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What does Hadi’s return to Yemen say about the country?

Just a day after the first anniversary of the Houthi takeover of Sana’a, Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has returned to Aden after six months of exile in Riyadh. This comes a week after the return of Vice President Khaled Bahah’s return to Aden, along with senior members of the cabinet.

To many, this is seen as a symbolic victory and a moral advancement of the anti-Houthi coalition. However, high ranking officials in the Yemeni government have told media sources that Hadi is only spending Eid Al-Adha in Yemen before flying over to New York to speak at the United Nations.

Whether this stay is truly temporary or a more permanent move, nothing significant about the future of Yemen can be said about the shift until we find out what actions are to follow by the government in Aden.

The politicians’ returning to Aden specifically symbolises the fact that the transition to turning Aden into the new capital of Yemen is already in place. Upon his arrival, Hadi introduced the meeting by saying that “hopefully we will soon be able to meet in Sana’a”; however, this does not necessarily hint at military advancements as much of northern Yemen remains a Houthi stronghold and the battle to liberate Sana’a still remains a very long one.

This has also come at a time in which Aden is in need of central authority. Post-Houthi Aden has seen a surge of instability due to the power vacuum that emerged. Despite efforts to rebuild Aden and to reinforce stability, the city was put in a very sensitive situation with a lack of certainty about whose hands political affairs in Aden lay in.

Because of the strong Houthi grab for northern Yemen and the recapture of Taiz, although it is highly unlikely that Aden falls under the control of the Houthis again any gap in security could put it in a very vulnerable position. The tribal nature of Yemen makes anarchy likely if the central government does not strengthen their presence. Through Bahah’s permanent arrival to Aden and what seems to be a visit by Hadi for now, another power struggle would have been due to take place to allow infiltration by terrorist groups and militias.

Already, the presence of the exiled government has sparked protests by both Hirak forces that feel the central Yemeni government has no place in what they soon envision being the capital of a re-emergence of South Yemen, but also because the reconstruction of Aden has been disorganised. Payments have still not been issued for workers and despite the generous levels of aid delivered to the reconstruction of the city, the repercussions of war still impact civil services such as schools and hospitals. It is important to remember that although the Houthis are gone, their impact on Aden lingers through the remains of their destruction.

At this stage, it is too early to say what Hadi’s return to Yemen means, simply because his presence is not enough. Only when it is seen how the government acts and exerts their leadership can it be seen as a moral victory. Signs of the impact of this move are most likely not going to materialise until at least next week.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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