Instability in Yemen as ex-Regime Loyalists Purged

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

Over a month after the departure of the country’s long-ruling ex-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s new leader, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has quickly moved to oust more than a dozen of the old regime’s ruling class. According to a Yemen Online report, “Yemen’s newly elected president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has fired scores of old-regime loyalists in a major shake-up of the country’s military. President Hadi’s move on Friday followed concerns that his predecessor was using the loyalists to destabilize the country….Among those replaced are some of Saleh’s relatives, including his half brother who was air force commander and his nephew, who headed the presidential guard.”

In turn, loyalists to the old regime have responded swiftly and violently, forcing the closure of the national airport last Saturday. There was little doubt about who was behind the attacks, which according to Yemen Post occurred after “Armed tribesmen from Saleh’s village and soldiers in uniform on military pickups mounted with machine guns opened a barrage of fire on Sana’a airport tower…. Saleh’s party said in a statement that Hadi’s decrees has only targeted one side of the conflict. ‏Meanwhile, Hadi’s decrees were met with a huge amount of support from the whole international community as it was the first step towards implementing the second phase of the GCC-brokered power transfer.”

Some within the government have shaken off the attacks as a last ditch attempt to derail Yemen’s new direction. For example, in a statement released to the Yemeni daily Al Sahwa, “A lawmaker, Abdul-Karim Shiban has said that the military shake-up will [return] stability to Yemen,  affirming that the insecurity Yemen witnesses was pre-planned by some authorities that are loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Juabol Toaiman, a member of parliament, said that the delay of the military reconstruction will deepen insecurity. ‘If the army was reconstructed, the oil pipelines, electricity lines and other government resources will not be damaged’ he added.”

Others have called for even further action against Saleh himself. In fact, in an interview for Asharq Alawsat, “The former Yemeni Prime Minister Haidar Abu Bakar Al-Atass has called for removing the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his aides from Yemen in order to help the state overcome its challenges….Al-Atass…called for reconstruction of the military and security forces in order to enable the interim government to perform its tasks. He also stressed that the references of the dialogue should be based on three cases; the Southern Movement, the case of Saada and the Yemeni public revolution.”

However, even though many feel President Hadi’s actions were the right ones, not everyone sees the situation as improving any time soon. The Gulf Today editorial suggests that in light of recent events, “Yemen faces new dangers…. A showdown is looming in Yemen between loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the new government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi….The new president faces a host of other problems, including a Shiite rebellion, a southern separatist movement in the south and a resurgent Al Qaeda-affiliated group. He can ill-afford a mutiny in Sana’a that could lead to renewed armed conflict, but Saleh loyalists would not baulk at using their weapons to impose their will on the government. And that is the real danger.”

The National calls the decision a “tipping point,” adding, “Although out of office, Mr. Saleh is neither gone nor forgotten in Yemen….The shake-up appears, then, to shift the balance of power rather than completely reshape it. Change has just begun in Yemen, and the process will be difficult….dismissal of some his loyalists could — if Mr Hadi can complete it — be a step forward to break the deadlock. The old system of shifting alliances will remain, but displacing some of the old guard could open the way to a more inclusive ruling elite….It’s a formidable agenda. But change must start somewhere, and on Friday we saw another significant step.”

Another Gulf daily, Khaleej Times, has a more positive, albeit still cautious, take, on the ongoing developments in Yemen: “The recent shakeup in Yemen’s powerful military is likely to consolidate…Hadi’s position….Yemen remains fragile security-wise facing ethnic and sectarian tensions and a virulent Al Qaeda presence. Any further spread in instability is likely to trigger a worse security situation, something the country cannot afford….Though Hadi may have risked starting a rebellion in the army corps with his recent decision to sack the top brass but it was much needed, given the popular opposition to these men retaining these strategic positions.”

It is the fractured nature of Yemeni politics that enabled Saleh to hold on to power for so long and which could also spell trouble for the future of the country — a future that might not be completely of Yemen’s elite choosing, as outside powers look to exert influence over the next stage of Yemen’s development. Last week, U.S. officials visited the country, calling for the next phase in the GCC-brokered peace plan. It goes without saying that Hadi’s actions following the visit couldn’t have been done without some form of U.S. prodding or, at least, support.

According to a report by Yemen Observer’s Shuaib M. al-Mosawa, “Senior U.S. official Jeffrey Feltman has called on Yemenis to start working on the National Dialogue, the second phase in the nation’s transitional period…. In his two-day visit to Yemen, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman met on March 28 with Yemeni officials directly concerned with the transitional period….The national dialogue, a key aspect of the GCC plan, will engage all political powers not involved in the plan’s first phase, including the secessionist southern movement and the northern rebel Houthi group.”

But some believe this national dialogue should not take place at the expense of the state apparatus and legitimacy. As Elham Manea is keen to point out in an op-ed for Daily Star, “[T]he suggestion that the United States host a new arrangement based on decentralized negotiation between tribal and regional leaders is not the way to solve them. Such a call ignores lessons from Yemen’s past and underestimates the deep changes that have taken place in Yemeni society over the last decades. Although the tribal system continues to operate as the prevalent mode of social organization, it is crucial to recognize that the nature of tribal networks and institutions has changed drastically….The state is very much key to any attempt to solve Yemen’s problems.”

Click here to read previous installments of Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top