Yemen’s President Steps Down, Hands Power to Presidential Council

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Yemen’s exiled president resigned Thursday and handed power to a presidential council, a radical shakeup supported by his supporters in Saudi Arabia aimed at boosting efforts to end the seven-year war. that has shaken the Arabian Peninsula.

President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi announced his resignation days after a two-month ceasefire went into effect, another sign that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies may be seeking a path out of years of spillover. of blood. Hadi delegated to the new presidential council the running of the government and peace talks with the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and the country’s northwest.

The move was the most significant effort to reorganize anti-Houthi forces in Yemen since the war began. But analysts raised questions about how effective it would be in advancing the peace process given the divergent positions of the eight council members.

“Clearly, this is an attempt, perhaps a last ditch effort, to reconstitute some semblance of unity within the anti-Houthi alliance,” said Gregory Johnsen, a former member of the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen, wrote on Twitter. “The problem is that it is not clear how these diverse individuals, many of whom have diametrically opposed points of view, can work together.”

The new push to end the war follows seven years of intense fighting that has shattered the Yemeni state, generated one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and undermined the security of wealthy oil-producing Persian Gulf monarchies allied with the United States. .

Yemen’s war began in 2014 when the Houthis seized Sana’a and the northwest of the country, sending the government and Mr. Hadi into exile. Months later, a Saudi-led Arab military coalition began a major bombing campaign intended to drive back the Houthis and restore the government.

But the conflict has reached a stalemate and turned into an increasingly vicious proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Iran, which has helped the Houthis develop sophisticated drones and missiles that have impacted deep inside Saudi Arabia. and the United Arab Emirates, another member of the Gulf. of the coalition. Those attacks have damaged oil infrastructure in both countries.

The United States is a major supplier of aircraft, bombs and other military equipment used by Saudi Arabia and its allies, which have killed large numbers of civilians in Yemen and destroyed critical infrastructure. The United States also helps Saudi Arabia defend its border from Houthi attacks and stepped in to help protect the United Arab Emirates from a Houthi missile attack in January.

Initially, Saudi Arabia told the United States that the coalition could quickly defeat the Houthis. But that did not happen and Saudi officials have been looking for ways to end the war, which has tarnished the kingdom’s reputation and taxed its finances.

Hadi’s abdication was apparently brokered by Saudi Arabia, which has hosted hundreds of Yemenis representing different political groups in its capital Riyadh since last week for talks to end on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates welcomed the transition by promising $3 billion in aid to the Yemeni government, including $1 billion to prop up the country’s central bank, which has failed to prevent the value of the national currency collapses.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman met with members of the new presidential council on Thursday. Images distributed by the Saudi state news service showed him shaking hands and exchanging kisses on the cheek.

A senior Houthi official, Mohammed Al-Bukaiti, used Twitter to criticize the formation of the councilcalling it illegitimate.

The Houthis refused to take part in the talks in Riyadh, saying any discussion about Yemen’s future should be organized by a neutral country, not one of the fighters. They have accused Yemen’s internationally recognized government and its ministers of spending more time in luxurious hotels in the Saudi capital than in Yemen.

“The Yemeni people rejected the rule of the hotels because they had become a guest in a Riyadh hotel, so how can they accept a council born from the hotel itself?” Mr. Al-Bukaiti tweeted.

The presidential council faces substantial obstacles.

It is led by Rashad al-Alimi, a former interior minister who advised Hadi and is seen as close to the Saudis.

Its other members include a powerful governor of Yemen’s oil-rich province of Marib; a nephew of Yemen’s former strongman who was allied with the Houthis until they killed his uncle, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in 2017; and the head of a United Arab Emirates-backed force seeking independence for southern Yemen.

Mr. Johnsen, a former member of the UN panel of experts, likened the council to “a Frankenstein” and questioned how effective it would be.

“In theory, I can see how this is supposed to work: bring all the various military units together under one giant umbrella to take on the Houthis.” tweeted. “But in practice, I don’t think these actors can put aside their many, many differences to unite against a common enemy.”

Another twisted question is whether the Houthis really want peace.

The past seven years have seen them grow from a rudimentary, provincial rebel movement to a de facto government that controls the capital, finances itself from a vast war economy and regularly fires ballistic missiles at its enemies.

Seven years of war have failed to dislodge the group, and its leaders are unlikely to give up any of their power without significant concessions.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut.

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