Saleh loyalists impeding transition: Yemeni minister

Bassem Aly , Monday 18 Mar 2013

Yemeni Minister of Legal Affairs Mohammed Mikhlafi tells Ahram Online ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh will join the UN-backed national dialogue, despite his bids to hinder political transition

Mohammed Mikhlafi
Yemeni Minister of Legal Affairs Mohammed Mikhlafi (Photo: Ahram)

Mohamed Mikhlafi, Yemen’s Minister of Legal Affairs said that ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh will attend the national dialogue process that starts on Monday.

In an interview with Ahram Online, Mikhlafi said that youth representatives, social movements, women and all political factions will join the dialogue in order to openly discuss the current challenges to the process of building a “democratic state” in Yemen.

“Unlike other Arab Spring states, we had clear indications for upcoming change; thus, we knew which steps should be taken,” he said.

Deadly anti-regime protests swept the Arab Peninsula's poorest country two years ago, finally forcing former president Saleh to step down in February last year, after 33 years in power.

Abdelrabuh Mansur Hadi was sworn in as Yemen's new president last year. He stood as the sole candidate to replace Saleh in a power transfer deal brokered by Gulf neighbours and backed by Washington and a UN Security Council resolution.

The pact makes Hadi the head of state and a key figure in a proposed two-year political transition that envisions parliamentary elections, a new constitution and a restructuring of the military in which Saleh's supporters arguably still hold power. According to Mikhlafi, all these issues are to be put on the dialogue’s agenda.

Mikhlafi stated that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the United States, France, Britain, China, and Russia), Germany and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will co-sponsor the dialogue under the umbrella of the United Nations.

“This sponsorship will resume until the end of the transitional phase and the holding of new presidential and legislative elections by 25 February 2014,” he said.

In addition to the political aspect, Mikhlafi defined the term “sponsorship” in terms of economic support, as the international community had vowed to provide billions of dollars for the reconstruction of Yemen.  

“If Yemen managed to settle its political disputes, there will be enough time to talk business and think of developmental plans, and this is our real challenge,” Mikhlafi said.

'Everyone owns weapons' 

The popular uprising against Saleh’s regime saw fierce, armed confrontations between regime troops and pro-democracy rebels, which Mikhlafi argued could pose a real threat to the country’s internal security.

“In order to stop the bloodshed, we had to accept the Gulf deal. It seemed to be the most practical solution,” Mikhlafi said.

“The result was ending the war and forcing the armed groups to withdraw from the cities and villages they had claimed.” However, Mikhlafi emphasised that the government and state security apparatuses have not yet achieved 100 percent control over gun transfer.

In such a context, Mikhlafi blamed Saleh and his loyalists for causing a critical security vacuum in a bid to “delay” the whole transitional process.

“The presence of Saleh stops prospects of transformation and restructuring of the military and police bodies themselves.”

Hadi issued decrees in December to the restructure the military in terms of the elite Republican Guard and the First Armoured Division. The aim was to unify the strategic institution, which is currently divided between Saleh loyalists and opponents.

The decree also aimed to remove Brigadier General Ahmed Saleh, Saleh’s son from his position as the head of the Republican Guard.

Such reformist decisions led to clashes between Yemeni troops and some members of the Republican Guard in August.

The Western states, especially the United States, envisioned the Republican Guards as an influential mechanism in fighting against Al-Qaeda militants in the region, a role that was regularly played under Saleh.

“Saleh’s supporters are organised in militant groups that considerably influence the flow of events in Yemen, and they insist that he should stay in the country even after the uprising,” Mikhlafi revealed. 

The southern issue 

Mikhlafi warned against the possibilities of harder transition amid the growing political crisis in the south.

The south declared separation in 1994, after unification between the north and south in 1990. The secession was followed by a civil war, and the emergence in 2007 of the Southern Movement, a secessionist group.

On Sunday, southern separatist students in schools and universities staged a general strike in the port city of Aden, causing a total paralysis in the capital of the previously independent South Yemeni state.

On Sunday, hardline southern separatists staged a general strike in the south, protesting the dialogue that they are boycotting, Reuters reported.

South Yemen’s ex-president Ali Salem Al-Baid insisted that talks should be held between two states, the north and the south,although most factions have agreed to join the national dialogue due to internationally pressure.

Mikhlafi confirmed this, adding that the government is still working to ensure the full representation of all southern movements.

“We have a big problem with the south, as some of its social and political movements did not specify their position towards the dialogue,” he said.

Mikhlafi mentioned that some of the boycotting movements are calling for “certain guarantees” in exchange of their attendance to the dialogue, mainly concerning the issue of independence.

He suggested that a federal-like political system could be a viable solution to the crisis in the south, but blamed Saleh for the issue.

“The troubles caused by Saleh’s loyalists within all state institutions leaves us no time to map out a clear roadmap for other severely-deteriorating matters, and the southern crisis in one of those,” Mikhlafi concluded.

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