Karen Dabrowska

Originally published: 15th January 2021

by Friends of South Yemen

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YEMEN IN 2021:

NEW YEAR, NEW GOVERNMENT,
TREMENDOUS CHALLENGES

On the last day of 2020, a year that has continued to brutalize war-torn Yemen, 26 people were killed and over 100 injured as ministers in the newly-formed government disembarked from an aircraft in Aden on their return from Saudi Arabia.

This horrific attack was a deliberate attempt to turn a moment of hope to one of despair. The UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said: “A transgression of such magnitude potentially amounts to a war crime. This cabinet is a signal of hope that reconciliation is possible.”

Yemenis welcome new government
Yemenis welcome the new government

The new government faces tremendous challenges: guaranteeing security and ensuring co-operation between the Internationally Recognized Government (IRG) and the Southern Transition Council (STC).

Security analysts commented that it is difficult to fathom how the new government could move to Aden from Riyadh without proper precautions including keeping the date of its arrival flight secret. Well-wishers should not have been allowed on the tarmac and the entire cabinet should not have been travelling on the same flight. The coalition forces have to be criticized for stationing Patriot missiles eight kilometres from the airport and not protecting it.

Mohammed Gamal, a resident of Aden, said the people were afraid of further attacks. “In the past year, when the government was working out of Saudi Arabia Aden was safe. If the return of the government brings back attacks on the city we hope they can leave it and let us enjoy peace.”

Friends of South Yemen (FOSY) in an official statement has called on the Arab coalition to set up a compensation fund for the victims of the explosion and their families and arrange for treatment in neighbouring countries if required for those who have been injured.

President Abdroba Mansur Hadi ordered the formation of a committee “to investigate the repercussions of the terrorist act”. But the STC has so far refused to take part in the committee. The Deputy Head of Communications for the STC, Mansour Saleh, said: “The Houthis are the main culprits in this crime and they will benefit the most from its consequences. But other parties might be involved in the attack including elements from the Yemeni government and those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have been opposed to the agreement.” No group has claimed responsibility and the Houthis have denied involvement.

FOSY’s Chairman Abdul Galil Shaif said: “I cannot support another internal government investigation into the terrorist attack on Aden’s airport. The credibility of the previous investigations into a number of terror attacks including the killing of the former Governor of Aden, Gaffar Sadd, and the killing of Abu Yamama, head of Aden security belt, is zero. The intrinsic flaws in the investigations all but guarantee that it will not yield any justice for a population anxious for answers and justice. FOSY demands an immediate international investigation through the UN with top level expertise and skills.”

The new government also been severely criticized as there are no women for the first time in two decades and no representatives from the Tihama region.

Tahani Saeed, a founding member of the Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security (Tawafuq), said: “Yemeni women are dying and suffering because of Yemen’s civil war, yet we are denied a role in helping forge a solution. Over the past six years, the conflict in Yemen has had a profound impact on women and girls. Over a million pregnant women and new mothers are now acutely malnourished. According to UNICEF one woman and six new-borns die every two hours from complications during pregnancy or birth. Along with starvation, Yemeni women are suffering from rising levels of gender-based violence. Since the war began, violence, including domestic abuse and child marriage has increased by 63 percent. COVID-19 has only made matters worse.”

Twelve MPs from the Tihama region (Hodeida, Rayma, Mahwit and Hajjah governorates) sent a letter to Hadi protesting that the region has no representatives in the new government. “Tihama region represents 23 percent of Yemen’s population but the region is neither represented in parliament and Shura Council Presidencies nor in the Advisory Board of the Presidency” MP Sakhr Al-Wajih said. “If we do not get our rights to be treated just and equal like other regions we will have to use our right to withdraw from attending cabinet sessions and not grant parliamentary approval to the new government.”

Everyone who is someone in regional and international politics – the UN, the EU, the GCC, the Arab Parliament, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt – welcomed the new government announced on December 18th after a year of prolonged and often acrimonious negotiations. Everyone supporting the government also condemned the attack. The government was formed under the auspices of a power sharing deal known as the Riyadh Agreement between the Internationally Recognized Government (IRG) of President Abdroba Mansur Hadi and the Southern Transitional Council headed by Major General Aidaroos Qasim Al-Zubaidi. The new cabinet with 24 ministers is divided between the IRG and STC.

Al-Zubaidi, leader of the STC has played a pivotal role in securing the implementation of the agreement which was signed in November 2019. Those who criticize him for taking this approach have clearly stated that his loyalty to the Arab coalition has blinded his judgment on the critical issue of Southern statehood. He on the other hand believes that Southern statehood will be achieved as part of a long-term process that requires cooperation with major international and regional powers. Some may disagree with his strategy in delivering a political solution for the South but one certainly needs to recognize that the current crisis is complex and requires skilled negotiations at the highest level taking into account the many and powerful players – especially the external players - in this conflict.

Abdul Galil Shaif emphasized that European and regional capitals have a strong interest and a major role to play in ensuring the success of the government and preventing the Yemeni state’s collapse.

“Britain with US support is uniquely positioned to spearhead this effort, as it enjoys some credibility with actors across the Yemeni political spectrum. An immediate donor conference should be established with European states and regional states significantly increasing their funds to help the new government establish itself. It needs urgent funding and technical capacity for major infrastructure projects (such as in energy, water and garbage disposal) and reconstruction in areas affected by the war. Through such projects, donor countries could insist on the establishment of standards (e.g., transparency in planning, procurement and disbursement of funds). Donors could also expand existing programs that seek to create jobs for many unemployed people by improving and expanding local infrastructure. I am afraid that without this immediate support the new government could collapse before it begins,” Shaif said.

The success of the new government depends on the support of the international community and on Saudi Arabia, the guarantor of the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. The government’s coffers are empty and no budget has been drafted since 2014. Some 600,000 civil servants have lost their jobs. Those remaining are paid weeks – sometimes months – late. The Co-ordinating Council for Retired Military and Security Personnel in South Yemen threatened to take control of the presidential Al-Maashiq Palace, the airport and other facilities if six months salaries are not paid and other salary arrears rectified.

The international community must also provide adequate funding for humanitarian emergencies if Yemenis are to be saved from famine and medical disasters. Cuts in international aid have had a dire impact on Yemeni civilians, including the halving of food assistance to 9 million people and the suspension of support to healthcare services, which the UN says has put the lives of millions on the line. See the article Yemenis are not going hungry, they are being starved.

But it is essential humanitarian assistance goes hand in hand with supporting development. Waiting for the war against the Houthis to end before supporting development is a strategy which has failed during the past six years.

Shaif concluded that the new government must act very quickly with a clear economic and political programme that addresses some of the very acute problems faced by their citizens particularly those relating to salaries, services and currency stability. “The government programme should have been prepared before ministers landed in Aden. The Prime Minister and his ministers must not delay any further and adopt it as an immediate priority. There is incredible potential to build a successful economic and political alternative in the liberated South of the country but we need to act immediately without any further delay. The new government needs to understand that unnecessary delays and poor statecraft and bureaucratic misrule, will only inflame tensions and fuel mistrust.”

Brig. Salem Al Socotri and Pres. Hadi

SOUTHERN MINISTERS IN
THE NEW GOVERNMENT