by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 8 May 1998
AFTER absenting himself from
official duties for almost a month, Yemens prime minister, Dr Faraj bin Ghanim, has
finally resigned. During his 50 weeks in office he regularly complained that his plans
were being thwarted - though his popularity in the country grew alongside his own
At the end of March Dr Ghanim flew to
Geneva, ostensibly for a health check-up. But the disappearance of his name from government
news bulletins and the lack of messages wishing him a speedy recovery signalled that his
problem was not medical but political.
He returned to Yemen on April 24 but, after meetings with
President Ali Abdullah Salih and others, refused to chair the weekly cabinet meeting a few
days later. The president then appointed the long-serving foreign minister, Dr Abd
al-Karim al-Iryani, to head a caretaker administration.
The issue that triggered the resignation was a proposed
cabinet reshuffle. At the time of his appointment last May, Dr Ghanim demanded that all
ministers should face a "performance review" after 12 months, and the president
agreed. In the event, the prime minister wanted to sack three or four ministers early but
the president insisted that any changes must wait until the agreed date (May 17).
This dispute, though relatively trivial in itself, has
highlighted constitutional issues regarding the autonomy of Yemeni prime ministers vis
à vis the president. In Dr Ghanims case, the difficulties were heightened by
the fact that he is a southerner and an independent. His appointment, following an
overwhelming victory by the General People's Congress (the president's party) in the 1997
elections, came as a surprise and was seen as a move to appease the south after its defeat
in the 1994 war of secession.
As MEI went to press there was speculation as to who would
head the next permanent government. After his difficulties with an outsider, the president
may be tempted to choose a trusted member of his own party. On the other hand, there are
voices calling for an injection of new blood from a younger generation.
Meanwhile President Salih has asked the Consultative
Council to find a way to end the kidnappings by tribesmen which now occur once a fortnight
on average. The latest victims - a British family of three - were released last week after
being held for 17 days by the Bani Dhabyan tribe. The Interior Ministry has issued a list
of 150 suspects and new legislation is likely, though it will not, on its own, solve the
More violence occurred in the south and in the capital,
Sanaa, last month. Three people were killed and several injured during a
demonstration in Mukalla. More than 2,000 people reportedly took part in the protest
against the death sentences on southern leaders who were recently convicted of treason for
their part in the 1994 secession attempt. All those sentenced are currently abroad.
Both the Socialist Party and the League of the Sons of
Yemen were involved in the protest. The League said security forces had tried to prevent
the demonstration by surrounding the party's office and the homes of its local leaders on
In Sanaa, two people died and 27 were injured in an
explosion as they left al-Khayr mosque after Friday prayers. The mosque, in the Bir 'Abid
district, is known for its links with fundamentalism. According to al-Ayyam newspaper,
Sheikh Muqbil al-Wada'i and his religious opponent, Abd al-Majid al-Rimi, have been waging
an "audio war", circulating accusations against each other on cassette.
(Cassettes are often used for religious and political propaganda in Yemen because of the
high illiteracy rates.)
In February this year, a bomb exploded at another mosque
where Sheikh al-Wada'i was delivering a sermon.