A new Yemeni government tasked with charting a political path away from civil war looks doomed from the start by dependence on the warlords it is supposed to tame, and is tainted in the eyes of protesters at the heart of the uprising.
The government, formed on Wednesday under a deal overseen by neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia, is to lead Yemen to a February presidential election to replace Ali Abdullah Saleh, after 10 months of protests against his three-decade rule.
Its goal is to stop Yemen sliding toward chaos by finding a negotiated end to the fighting that has raged on alongside protests − between military units loyal to Saleh, units that have turned on him, and tribal militias committed to his demise.
That may create a government in which Saleh’s opponents would have to share formal authority with his loyalists − but without the military clout of the men they would effectively be trying to disarm.
“You have two tracks: a political one that progresses and sets a date for elections and forms a government, and a parallel, military track,” said Ibrahim Sharqieh, a conflict resolution expert at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.
“Those two are going to collide, and I think the moment is if the issue of restructuring military units actually becomes real, when it comes to Ahmed and his cousin staying in power or not,” he said. “That’s when they will have to face reality.”
He was referring to Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali Saleh, and nephew Yehia Mohamed Abdullah Saleh, who lead the Republican Guards and Central Security Forces, respectively.
Compromise and appeasement
The political process began last month, when Saleh formally renounced his powers in line with the pact sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a bloc of Yemen's neighbors richer, resource-blessed neighbors.
The agreement − which Saleh had previously wriggled out of three times at the last moment − stipulates an early presidential election that the deputy to whom Saleh transferred his powers, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, will enter with the backing of Saleh’s General People's Congress (GPC) party.
By the time of the vote, a military committee − with half its members, like the interim government, loyal to Saleh − is supposed to have defused conflicts that have raged in the last week in the capital Sanaa and Taiz between pro-Saleh forces and those of tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar and General Ali Mohsen, both former allies of Saleh who have turned against him.
The role that body and the government grant pro-Saleh forces all but ensure the irrelevance of a political process, argued historian and commentator on Yemeni affairs Fawwaz Traboulsi.
“How is it possible to make the armed forces neutral, keep them from interfering in the transitional period, and unify them to ensure that process is peaceful, while the ‘outgoing’ president controls the greater part of the armed forces?” he wrote in the Assafir daily after Saleh agreed to the GCC deal.
Deprived of effective authority, the best-case scenario may be that an interim government muddles through to a vote without a major eruption of violence.
“Many of the characters who were appointed are far less competent than the ones who preceded them,” said Yemeni political analyst Abdulghani al-Iryani.
“What we’ve seen is a hodgepodge of compromise and appeasement that produced an ineffective cabinet.”
“The most you could hope for from this cabinet is that they create the conditions for peaceful presidential elections in two and half a months. I do not think they are capable of doing anything more substantive.”
One faction of Yemenis was unrepresented in the deal-making that concluded in the Saudi capital, but it is acknowledged as a new force that emerged in the uprising against Saleh.
The movement has dismissed a national unity government long before it was born.
Youth protesters who have spent nearly a year in the streets have broadened their demands for political change beyond Saleh, calling for the removal of Yemen's entire political elite.
They regard the military struggle in Yemen as a feud among partners to what they see as the crimes of Saleh’s rule, deeming the formal opposition complicit for taking part in a deal that grants him immunity from prosecution over the killing of protesters by security forces.
“You cannot say it (the government) will work independently of Saleh, without completely cleansing the leadership of the military of all of his relatives,” said Mani’ al-Matari, a 28-year-old protest organizer in the capital. “The military is running things in this country, not a government.”
That sentiment, said Sharqieh, illustrates the greatest failing of a government yet to be sworn in.
“They (the political opposition) have never acknowledged and involved the youth who were not involved in the agreement and have in fact denounced it all along,” he said. “There is a question of legitimacy, and on this they don't have it.”