Yemen’s Hadi tries to get back into the game

Giving it the old college try, it seems like former Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is going above and beyond to regain clout and ameliorate his reputation, but will he succeed?

al-monitor Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi delivers a speech in Yemen's southern port city of Aden, March 21, 2015. Hadi, who resigned as president in January after being placed under house arrest by the Houthis, called on the Houthis to abandon their control of government ministries in Sanaa in his first televised speech since fleeing the capital for Aden after escaping house arrest in February.  Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

yemen, sanaa, houthi movement, ansar allah, ali abdullah saleh, al-qaeda, aden, abed rabbo mansour hadi

Mar 23, 2015

Former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi tried to enter Aden like a hero returning from the battlefield, asking for more men and munitions. He did this to play the southern Yemen card, which is an extremely sensitive issue that was fed by the violations of the previous regime, of which Hadi himself was a pillar. Yet, Hadi’s policy to deal with this sensitivity did not differ from the Gulf perspective on the Yemeni crisis. Moreover, the president, who was the ally of the Islah party and the Ahmar clan, was not able to win over the southerners by playing the secession card, especially after he announced that Aden would be a “temporary” capital [of the whole country].

Aden’s realities prove that the president, who has returned following his resignation [and later withdrawal of his resignation], is still weak. His importance in the “capital of the south” is equivalent to his weight in the north. Hadi’s attractiveness does not differ in these two places, despite the distance separating them. The members of his force that departed with him on the southern journey arrived to spend time in the lobbies of Aden’s hotels to look for a formula for a coalition that would suit the present stage [in Yemeni politics], but remained with this force and investing in [Hadi’s] international and domestic legitimacy. Hadi perceives this reality well, and he knows that the stream of support that is coming from behind the border is still random, and is awaiting strong entities that can be depended upon in the coming stage. He, therefore, works in cooperation with his comrade, Brig. Gen. Nasser Mansour, to increase the popular and military bases that reflect the external picture that Gulf and Western media are trying to sell: that he is the recognized and “legitimate president” of Yemen.

Hadi discovered this early on, at a time when he started to lose his influence and control beginning on Sept. 21, 2014, when the Houthis gained control over the capital, Sanaa, without serious fighting, and he was slowly placed under house arrest or what people from the Gulf called an “enforced residency.” The ease that marked the operation to extract him [Hadi] from Sanaa proved that the man was marginal because he had lost all ability to rule and had broken away from the clique of previous president Ali Abdullah Saleh in the General People’s Congress, costing him importance and stability.

The resigned president performed a political maneuver at the beginning of this month to flex his political and military muscles in his new headquarters in Aden, where he made a decision to appoint Gen. Thabet Jawas as leader of the Special Security Forces (previously Central Security) and replace General Abdel Hafez al-Saqqaf, requesting the latter to take up the task of civilian affairs and the civil register. Saqqaf then sent a letter through his close associates to Hadi that said, in short, “You must be kidding.” The letter was taken to Hadi by an observer of the popular committees named Ahmad al-Maisri, after meeting with Saqqaf in the headquarters of the Special Security Forces in the directorate of Khormaksar.

This is the event that preceded the clashes of the Aden airport, and shed light on a serious problem facing Hadi and Islah in the south. Political propaganda put out by the Arabic media about the military situation in Aden and its surroundings aside, the situation in Aden proves that the essential military power — formal or militia — still resides with Special Security under the leadership of Saqqaf, who is totally loyal to the Houthis in Sanaa. The 39th Armored Division, which is loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, is based near the Aden International Airport, is deployed in Abyan and other areas, and is the division currently most intensely engaged against al-Qaeda, especially in the Mahfad area. The 39th Armored Division is under the Special Security’s command. The air defense brigade that is based inside the Aden airport is as well.

The dismissal of Saqqaf consolidated the new course of Mansour Hadi in crisis management. He came to know before the Islah party and the sheikhs of the Hashed and Ansar al-Shariah that fighting Ansar Allah would at this moment be equivalent to a military and political suicide blow, and that the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh for their part have enough power in the south to deal with Hadi’s “popular” committees supported by Islahist forces within a few days, if such commands were given to the military units stationed in Aden. Because Hadi realizes the difficulty of making such a decision in Sanaa, given his disastrous ambitions in Yemen and his encouragement of a north-south struggle that the Houthis are attempting to avoid — “or so they say” — he took the initiative to tip the balance of power or impose a solution in Aden, pushed by his military power facing the current alignment in southern Yemen.

Mansour is combing Abyan, Lahij, Shabwah and Hadramout to enlist civilians in popular committees, following the example of his brother, Hadi. This is not done secretly, but rather takes place openly, under the aegis of supporting “legitimacy” and in preparation for facing the “Houthi wave.” But this will not proceed beyond the stage of preparing to fight, besiege, or overthrow the Yemeni army in the southern provinces by changing the balance of power — even if it takes many months since one of Hadi’s choices is to invest in loyalists from the 19th Division under the leadership of Gen. Faisal Rajab by placing conscripts into their ranks under various names, especially since Rajab went to Aden from Abyan, the stronghold of the “resigned” president, who is counted as one of the most prominent supporters of the confrontation within Aden.

Hadi uses the doses of foreign aid he receives to compete with his comrades who also oppose Ansar Allah and the previous president, Saleh, in an internal pseudo-contest in which each faction attempts to strengthen its own power base, as they await the coming conflict with Sanaa. [Hadi] received a new gift from his Gulf allies, who gave him say in setting the date of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in light of the GCC’s non-recognition of the Yemeni capital’s constitutional legitimacy. This is equivalent to UN delegate Jamal Benomar’s continuation of his tasks which are divided between Aden and the Gulf capitals. This is a clear script meant to keep Hadi afloat, though he realizes that there will be no dialogue in the near-term, and that the task now in Aden is to complete the infrastructure for an integrated political and military project that can be used to make decisions of war and peace. It is much less wise to bet on these results than on failure, which now seems to be predetermined.

Despite the intense quagmire that the Houthis have found themselves in since the departure of the former president from Sanaa, and though they are now facing a serious war of relationship-building inside and outside [of Yemen], Ansar Allah is committed to sending letters in various directions, which are no less powerful than the battle over legitimacy launched by Hadi and his allies. Ansar Allah’s maneuvers are shared with the military forces belonging to the army in the province of Saadah, which is close to the Saudi borders. Moreover, Saleh sent special forces reinforcements to the Taaz airport on their way to Aden to support Saqqaf, or any pro-Sanaa military group. All of these are signs that the game — even if it intensifies will not go beyond “warming up” in the near term. The factions of the present coalition in Sanaa are attempting to reveal Hadi as a weak leader, and this is important in containing the apparent enemy in Aden and Gulf capitals.

The Houthis and their ally, former President Saleh, are therefore attempting to drag their Gulf neighbors into playing an increasingly important role in this “cold war,” which is dissolving Aden’s political mosaic. In light of these wide plans, Hadi is becoming more active. After his bitter setback his famous resignation from the presidency [Hadi] will not accept another “insulting” departure added to his political record. The man worked for two decades to improve the distorted image that spread in the 1994 Yemen war, when riches were expended to create a replacement for what was lost after the southern leader Ali Salem al-Beidh left the country. Yet, Hadi was an important agent on the side of former President Saleh in his war on Aden.

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