SHAFAQNA – Yemen’s president named his chief of staff as premier Tuesday, a move rejected by Shiite rebels who overran the capital two weeks ago and whose departure the move was meant to have hastened. Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi issued a decree naming Ahmed Awad Mubarak after meeting his advisers — including a rebel representative — and they agreed on the nomination, the official Saba news agency reported. The rebels, known as Huthis from the name of their leading family, stormed into Sanaa in on September 21 and established a strong military presence, mounting patrols and manning checkpoints.
A UN-sponsored ceasefire deal was subsequently signed that also provided for the withdrawal of the rebels from Sanaa, once a neutral prime minister was named, their disarmament and revitalisation of the political transition. Tuesday’s nomination came two weeks later than it should have under the deal, while the insurgents have refused to pull out despite terms that gave them more influence with the Sunni-dominated government. A senior Yemeni official said of Mubarak that “he seems to enjoy the confidence of President Hadi and does not appear to have been rejected by the rebel representatives and other political forces.”
But shortly afterwards the rebel politburo said “we strongly reject this nomination, which is not in accord with the will of the nation and does not respond to the wishes of the people. “This appointment is at the behest of outside forces, a denial of national sovereignty and… the rule of consensus that must direct the process of political transition,” a statement added, without elaborating.
– Difficult task ahead –
Mubarak, who was presidential emissary to the rebels during talks that led to the truce now has the task, along with Hadi, of trying to restore government authority in negotiating a withdrawal from Sanaa of the rebels who have rejected him.
In addition to bringing normal business activity to a halt, the rebel presence in the city has exasperated residents, who have gone onto the streets twice to demand that the rebels leave Sanaa.
Mubarak would replace Mohamed Basindawa, whose team was accused of corruption by the Shiite rebels and whose departure was one of the rebels’ main demands as they advanced on the capital.
When they swept into the city, the insurgents also seized large quantities of weapons from the army.
The rebels are now believed to be trying to expand their influence eastwards to the country’s main oilfields and southwest towards the Red Sea.
Mubarak has been Hadi’s chief of staff for several months.
He was also secretary general of the national dialogue on a political transition following the 2012 resignation of veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh after a bloody year-long uprising.
– Southern Movement delegate –
Born in the southern port of Aden, Mubarak was one of the representatives in the dialogue of the Southern Movement, which seeks autonomy or secession for the formerly independent south.
The Huthis, who complain of marginalisation by the authorities in Sanaa, are concentrated in the northern highlands where Shiites are a majority in otherwise Sunni-majority Yemen.
Last month’s rapidly moving developments have added to instability in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation since the 2011 uprising forced Saleh from power.
They also threaten an already volatile region, with the Sunni-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council saying on October 1 that it “will not stand idly by in the face of factional foreign intervention”, a reference to Iran’s alleged backing for the Huthis.
In addition to the Huthis swooping south from their Saada stronghold in the north, the authorities have also had to deal with southern secessionist aspirations and a bloody campaign by the country’s Al-Qaeda franchise.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is considered by the United States to be the deadliest branch of the extremist network.
AQAP fighters have repeatedly targeted the security forces and have themselves been subject to repeated attack by US drones.
Al-Qaeda has also vowed to fight the Huthi rebels in defence of Sunni Muslims.
“Your heads will fly off,” it warned the rebels last month, charging that their takeover of Sanaa was the “outcome of a Persian plot in Yemen”.