The Presidential Council in Yemen: Will the Contradictions Succeed?


Thu, 21-04-2022 02:49 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed & Ayad Qassem (South24)

On the dawn of April 7th, Yemenis were surprised by President Hadi's decision to transfer power to a presidential council to "complete the implementation of the transitional period”. He delegated all his authority to the council following the constitution and the Gulf Initiative [1]. It was expected that the outputs of the Yemeni-Yemeni Consultations, which was invited by the GCC will include changes in the structure of the Yemeni presidency in a way that ranges between two vice presidents (Southern and Northern) or a presidential council in which Hadi is a member or appointing a new vice president by consensus who will be delegated part of the President’s powers. However, the quick surprise revolved around moving power to a presidential council with full authority through an "irreversible" decision.
The decision directly followed deposing Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar in an expected move that caused relief to many parties, especially the Southern ones. General Al-Ahmar has a long history in the military institution and has old relationships with the “extremist” organizations in Yemen. He commanded the “National Army” after being appointed as the Vice President in 2016 replacing Khaled Bahah. Al-Ahmar and his close army commanders faced several corruption accusations amid a thriving war economy. Moreover, they misuse their power by selling weapons and military equipment to make personal gains, or via the collusion between the Islah-led Army and the Houthis [2]. Smuggling Iranian weapons to the Houthis have been the worst act, especially since they pass through Omani crossings via areas affiliated with the internationally-recognized government [3]. This has enhanced the Houthi military position to make more gains on the ground over the past years. They went too far in targeting their neighboring states using drones and ballistic missiles.
For the Saudi and Emirati-led Arab Coalition, a presidential council that includes anti-Houthi parties regardless of different stances and approaches is apparently a proper and reasonable solution to manage the next stage by engaging with the Houthis in a negotiation process for peace or moving towards military resolve. This is especially related to the fact that one party (Islah) violated the balance among political forces to serve its own interests. For years, the Islah Party single-handedly managed Hadi's decision-making in Yemen. Furthermore, the latter caused military and economic imbalances within areas under his control.
Moreover, the remarkable presence of the US and the UN envoys to Yemen, Tim Lenderking and Hans Grundberg, in the opening and closing sessions of the Yemeni Consultations suggests that all regional and international parties concluded that Hadi and his Vice President "Al-Ahmar" are an obstacle that hinders reaching a comprehensive peace in Yemen and that those two men are part of the big Yemeni dilemma for more than 7 years. Thus, the approval and the initial blessing towards such a move are clear by the international presence as well as the subsequent UNSC's welcome for the transferring power decision and the Saudi-Emirati support [4] . Previously, the EU supported and praised the decision [5]. This confirms the acceptance and the acknowledgment enjoyed by the new Presidential Council.
It can be said that the latest political changes cast their shadow on the scene which combines several contradictions through the Presidential Council which consists of 8 figures. The Council Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi who was an advisor to President Hadi over the 8-years war. He is one of few Yemeni men who are close to the KSA. He has been a prominent leader in the General People's Congress Party and served as the Interior Minister in the Ali Abdullah Saleh era when he signed the Border Demarcation Agreement with Saudi Arabia in 2006. Below him, the Council includes members at the rank of Deputy Chairman, foremost of whom are the STC President Major General Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, the Commander of the National Resistance in the West Coast Brigadier General Tariq Saleh, Governor of Marib Governorate Sheikh Sultan Al-Aradah, Governor of Hadramout Faraj Al-Bahsani, Commander of the Southern Giants Brigades Abdulrahman Al-Muharrami, Congress Party MP and former Minister of State and Agriculture Minister Othman Megali and Director of President Hadi’s Office who is a senior member of the Yemeni Islah Party Abdullah Al-Alimi.

