Writing for the Atlantic Council, Nabeel Khoury examines President Hadi’s recent decision to name General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar as the deputy commander of Yemen’s armed forces. While this appointment is meant to be a strategic move in the battle to retake Sanʻa, Hadi’s delegation of power to Saleh’s former strong man could prove both ineffective and dangerous to Hadi’s future presidency. The hope is that Ali Mohsen will help to forge a stronger bond with tribal and southern anti-Houthi forces ahead of the critical battle to retake Sanʻa. The general, much like his former boss Saleh, once possessed all the necessary tools for political influence: corruption, smuggling networks, tribal alliances, and a loyal armed forces. Times have changed, however, and many tribes and factions across Yemen view Ali Mohsen as untrustworthy due to his questionable relations with Salafists and extremists. The ties that once boosted the general’s political stature in Yemen may now hinder his rise to power. Before the revolution, Ali Mohsen was the architect of the Saleh regime’s six-year war against the Houthis, and was seen as an agent of the forces promoting Wahhabism in northern Yemen. The resulting distrust would make post-war reconciliation an unlikely prospect.
“With his renowned Salafi leanings and attachment to a more radical Islamic political agenda than Saleh ever had, Ali Mohsen at the helm would signal a return to a past that the country’s secular youth have clearly rejected.”
The decision to appoint the general could backfire if and when Hadi’s forces, headed by Ali Mohsen, reclaim San’a. Hadi risks being overtaken by Ali Mohsen, who was once viewed as a leading contender to replace Saleh as president. But following the revolution, Ali Mohsen sided with the opposition, which failed to secure political or military power during the transitional period.
Hadi’s forces now face an uphill battle for Taʻiz and Sanʻa. The majority of Yemen’s armed forces belong to Saleh and the Houthis, and the remainder may not be sufficient to reclaim the two most important cities. Add to this the ill-advised nomination of Ali Mohsen and the result is an unlikely peace or political resolution.