Global Politics

Yemen: Taking Charge of the Generals

Gregory-Johnsen.jpg

Gregory Johnsen (Photo: Princeton)

The president of Yemen has begun restructuring the Yemeni army.

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Princeton scholar Gregory Johnsen tells Marco Werman that this power play has to be handled with care.

Last Monday president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi transferred the command of several Republican Guards' units to his newly created Presidential Protection Force. That force will also include a brigade from the army's First Armored Division led by General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, who last year supported opposition protests against the Salih regime. Other units from the Republican Guards, commanded by former President Ali Abdullah Salih's son Ahmad, will move to other regional commands.

"I think this is a significant story and one that has been developing for some time," says Johnsen. "This is Hadi's latest step in his attempt to simultaneously erode the ground from beneath the feet of Ahmad Ali Salih and Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, while the whole time not bringing Yemen's military crashing down around his ears."

But Johnsen is wary of the new Presidential Protection Force. "One of the things that was quite disturbing about president Salih's rule is that he did exactly this sort of thing," Johnsen tells The World. "In 1980, two years after he came to power, (Salih) created the Central Security Force as, basically, an anti-coup protection agency. What the United States, and the international community, felt they were getting in president Hadi, is someone completely different from Salih. And so, for the new president to essentially take a page out of president Salih's playbook, and create his own force that's just loyal to him, is, I think, a very worrying development for people like myself."