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Presidential Leadership Council in Yemen

The South Front and Center in Yemen Restructuring

Presidential Leadership Council in Yemen
Photograph: Asmaa Waguih

The formation of the new Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) is not merely a step forward in the conflict with Houthi rebels, but a major step for southern Yemenis.

The week-long intra-Yemeni dialogue hosted by the Gulf Co-operations Council (GCC) in Riyadh concluded on 7 April with a transfer of power to an eight-member governing council. President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, elected in a one-candidate election in February 2012, ceded authority as part of the transition process. Prior to stepping down, President Hadi removed Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar as Vice President, who for southerners had been a major obstacle in the path toward reconciliation. The council is to be headed by Dr. Rashad al-Alimi, former advisor to president Hadi and minister of interior, with al-Zubaydi among the other seven members.


After the long-awaited success of the November 2019 Riyadh Agreement, the composition of the council is as important to stability as the transition from Hadi. From the eight members of the Council, al-Zubaydi is the only head of a political faction. Rashad al-Alimi, Othman Mujalli and even Mareb Governor Sultan al-Aradha are known members of the former ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC).


Abdullah al-Alimi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliate al-Islah party from Shebwa, and Faraj al-Bahsani is the governor of Hadhramawt and commander of the First Regional Command. Tareq Mohammed Saleh is the nephew of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was killed in 2017. As president of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), al-Zubaydi has put southern grievances front and center within the new transition agreement.


Members of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) were sworn in on April 19 in the interim capital Aden


Members of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) were sworn in on April 19 in the interim capital Aden. Each member of the PLC arrived on separate planes, to avoid any potential strikes by Houthis rebels, as did members of Prime Minister Maeen Abd al-Malek’s Cabinet and Parliament members.


Amid security threats the ceremony was also attended by regional and European dignitaries. This was a major step toward strengthening the legitimacy of the Council and its mandate. The optics created by the ceremony aimed at countering criticism of the Legitimate Government in exile, and reassuring the population of Aden and across liberated provinces that the government is physically present in Yemen.


In March 2015, then-president Hadi declared Aden the interim capital of the Republic. This was significant in order to preserve the continuity of government outside control of Houthi rebels in Sana’a. In the time since, competing factions have been struggling to impose order and security.


As part of negotiations between the STC and Hadi’s government in Riyadh, the governorship of Aden was handed to the STC. Ahmed Lamlas, secretary-general of the STC, was appointed governor by Hadi in July 2020. In coordination with Aydarous al-Zubaydi, recognized as commander-in-chief of southern forces, Lamlas prioritized security throughout the eight provincial districts. Along with Lamlas, the president appointed a new security director for Aden, Brigadier Mutahar al-Shaibi in December 2020.


The Hadi Government failed to implement proper training of soldiers or commanders over the past seven years


In order to improve security and remove criminal and terrorist elements from the interim capital, the governor had to go beyond presidential authority. The inability to establish security by elements like the Presidential Guard required southern forces to take over security operations throughout the province of Aden. Since the withdrawal of Presidential Guard troops from Aden in 2019, southern forces like the Security Belt units have shouldered security responsibilities in the area.


Coordination of security forces was facilitated through al-Zubaidy’s command. Centralization of orders to security forces facilitated a quick deployment and maintained order and coordination among commanders and units. Initial obstacles for the Security Belt units were numbers, as elements were deployed throughout Aden and neighboring provinces like Abyan and Lahj.


In addition, while academy training facilities were fully available to increase the number of graduates, there was limited access to basic training on human rights or the rule of law. Aden security forces have prioritized training for unit commanders and soldiers manning checkpoints. Much of this training was not made available to government troops prior to 2020.


The unique aspect of this training program by southern forces is the initiative outside government command. The Hadi Government failed to implement proper training of soldiers or commanders over the past seven years. The increase in recruitment of young cadets and hurried deployment to the front lines exacerbated the frequency of incidents of abuse against civilians across liberated areas. Training sessions for cadets, soldiers and commanders of southern forces has been implemented by an initiative of the Joint Command under the STC, using recognized materials produced by the Ministry of Justice and international organizations.


While still in their infancy, training programs for Aden-based Security Belt units could provide a model


While still in their infancy, training programs for Aden-based Security Belt units could provide a model for security elements across areas under control of the Presidential Leadership Council. The STC also holds the governorship in Shebwa province, where security has improved since the appointment of Awadh Mohammed al-Awlaqi in December 2021. The potential for expanding training programs, improving security in the interim capital, appears to have increased with appointment of Governor Lamlas as Minister of State.


The previous government did not prioritize training for unit commanders, never mind cadets at the respective academies. This led to widespread abuses against civilians, incidents which have significantly decreased in Aden and are now completely absent in Shebwa. Previously, abuses perpetrated against civilians occurred during demonstrations, mostly about economic conditions or detention of civilians by security forces.


Under the structure sought by the PLC with Lamlas as a member of the Cabinet and governor of Aden, there is great potential to expedite developments in the economic and security spheres. This also represents greater share of the responsibility for Lamlas as residents will make their demands directly to the governor. The governor’s efforts may be facilitated by a share of the $3 billion pledged by Saudi Arabia.


Preoccupation with such training may seem trivial compared to major issues ordinary civilians must deal with on daily basis. Yet, protection of the right to free movement and expression and protest are considered vital to human rights organizations observing treatment of civilians. While expecting the PLC to address issues driving the armed conflict, local populations will look for solutions to ordinary problems that directly impact their daily lives.

Fernando Carvajal