On 3 April President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi appointed General Ali Mohsen as vice president and the General People’s Congress politician Ahmed Obaid Bin Dagher as prime minister, replacing Khaled al-Bahah who had previously held both posts.
The move took many by surprise including the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke of it complicating the peace process.
Hadi claimed that Bahah had ‘failed to ease the suffering of our people relations had been bad between the two for a while and recently Hadi’s advisers have been struck by his increasingly erratic behaviour, caused by the tensions and rivalries of the political and military stalemate.
The appointment of Mohsen caused some dismay: he is an important political figure but also a controversial one.
Hadi said that the new appointments were intended to present a united front at the Kuwait talks – there should be ‘no fractured legitimacy’ either at the negotiating table or in the battlefield – but the move signals that his negotiators will take a hard line.
Little is expected from the peace talks in Kuwait: it remains difficult to see the shape of any political deal unless the many different interest groups on both ‘sides’ are prepared to make major compromises.
Peace talks begin in Kuwait
Peace talks should begin in Kuwait on 21 or 22 April after a delay of several days caused by a refusal of the Huthi and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s delegation to leave Sana’a until the ceasefire that started on 10 April was fully implemented.
Although there has been a reduction in the fighting, both sides have ignored the ceasefire to try to improve their bargaining positions ahead of the talks. Monitoring teams went to the front-lines, some prisoners were released and more food and fuel allowed to enter. The ceasefire, or lack of it, has done little to build confidence or trust despite the professional optimism of the UN Special Envoy.
Ali Mohsen is appointed as vice president after Khaled al-Bahah is sacked
On 3 April President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi appointed General Ali Mohsen as vice president and the General People’s Congress (GPC) politician Ahmed Obaid Bin Dagher as prime minister, replacing Khaled al-Bahah who had previously held both posts. This move took many by surprise including the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke of it complicating the peace process.
Hadi claimed that Bahah had ‘failed to ease the suffering of our people, resolve their problems and provide their needs’, but relations between the two men had been bad for months. The president had been waiting for the chance to get rid of Bahah, who he regarded as a rival and was regarded, not least by Bahah himself, as a potential successor to Hadi. The Saudis appeared to be taken by surprise though it is likely Hadi would have consulted them in advance.
Hadi’s advisers have been struck by his increasingly erratic behaviour, caused by the tensions, jealousies and rivalries of exile politics and the frustrations of the political and military stalemate.
Whilst personality clashes may explain why Bahah was removed, the appointment of Ali Mohsen caused much surprise and some dismay. Mohsen has played a key role in rebuilding that part of the Yemeni military “loyal” to Hadi and in the training of new fighters. He was recently appointed Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces and has been active in campaigns in Nihm and Arhab near Sana’a and elsewhere.
He is an important political figure but also a controversial one since he was very much part of the corrupt networks of the Saleh regime. His First Armoured Division bore the brunt of the fighting against the Huthis in the six mini-wars of the 2000s and was targeted by the Huthis in their advance from Sa’ada in 2014. Southerners revile him for his role in the 1994 civil war. He enjoys the confidence of the Saudis, who appreciate his military experience and tribal contacts, but is less appreciated by the UAE because of his long association with Islah.
Bin Dagher represents the anti-Saleh part of the GPC, mostly now with Hadi in Riyadh. Originally from Hadhramaut — like Bahah and several previous prime ministers — he was a member of the Politburo of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) before he switched support to the GPC. Former YSP colleagues claim Saleh ‘bought’ him. He is a clever but anonymous career politician, unlikely to threaten Hadi. He has been appointed to provide balance between the GPC faction and its Islah allies in the five party Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) coalition who are, more or less, on the same side. Despite this, they claim that they had not been told beforehand of Mohsen’s appointment.
Bahah, who has joined the swelling ranks of presidential advisers, complained that his removal could be used to undermine the legitimacy of the government. This was presumably a reference to the fact that he was appointed after the signing of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA) with the approval of the Huthis (who had rejected Hadi’s first choices as premier). Bahah may not have given up hope that he will be brought back – and that might be welcomed by Hadis’ international allies, especially the UAE.
Impact on the peace talks
Hadi said that the new appointments were intended to present a united front at the Kuwait talks – there should be ‘no fractured legitimacy’ either at the negotiating table or in the battlefield – but the move signals that his negotiators will take a hard line. His authority was undermined by the Huthis when they forced him to sign the PNPA in September 2014, the first in a series of humiliations they inflicted on him up to his resignation in January 2015.
At the time, Islah (and Ali Mohsen) had been weakened by the Huthi advance. Hadi’s appointment of Ali Mohsen shows that he wants the peace talks to disregard the PNPA and use as the basis for settlement UNSC Resolution 2216, the draft constitution and the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC).
The leader of the government delegation in Kuwait, the foreign minister Abd al-Malik al-Mikhlafi, said that a deal requires that the ‘insurrectionists implement UN Resolution 2216, to prepare the political climate for the creation of a partnership without arms’. He referred to five key points: withdrawal of Huthi militias from the cities and public institutions, the surrender of the weapons, the restoration of the government in Sana’a, the release of the detainees, and respect for the NDC decisions.