The government of technocrats was finally sworn in before Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi on Saturday. The ceremony was held in Riyadh, and not in Yemen's temporary political capital, Aden. This means that the government has already fallen below Yemeni expectations from the first day of it assuming its official duties. The ceremony also highlighted the nature of the Saudi role, which still poses an existential threat to Yemen based on an unnatural superiority, and cannot guarantee stability between two states united by their surroundings and destiny.
This achievement can best be described as fragile, immature, and without real guarantees, although it came after nearly fourteen months of diplomatic wrangling, through which Saudi Arabia was able to impose this government on Hadi. On the surface, it seems to meet one of the desired outcomes of the comprehensive National Dialogue Conference held in 2013 in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, as it was formed according to the principle of parity between North and South Yemen. However, in reality, it is nothing but an incomplete partnership, because the northern ministers do not control decision-making in the northern governorates, most of which are under the control of the Houthis.
The fact that most of the north remains in the hands of the Houthis is not due to a weakness in the strength of their opponents, but because the latter fell victim to a malicious conspiracy, the signs of which are clearly evident today. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have worked over the past six years of war to weaken Yemen's national army and Hadi's legitimate government and their joint influence in the northern governorates and thus enabled the Houthis to tighten their control over the stronghold of the legitimate authority in Marib. They also completely controlled the flow of the resources necessary to fight decisive battles against the Houthis in the governorates of Taiz, Ibb, and Al-Bayda.
So why this insistence by Riyadh on a formal north-south equality government? Doesn't this hide an intention to use northern ministers as false witnesses to an unequal political deal that will end with enabling the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) to divide the country?
Even if separation is delayed, forming a 50/50 government while most of the northern part of the country is still under the influence of a militia affiliated with Iran is nothing but an effort by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to flood the legitimate authority with issues and make it doomed to fail. It will no longer be able to differentiate itself from the STC separatists as a rebel party, armed with the latest military equipment granted to it by the Saudi-Emirati coalition.
Hence, we can understand why Saudi Arabia insisted on avoiding military and security decisions, which the Riyadh Agreement stipulated should be implemented before the formation of the government and before it begins its constitutional duties from Aden. Moreover, the military and security obligations should be implemented on the basis of the terms of the Riyadh deal, something that no party other than the Saudi government could impose, as it is the sponsor of the agreement. However, it did not do so, leaving the STC's finger on the trigger and confirming that it is at the very least a parallel authority in Aden. This means that the legitimate Hadi government will remain unable to fulfil its major economic and military obligations.
It is not enough to say that President Hadi was under great pressure to move things in this direction, as an important part of this failure is due to his policies and positions. They remain ambiguous in terms of his commitment to constitutional integrity.
It is, therefore, unfortunate that Hadi has resorted to throwing dust in everyone's eyes to cover his failure by entrusting the government with the task of implementing its military and security obligations under the Riyadh Agreement. The government is expected to face problems from five of its members representing the will of the STC. The latter is required to implement the bulk of these obligations in accordance with the agreement, by withdrawing from Aden and the southern governorates, handing over weapons, and integrating its fighters with the army and security forces of the government. Hence, the military and security obligations will remain major existential threats to the government just sworn in.
One of the new ministers refrained from going to Riyadh for the aforementioned ceremony, insisting that he take his oath in Aden. That was a brave move on the part of Local Administration Minister Hussein Al-Aghbari, who represents the Nasserist Unionist People's Organisation. His position should have been adopted as a pretext to force the return of President Hadi to Aden along with the subsequent implementation of the military and security obligations.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 27 December 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.