SHAFAQNA – Yemen’s state-run TV on Friday announced the lineup of the country’s new Cabinet following a U.N.-brokered deal with Shiite rebels who had overrun the capital of Sanaa and plunged the country into another crisis.
The Houthi rebels captured Sanaa in September, allegedly with the tacit support of the country’s former president and demanded that President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi appoint a new government, complaining the previous one was too close to their rival conservative Sunni Islamist party.
After weeks of violence and political wrangling, during which a U.N.-brokered deal was reached, Khaled Bahah was nominated for prime minister and tasked with forming a new government. But a dispute over who would form the Cabinet continued until last Saturday, when all Yemeni parties and political groups agreed on an apolitical technocrat Cabinet.
The compromise was an important step in efforts to regain stability in the volatile and deeply impoverished country.
The TV said late Friday that the new Cabinet has 37 members, including Bahah, the prime minister and 29 other newcomers, while seven ministers were left over from the previous government.
The new faces included Defence Minister Maj. Gen. Mahmoud al-Subaihi, a top army commander in southern Yemen with a record of combating al-Qaida, as well as Foreign Minister Abdullah al-Saaidi, a veteran diplomat, and Information Minister Nadia al-Saqqaf, the country’s first female information minister.
The announcement came shortly after thousands of Houthis and of supporters of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh rallied in Sanaa Friday, denouncing the United States over its push for sanctions against Saleh and rebel leaders.
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Saleh and two leaders of the Houthi rebels for threatening the peace, security and stability of the country. The council ordered a freeze of all assets and a global travel ban on Saleh, the rebel group’s military commander, Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi, and the Houthi’s second-in-command, Abdullah Yahya al Hakim.
Saleh stepped down in 2011 as part of a U.S.-backed, Gulf-brokered deal after months of protests against his rule. But Hadi’s backers accuse Saleh of undermining his successor. Many believe Saleh, who remains a powerful political player, helped Houthi rebels in the past months as they swept into Sanaa.
The protesters in Sanaa – in much smaller numbers than usual on a Friday – carried posters urging the U.S. ambassador to get out of the country.
Saleh’s party this week accused the American ambassador of telling the former president to leave Yemen by Friday or face sanctions. Washington vehemently denied making any such demand, but the party’s claim has stoked anger of alleged U.S. “interference.”
Even some in the Sunni Islamist Islah party – a sharp opponent of the Houthis and Saleh – joined in the anger. In parliament Thursday, a leading Islah lawmaker, Mansour al-Zindani, demanded that both the American ambassador and the U.N. envoy to Yemen leave the country. The Islah party later issued an apology for his comments.
The Houthis, who belong to the Zaydi branch of Shiite Islam, have been fighting their way out of their stronghold in the north since last year and took control of Sanaa in September, largely by defeating forces loyal to the Islah party. In the past month they made further gains toward central Yemen, at times fighting al-Qaida’s branch in the country.
In a new audio clip posted online Friday, the head of Yemen’s al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahishi, sought to rally Sunnis to his group, accusing the United States of aligning itself with the Houthis and with Shiite Iran to “draw a new map to the Muslim world, to divide what is already divided.”
Al-Wahishi said the alliance is clear in Yemen, where “Americans are in the air while Houthis are on the ground,” a reference to U.S. drone strikes and Houthis’ battles against al-Qaida. The Houthis’ opponents accuse them of being a proxy for Iran, a claim the group and Tehran deny.
In southern Yemen, special forces killed an al-Qaida operative, Turki al-Asseri, also known as by the nom de guerre Marawan al-Makni, in the city of Lahj, an al-Qaida stronghold, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Earlier this week, drone strikes in the central city of Radda killed a senior al-Qaida figure, Shawki Ali Ahmed al-Badani, designated by the U.S. as a global terrorist.
The United States has been waging a campaign of drone strikes for years against the group, which carried out a string of attempted attacks on American soil.