SANA'A, 15 December 2011 (IRIN) - Yemen’s new coalition government, which came into being recently after the signing of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-brokered power transition deal and envisages President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepping down on 21 February, has numerous problems to tackle but few resources.
"The job before us is big and resources are scarce. We need to work together day and night to have the job done," newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammed Salim Basindwa, from the opposition, told the first cabinet meeting on 11 December.
Already weak, the country's economy has lost around US$17 billion since nationwide protests started in February 2011, according to Mohammed Mohammed Salah, deputy chairman of the chamber of trade and industry.
Mutahar al-Saeedi, an economist at Sana'a University, said international aid is urgently needed: "It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for the new cabinet to make progress without the support of the international community," he told IRIN.
Restoring basic services such as water and electricity and resolving the ongoing fuel shortage top the new government’s priorities.
“The Ministry has gone bankrupt as the absolute majority of citizens have been refusing to pay electricity bills since the protests began. It is finding it increasingly difficult to fund operations for fixing the severely damaged national grid,” Ali Salim Alwan, a former adviser to the minister of electricity and energy, told IRIN.
According to Mohammed al-Maitami, another economist at Sana’a University, Yemen currently requires up to US$15 billion to fund the government budget for the coming year. "Without international aid, Yemen will not survive," al-Maitami said.
On 14 December, the UN appealed for US$447 million to help address the very serious and increasing developmental and humanitarian challenges in the country, which include malnutrition levels well in excess of the emergency threshold.
“In Yemen, the number of people suffering from severe food insecurity has climbed to more than 2 million in recent months,” the appeal document warned. “An estimated 466,000 children under 5 are acutely malnourished, and the number of [internally displaced people] has nearly doubled since 2010.”
Although the power transition deal has been signed and a new cabinet formed, young protesters are still camping out in several cities. They oppose any immunity from prosecution for Saleh and his relatives as set out in the power transition deal.
On 12 December, thousands marched in the flashpoint city of Taiz, demanding Saleh be put on trial, and chanting "No immunity to the killers".
"We will stay here until Saleh and his relatives are removed from power and tried before our eyes… They killed several hundred protesters… Women are widowed and children orphaned," Mohammed al-Emad, a protest leader in Sana’a, told IRIN.
According to the GCC-brokered deal, one of the new cabinet's jobs is to negotiate with protesters and persuade them to go home, something the young activists are not yet ready to do.
"Those [opposition] parties sold out… They made a deal with killers…We will not negotiate with them…We will continue protesting until all our demands are met," said Ahmad al-Faqeeh, a protest leader in Dhamar city, 100km south of Sana’a.
Observers say political parties made a mistake excluding young activists from the GGC deal.
Young people were a major driver of the power transition deal, said newspaper columnist Hadra Nasser al-Jahmaa, from the southern city of Aden. "The cabinet will not succeed unless it allows them to play a big role in the transition," he told IRIN.
Armed and security forces
One of the tasks facing the new cabinet is restructuring the divided army and security forces, the top echelons of which are still controlled by Saleh’s relatives.
A 14-member military committee, jointly formed from Saleh's supporters and the opposition, is supposed to undertake this task under cabinet supervision, but analysts believe Saleh will resist the dismissal of his son and three nephews from sensitive posts in the army and security forces.
“Saleh is planning to remain a key political leader in his party. It is unlikely that he will accept the removal of all his relatives from their posts,” Abdulhamid Amer, chairman of local NGO Brotherhood and Social Peace Association in the northern governorate of al-Jawf, told IRIN.
Political analyst Mohammed Ezzan, who is also a law lecturer at Hudeidah University, said the issue is one of the most sensitive: "Over the past three decades, it is the army that has been running the country and not the government… Restructuring the army is more likely to see the sharpest disagreement, if not a clash, between cabinet members from both sides [ruling and opposition parties]."
Work cut out
The new government will also have its work cut out to ease tensions in the south.
Improving living conditions in southern governorates and providing jobs in the near future is key, said Ahmad al-Zuqara, a member of local NGO the Yemen Election Monitoring Network (YEMN). "However, I think this is beyond the capacity of the new cabinet due to lack of funding."
Add to that the 100,000 people who have been displaced from their homes due to fighting between the government and Al-Qaeda affiliated militants.
The conflict in the north, where Houthi-led Shia rebels have been seeking autonomy and hundreds of thousands of civilians are still displaced and/or reliant on aid, will be a further problem for the government.
Houthis are opposed to the GCC-brokered deal since Saleh signed it in Saudi Arabia, and this would be “a hurdle for any potential negotiation between the government and hardliners”, said Abdurrahman al-Marwani, chairman of local NGO Dar al-Salam Organization.