those who are against.
There are two main scenarios for this situation: first, assassinations could take place between Hadi’s supporters and Hirak. But the tensions could also evolve into several local conflicts in which the separatists would have the down side. Islahis would use their militias to gain control over territories and the army would support Abyan, Hadi’s native region.
Nevertheless, the most important of these new struggles will manifest within the military itself, as each component competes over power and dominance. Divisions between Ali Mohsen and Islah on one hand and President Hadi’s forces on the other could easily result in the typical Northern/Southern regional schism. Also, the same actors could struggle ideologically between those aligned with Islah and those who oppose the conservative religious party. Islah is looking to rule and Hadi, at some point, will have to seriously consider joining forces with them.
As for Saleh’s allies, they are now the weak component of the military and will have to seek new alliances outside of the military. The Houthis and Hirak make suitable candidates and together could stand a chance in challenging Islah’s control.
Finally, Hadi is at last establishing his authority through the military. It is unlikely that he would step down in 2014 as the GCC initiative stipulated. If Hadi leaves too soon, power in Yemen would be more disproportionate and will leave the entire nation to battle over political, ideological, and regional authority rather than deal with the country’s most critical issues. Although the military reshuffling was essential, it fails to resolve Yemen’s internal tensions and may, in fact, exacerbate them. Within this military reshuffle are the seeds of years of future conflicts.
Sama’a Al-Hamdani is a Yemeni analyst, blogger and researcher.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect La Voix du Yémen’s editorial policy.Français
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