Exiled Yemeni President Hadi Steps Aside, Transfers Powers To Council

Yemen’s exiled president stepped aside and transferred his powers to a presidential council on Thursday, as international and regional efforts to end the country’s long-running civil war gained momentum with a two-month truce.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the main players in the conflict, appear to have played a role in President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s decision, who quickly welcomed it with a promise of $3 billion in aid. The head of the new council has close ties to Riyadh.

Whether the change will hasten an end to the grueling war remains to be seen, as UN-sponsored negotiations have stalled and fighting, airstrikes and missile strikes continued until the end of last month. The Houthis did not immediately comment on Hadi’s announcement.

Peter Salisbury, a Yemen expert with the International Crisis Group, described the transfer of power as “a big deal”. The development, he tweeted, is the “most significant change in the inner workings of the anti-Houthi bloc since the war began.”

Hadi said the newly established council will run the internationally recognized government and lead negotiations with the Iranian-backed Houthis, according to a statement carried by state media.

The move is intended to unify the anti-Houthi camp after years of infighting and bickering, and was almost certainly orchestrated in Riyadh, where Yemeni factions met over the past week to discuss efforts to end the war.

“With this declaration, a Presidential Leadership Council will be established to complete the implementation of the tasks of the transition period. I irreversibly delegate my full powers to the Presidential Leadership Council,” Hadi told Yemen’s state television.

Hadi also fired Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a powerful military figure, and also delegated al-Ahmar’s powers to the presidential council.

The presidential council is chaired by Rashad al-Alimi, an adviser to Hadi and a former interior minister in the government of the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Al-Alimi enjoys close ties to Saudi Arabia and other political groups inside Yemen, including the powerful Islah party, the transnational branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen.

The council has seven other members, all of whom have political and military influence on the ground in Yemen. That includes Aydarous al-Zubaidi, head of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, an umbrella group of heavily armed and well-funded militias backed by the United Arab Emirates since 2015.

Sheikh Sultan al-Aradah, the powerful governor of the energy-rich Marib province, was also appointed to the council. So was Tariq Saleh, a militia leader and nephew of the late president who has close ties to the United Arab Emirates.

Hadi was appointed president of Yemen in 2012 with the mission of overseeing a democratic transition after the uprising of the Arab Spring that ended Saleh’s government.

However, the Houthis, a religious movement turned rebel militia, allied with Saleh and seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, forcing Hadi and his government into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Months later, Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition and went to war to try to restore Hadi’s government to power.

The conflict has in recent years escalated into a regional proxy war that has killed more than 150,000 people, including more than 14,500 civilians. It has also created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Welcoming Hadi’s move, Saudi Arabia urged the presidential council to embark on UN-led negotiations with the Houthis to find a “political, final and comprehensive” solution to the conflict, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) also met with the head of the council and its members, according to Saudi state television.

The warring parties announced a two-month ceasefire earlier this month, the first nationwide truce in Yemen in six years.

Hadi’s announcement came as Yemeni talks called by the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) entered their final day on Thursday. The Houthis boycotted the GCC-facilitated efforts because they are taking place in Saudi Arabia, their adversary’s territory.

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