Clear-out at the top
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 20 April, 2001
YEMEN'S biggest government clear-out for years,
President Ali Abdullah Salih has replaced his prime prime minister
and more than half the cabinet.
The new prime minister,
55-year-old Abd al-Qader Bagammal, previously served as foreign
minister and, after several years’ grooming, was the obvious
choice to succeed Dr Abd al-Karim al-Iryani, who has been
suffering from ill health.
Bagammal, a southerner from
Hadhramaut, began his political career in the marxist People’s
Democratic Republic of Yemen, where he was planning and oil
minister during the 1980s. Following the 1986 coup he was
imprisoned for "working against the principles of
When north and south Yemen were
unified in 1990, he joined Salih’s party, the General People’s
Congress, and began a steady rise to the top.
In the reshuffle that followed
Bagammal’s appointment, 17 ministers lost their jobs - to be
replaced by 22 newcomers in an expanded government of 35 members.
The unusual speed of this announcement, coming only five days
after the change of prime minister, indicated that the changes had
been planned for some time.
The moves were hailed in the
official media as signs of "change and modernisation",
to be brought about by "capable and qualified young
At the swearing-in ceremony
President Salih impressed upon the new ministers the need to curb
corruption and fulfil the people’s aspirations in education,
development and industry. The finance ministry, he said, would
have a special responsibility to identify efficient people through
continuous evaluation of their work.
Salih’s hope is to present a
more credible government in time for the next parliamentary
elections which were due this month but, because of constitutional
amendments (dutifully approved by the voters), will not now take
place until 2003.
The outgoing government headed by
Dr Iryani, took over in 1998 in the midst of a crisis when the
previous prime minister, Dr Faraj bin Ghanim, flew to Geneva for a
medical check-up after a row with the president and failed to
While Yemen reeled from the
effects of low oil prices, the Iryani government introduced a
tough package of economic reforms (at the behest of the World Bank
and IMF), and later settled the long-running border dispute with
Saudi Arabia. But it also became unpopular with many Yemenis who
interpreted what, perhaps, was intended to be a period of
stability as a period of lethargy.
While some Yemenis urge that the
new government should be given a chance to prove itself, others
are already sceptical. Some say they are too inexperienced; others
that they are merely younger versions of their predecessors. One
Yemeni described the reshuffle as putting "new wine in old
The big question is whether the
new ministers will be able - even with the best intentions - to
make government more accountable and transparent or to root out
Although the new cabinet is said
to have been appointed on merit, there are signs that the that it
conforms to the old balancing act in which regional and tribal
interests are guaranteed representation.
The appointment of Yemen’s first
woman minister - Professor Waheeba Fare’e, Rector of Queen Arwa
University - is one progressive sign.
But her post as minister for human
rights, plus other newly created portfolios for the enviroment and
population, was dismissed by one writer in the Yemen Times as a
marketing ploy, intended to present a "modern and
civilised" image of Yemen to the outside world.
One of the oddest appointments is
the promotion of Alawi al-Attas to minister of state of
parliamentary affairs. As chairman of the Supreme Elections
Committee (SEC), he oversaw the disastrous local government
elections in February.
Dozens of people died in the
elections and many of the results are still disputed. Partisan
management of the polls by the SEC has been widely blamed.
Last month, about 10,000
demonstrators - mainly supporters of the Islah party - besieged
the SEC’s offices in Sana'a. Islah claimed it had won seats in
Arhab, Khawlan, Al-Jubahin, and Al-Salafiyya which had been
fraudulently awarded to the ruling GPC.
In Aden, meanwhile, three more
people have been arrested in connection with the suicide attack on
USS Cole last October, bringing the total of suspects in detention
Five people have also gone on
trial for the New Year bombings in Aden which targeted a church, a
hotel and the government news agency, Saba. All are said to belong
to the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan. One of the accused, Ali Saeed
Gayoul, who is being tried in his absence, is said to have been
also involved in the Cole bombing.