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Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country and said to be the strongest base for Al Qaeda, has at last got a new leader. Last week, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was vice-president, was sworn in as president after a presidential candidate in which he was the lone candidate. The swearing-in marked the formal end of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule. Saleh was unwilling to relinquish power and had reneged on his promises three times. But the perserverence of the opposition and that of the neighbouring countries woke him up to the limitations of his power.
Saleh’s departure is definitely something of a breakthrough for Yemen, which had witnessed bloody clashes and street demonsrations by tens of thousands of people agains the rule of Saleh who, according to him, had served the country for 33 years. Even after serving the country for so long, he had to be ejected through a revolution. And he has been lucky in that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, which brokered the power transfer deal between him and the opposition parties, was able to win immunity for him which means he will not meet the fate of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The power transfer has been smooth. Reports from Sanaa say the youth activists who spearheaded the uprising are now grappling with internal divisions, as the new realities on the ground and differing viewpoints weaken their position. If the new president is able to perform convincingly, the opposition will fizzle out.
One way Saleh can continue to serve his country is by keeping away from politics so that the interim government and the government that will come to power later can focus on nation building. There are still sections of opposition who are demanidn demanding that he must be tried for his actions and also want the expulsion from power of his cronies and relatives. In such a political atmosphere, Saleh and his team need to refrain from actions that will inflame passions.
What Yemen needs now is international support. The new government has a tough task ahead: it must restore stability, rebuild the economy, nourish a promised democracy and eliminate the threats posed by Al Qaeda, and win the confidence of warring tribes. The new government has plenty of work in the south. It must retake the ground seized by Al Qaeda. Separatists in the north too have to be dealt with, first through negotiations and if that fail, through use of force.
The GCC must continue its dialogue with the Yemeni leaders and monitor the decisions and activities of the new leaders so that the country doesn’t slide into chaos again.