Yemen's New Acting President: Abd Rabu Who?
Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
Late last night - after hours of rumors - Ali Abdullah Salih left Yemen for Saudi Arabia and more medical attention.
My guess is that his wounds are much more severe than Yemeni officials have let on, as Salih was well aware that leaving Yemen would make it incredibly difficult for him to return. (This is why he cancelled a planned trip to the US in March.)
There is a lot of speculation right now about whether or not Salih plans to return to Yemen and if the US and Saudi Arabia will be able to prevent him from doing so if he tries.
Most Yemenis are hoping and praying that he is gone for good, but fearing he may attempt a comeback.
Regardless, the fighting goes on. In Taizz today a handful of protesters have been killed, and it is reported that some of Salih's sons and nephews have remained in the country, possibly in a desperate attempt to hold some sort of a beach-head until the old man can attempt a return.
In the meantime, Vice President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi has taken over as acting president, although he is running the government (or what's left of it) from his office in the Ministry of Defense.
Hadi is not seen as a strong player on the Yemeni political scene - he was named VP after the civil war in 1994 largely as a gesture to the south. Despite being from the southern province of Abyan, Hadi remained loyal to Salih during the war, which earned him locally the name of an al-zumra southerner, an Arabic word meaning "group or troop" that has come to signify those southerners who backed Salih.
When Salih needed a southerner for balance, he chose Hadi, who was everything he was looking for: loyal, weak, and from the south.
Hadi has been a background player since he was named vp - while Salih's family and clan continued to gobble up the headlines and positions - although Hadi's family also benefited from proximity to power. His brother, who narrowly escaped assassination in 2009, is head of security in Abyan.
Today, Mareb Press, printed a brief bio of the acting president, which is largely a resume converted into a word document. Since it is in Arabic, I will provide a couple of highlights:
Hadi was born in 1945 in the of Dhakin in Abyan. A career military man, Hadi spent some time in the UK studying military tactics back when Aden was a crown colony in the 1960s.
Later, after the war that led to Britain's departure from Aden and the rest of the south, he got close to South Yemen's new patron, the USSR, spending four years in Russia for more military training.
During the civil war in 1994 he was briefly appointed Minister of Defense before being named vice president later that year.
According to most, Hadi has neither the ambition or the ability to go after the top post for any extended period of time. But power has been known to dazzle most who draw near. For the moment, with rumors of Salih's return floating about and the fighting still continuing, most things in Yemen remain murky.
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