Editor's Note: Daniel R. DePetris is the Senior Associate Editor of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis.
By Daniel R. DePetris - Special to CNN
In one of the most far-reaching and dramatic decisions in the post-Ali Abdullah Saleh era, Yemen’s newly elected president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has ordered the dismissal of several high-ranking loyalists of the previous government.
A total of four governors and three military commanders - two of whom happen to be family members of Ali Abdullah Saleh himself - were asked to leave their posts by the former Vice President, who is attempting to steer Yemen on the path of a successful transition while at the same time protecting his young administration from internal sabotage.
Both of these tasks will be enormously difficult to carry out in full, but with a fresh popular mandate from the Yemeni people last February, President Hadi is using the support to his advantage.
Friday’s dismissals would not have been such a big deal if Saleh decided to take a page out of the handbook of the ousted Tunisian President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali; staying out of the limelight and tucking himself away in exile.
But due to the former president’s frustrating yet effective negotiation tactics, Saleh managed to grab major concessions from his adversaries (both in the Yemeni opposition and in the Gulf Cooperation Council) before stepping down, assuring that he and his family are taken care of before giving what the international community wanted most.
One of those concessions, in addition to immunity from prosecution over the killing of unarmed protesters throughout the uprising, was the right for Saleh to lead his General People’s Congress Party (GPC) from inside Yemen.
The arrangement is akin to allowing a criminal membership on the early-release prison committee, but for the United States and the Saudis, providing Saleh with a face-saving graceful exit was the only way that the country could begin its long and difficult journey of moving on from the turmoil.
Predictably, all of the agreement’s stipulations have essentially permitted the former president to use the loyalists in his party - as well as his relatives in the security ministries - to thwart decisions that Saleh himself does not approve of.
Last March, members of the GPC walked out of an interim parliament session after disagreeing with some of the views of the other representatives. At around the same time, Saleh personally telephoned the newly-installed Yemeni Prime Minister, Mohammed Basindwa, and threatened to ruin his government if opposition parliamentarians did not change their behavior. Basindwa reacted by telling Hadi that his orders were either being ignored by some his subordinates or struck down by Saleh loyalists who remained embedded in the ministries.
The situation was so troubling and potentially explosive that the White House released a statement expressing its disappointment and concern that some Yemeni actors were deliberately stalling the transition process.
If Friday’s decisions are anything to go by, it appears that Hadi is now feeling his political oats and ready to take bold moves in order to eliminate some of the deadlock that Saleh’s friends and family are generating within the unity government.
Firing Gen. Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar - the unpopular head of the Air Force who has been resisting calls from his airmen to quit - and Gen. Tariq Saleh, the commander of the Presidential Guard, is a signal to the world that he is willing to exploit the very short political honeymoon period he has been given by the Yemeni electorate to take that step. More importantly, Hadi’s tough-stick approach will demonstrate to the Yemeni public that the change they have risked their lives for is slowly becoming a reality.
Of course, canning two Saleh relatives will not usher in a renaissance overnight. Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali, and his nephew, Yahia, are still in positions of considerable authority. Leaving both of them in power is not necessarily a bad thing in the short-term, for Hadi clearly recognizes that removing all of Saleh’s relatives at the same time would likely result in a significant amount of bloodshed from tribes and military units still solidly in the former president’s camp (the dismissal of Gen. Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar has already provoked just this response, but at a much smaller-scale). Time and patience is clearly a factor, and Hadi would be wise to continue his gradual approach in reforming the Yemeni military.
Hadi, Basindwa, and the new unity government are confronting a number of people inside Yemen that are dedicated to their downfalls - some of whom are inside that very same government. Yet what the new Yemeni leadership needs to realize is that they also have allies and friends in the international community rooting for their success. The support of millions of Yemenis who are already applauding the president’s personnel changes does not hurt either.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Daniel R. DePetris.