Prime Minister resigns
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East International, 8 May 1998
AFTER absenting himself from official duties for almost a month, Yemen’s 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 exasperation.
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 Ghanim’s 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 problem.
More violence occurred in the south and in the capital, Sana’a, 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 Monday morning.
In Sana’a, 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.