Where will the Southern participation go?
Along with making reforms in the Presidency and state institutions such as the advisory body, the legislative and the judicial authorities as well as completing the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, the prominent results and recommendations of the Yemeni Consultations also include setting a framework for a future solution of the Southerners issue and enlisting it in the negotiations agenda to end the war [6] 
in addition to recognizing the right to self-determination and giving guarantees for its implementation after the end of the crisis. [7] these frameworks apparently enhanced the Southerners position and lured them to stay to complete the consultations to reach a joint agreement. 
The economic motive was one of the most important factors that stimulated the Southern participation in those consultations and in the new Presidential Council, especially with the unprecedented collapse in the living services in the Southern areas which are nominally controlled by the Yemeni government, in addition to the ongoing non-payment of salaries, the currency collapse and the lack of security stability in some regions such as Wadi Hadramout. 
Without these initial results, the STC team would have likely withdrawn from the Yemeni Consultations. They found the minimum level that guarantees the Southern participation in an all-out peace solution. The Presidential Council will govern the transitional period which will end with reaching a comprehensive peace solution or holding a public election to install a new president. The end of the interim period as soon as reaching a comprehensive peace solution is important for Southerners as this will maintain their political and military gains on their territories and achieve their legitimate national goals as part of the comprehensive solution. 
The Islah party strongly opposed the parity proposals presented by the Southern parties and especially from the STC's team. The Islah delegation tried to thwart the final session of the consultations on April 6th by withdrawing from it. However, they were summoned at midnight to the Saudi Royal Palace to meet Saudi officials where they were subjected to pressure to sign the Constitutional Declaration issued by Hadi [8]. The party gained a seat in the Presidential Council. Moreover, some believe that Sultan Al-Aradah has close ties with both the Islamists and the Conference Party. The nature of the Presidential decision, issued by Hadi suggests that the Presidential Council Declaration was privately prepared earlier among the Yemeni and the regional actor [9]
While some Southerners feel optimism towards this declaration, others are still sticking to their fears from the Yemeni experienced political elites. The Yemeni forces previously made a coup against a joint presidential council between South and North after the Unity. Ultimately, the Northern forces launched a fierce war against South and controlled it, expelling the Southern partner from the decision-making positions in 1994. 
Some refute such a plea by pointing to the phase change, the different goals, the nature of reality on the ground, and the size of convictions within the Southern consensus awareness which is mainly led by the STC. The Southern street sticks to the need to disengage from the North. This is the goal that prompted the southerners to participate in the transitional period measures and to partner with the Northerners until reaching a formula for a final solution regarding these demands [10]. This is contrary to the circumstances that pushed the Southerners to unite with the North in the 1990s. 
Moreover, the nature of the regional and international pressures plays a role in forming the political convictions if it doesn’t intersect with the outcome of the political actions to the interests of these influential forces on the regional and the global scene. Undoubtedly, the KSA which has been able to secure the success of the latest Riyadh Consultation in a matter of one week is the same actor which needed several months to solve the crisis between the STC and the government after the August events in 2019. 
Therefore, assuming absolute goodwill is not a wise act in the world of politics. Instead, a mechanism to make the convergence of positions and joint interests should be established in a way that ultimately leads to wider relationships with the regional or even Yemeni parties. This is determined by some criteria shaped by political influence, media discourse, social justice, and overall strategic tendency. 
Legitimacy Controversy

After a quick assessment of the public scene following the Presidential Council Declaration, there is controversy about the future fate of Hadi from a legal perspective after he delegated all his powers to the Presidential Council through an irreversible decision. Some believe that Hadi is still the President, especially since he didn't step down or resign. However, the first speech delivered by the Presidential Council Chairman, Rashad Al- Alimi, in which he dubbed Hadi as “former President” [11] confirms that the latter’s role officially ended. 
Another controversial point is that the Presidential Council’s Chairman and members didn’t make the constitutional oath in front of Hadi who announced moving powers to them as being the President. Some deem this as another legal and constitutional violation. However, the last part of Hadi’s speech, delivered by the Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani [12] abolished all legal and constitutional articles which contradict the new Declaration. Accordingly, Hadi became a former President and got out of the political game completely as soon as implemented his decision. Just as power was transferred from President "Ali Abdullah Saleh" to President Hadi in accordance with the Gulf Initiative; the latter transferred this authority to a presidential council in accordance with the outcomes of the Consultations organized by the GCC. 
The pretext that the Presidential Council should perform the constitutional oath in front of President Hadi is apparently weak. Since the legal position of the Presidential Council is equivalent to the President, the constitutional oath has to be performed in front of the House of Representatives. This is the same mechanism that Hadi adopted upon receiving power from his predecessor. However, the most complicated dilemma is that the House of Representatives term ended in 2009. The last legislative election was held in 2003, and therefore its term, according to Article 65 of the Yemeni Constitution, lasts six years from its first session [13]. Thus, the Parliamentary term has practically expired. It was later extended for two additional years from 2009 to 2011, by the so-called (February Agreement) between former President “Saleh” and the opposition [13]

