by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East International, 30 May 1997
Flushed with success at the polls, President Ali Abdullah Salih of Yemen has surprised the country with his choice of prime minister. Although his own party, the General People's Congress, won an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections on April 27, the president chose Faraj bin Ghanim - an independent - to head the new government.
The appointment of Dr Ghanim, a 56-year-old economist from Hadramaut, is seen mainly as a move to appease the south after its defeat in the 1994 war of secession. But it has also won approval in the north. He is regarded as a man of integrity (a quality sufficiently unusual among Yemeni politicians to arouse comment) and because he comes from outside the Sana'a establishment there should not be many people expecting him to return favours.
Dr Ghanim was once a leading figure in the southern Socialist Party and is credited with the economic opening that began in the People's Democratic Republic before unification with the north.
Dr Ghanim's appointment came after Islah, the tribal/Islamist party which had shared power in the previous coalition government, decided to go into opposition. In doing so, Islah has forfeited control of the education ministry, which for three years provided a means to spread its ideology. The future of its Islamic Institutes - schools which operate outside the state system and are used for recruiting party activists (MEI 550) - may also be in doubt.
The radical Islamist wing of Islah suffered heavily in the April elections while the more traditional tribal elements held their ground. The party's leader, Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who is also the most important tribal figure in Yemen, has been re-elected parliamentary Speaker.
Among the 28 other ministers there are nine new faces, including two independents and one from al-Haqq, a small religious party which won no seats in the election. In a double-edged accolade, the Yemen Times commented that "most" of the people in the new government are qualified and able to handle their responsibilities.
On May 8, the eldest son of the new fisheries minister, Ahmed Musa'id Hussein, was shot dead outside his father's home in Sana'a. The killing, which was attributed to an old feud between al-Marazeek, the minister's tribe, and al-Awalik, was followed by tribal skirmishes in Shabwa, his home district.
In what may be the first step towards the creation of an upper house of parliament, the president has appointed 59 members to the new Consultative Council, a body intended, according to the constitution, to "broaden the base of participation". The outgoing prime minister, Abd al-Aziz abd al-Ghani, heads the list of appointees, along with a host of former ministers.
The list also includes such diverse figures as Abd al-Aziz al-Saqqaf, publisher of the Yemen Times, and Sheikh Tariq al-Fadli from Abyan. Dr Saqqaf, who recently won an American award for his contribution to press freedom, had his computer equipment confiscated after the 1994 war and was briefly arrested because of his paper's critical stance. Sheikh Fadli was suspected of organising the "Afghan" guerrillas responsible for the 1992 Aden hotel bombings and attacks on the Socialist Party. He dramatically evaded arrest, even when his mountain hideout was besieged by the Third Armoured Brigade.