However, some considered this a constitutional violation as it was not carried out directly by the voters but through a political deal between two parties. This reminds us that the Gulf Initiative and its implementation mechanism didn’t address correcting the position of the House of Representatives by holding elections during the second phase of power transfer [14]. Holding new legislative elections has been postponed by the outbreak of the civil war in Yemen in 2014. The current status of the parliament amid its incomplete legal quorum- due to the absence of many MPs as some of them died or for other reasons- is a constitutional violation. The presence of the parliament is meaningless at the moment of Hadi’s constitutional declaration which suspended all constitutional articles that contradict it. 
In reality, the Hadi era was dubbed as “the worst” due to his political weakness and his monotony which sometimes reached the level of deadlock as well as he surrounded himself with corrupt people and opportunists in a way that allowed the state to degenerate to the level of collapse.  
Over those years, the Arab Coalition’s commitment toward the Hadi legitimacy has been linked to political actions which are no longer available to make any notable difference or changes on the ground. Hadi is a president who has been absent from his country for more than seven years and whose expired legitimacy was derived from the Gulf Initiative and its implementation mechanism and was revived by the UNSC Resolution 2216 because of the outbreak of the war. Thus, for the Yemeni people and the regional states, Hadi’s presence became futile. The Yemeni street reactions were remarkably positive following the Hadi Declaration about delegating all his powers to the Presidential Council as well his departure along with the Vice President from the political and military scenes. However, there is a kind of cautious optimism toward the new Presidential Council. 

For signing on peace

It is more likely that the Yemeni crisis's repercussions on the Arab Coalition states, foremost of which are the KSA and the UAE which incurred heavy losses as a result of the Houthi persistence in targeting them, was one reason behind their support of the Presidential Council option. But the main reason for these changes lies in the controversy about who will negotiate with the Houthis and sign a peace deal with them. The importance of this is apparently parallel to the identity of those who will engage in a fight if the warring parties resort to the military option. 
It should be said that keeping the same former presidential structure would have undoubtedly allowed the Islah party to sign a comprehensive peace solution with the Houthis as being the decision-maker in Hadi administration. As for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which deliver ongoing financial and military support to the anti-Houthi parties, the political changes are urgent to create a kind of balance in the political scene and prevent the collapse of the military scene, especially after the repeated defeats incurred by the so-called “the National Army” in more than one governorate. 
Consequently, even though it contains some contradictions and different visions among its political components, there was a need for the Presidential Council, especially due to the prolonged conflict and the Arab Coalition’s conviction about the need to reduce its military involvement in Yemen, and In conjunction with the understandings being made regionally and internationally for a long-term ceasefire with the Houthis in Sanaa [15]. The Saudi diplomats [16] believe that the emergence of the STC President, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi in an official meeting with his former rivals was a fruit of the Riyadh Consultations. 
In general, the Houthis still represent the biggest challenge against the success of the Presidential Council in the long term due to the nature of their involvement with the Iranian regime with its regional and international concerns, top of which is the nuclear file. However, the establishment of the STC unites the ranks of the Houthis’ rivals and acts as a real threat to them especially if the military forces represented in the Council make any kind of future joint field coordination on the ground.
Furthermore, the economic file is an important and a big practical test for the new Presidential Council. The Yemeni in South and North await progress in the fields of currency, services, and salaries. The support declared by Saudi Arabia and the UAE would undoubtedly change the negative trajectory of the local currency and crest relative economic stability if accompanied by wide and deep governmental and economic reforms.

Farida Ahmed South24 Center researcher and executive director. Ayad Qassem South24 Center journalist and chairman

[1] Speech delivered by Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi - YouTube
[2] The former commander of the 19th Infantry Brigade in Shabwa accuses the Islah party of handing over the fronts to the Houthis - YouTube
[3] Exclusive: Iran steps up weapons supply to Yemen's Houthis via Oman - officials | Reuters
[4] UN welcomes the new presidential Council in Yemen (
[5] The European Union welcomes the establishment of the Presidential Council in Yemen (
[6] The Riyadh Consultations: Agreement to set a special negotiating framework for the Southerners issue (
[7] Summary of the political axis from the Riyadh Consultations, submitted to the Presidential Council, reviewed by:” South24”
[8] A source involved in the political consultations in Riyadh spoke to "South24".
[9] Al-Ahram, Egypt, the Truce in Yemen (Al-Ahram Weekly)
[10] Speech delivered by Presidential Council Member, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, to Yemeni journalists in Riyadh - YouTube
[11] Speech of the Presidential Council Chairman, Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi - YouTube
[12] Yemeni Minister of Information: the establishment of a presidential council to run the country politically, militarily, and security (
[13] The text of the February Agreement signed between the ruler and the opposition on postponing the parliamentary elections for two years (
[14] The text of the chronic executive mechanism of the Gulf Initiative (
[15] The Truce with the Houthis and the Outcome of the Riyadh Consultations | Analysis (
[16] A tweet by the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al Jaber (

South YemenPresidential CouncilHadiLegislative ElectionsAidrous Al-ZubaidiRashad Al-Alimi