President Hadi takes power as Yemen's first new leader in three decades

President Hadi took oath of office in Yemen Saturday, calling for 'democratic dialogue' and vowing to fight Al Qaeda militants. A deadly car bomb attack in the south underscored ongoing instability.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi takes the oath of office as Yemen's next president on Saturday.

Yemenis officially swore in Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi as president on Saturday, making Yemen the fourth nation to remove its leader since the Arab spring began one year ago.

 Mr. Hadi took the oath of office in a session before the Yemeni parliament and delivered a brief address in which he called on his country to come together and address the nation’s problems through “democratic dialogue.” He said he would continue to fight Al Qaeda militants, who have gained ground amid the instability over the past year. "It is a patriotic and religious duty to continue the battle against Al Qaeda," he stated. 

Hours before Hadi took office, Yemen’s now former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, quietly returned to the country. Despite concerns that his arrival could spark renewed tensions, thus far it has triggered only a muted reaction. Mr. Saleh was not present when Hadi took the oath of office, but he is expected to attend a larger inauguration ceremony scheduled for Monday.

The question on many Yemenis’ minds now is whether Hadi will be able to address longstanding problems that were exacerbated by the past year's instability: the ailing economy, a secessionist movement in the south, and a rebellion in the north. A car bomb that exploded Saturday near a presidential palace in the southern city of Hadramout, killing at least 26 people, underscored the instability that will test the new leader.

“Now the problems are the same as before,” says Majid Ahmad, a pharmacist in Sanaa whose shop is just off Change Square. He estimates his business has dropped by 80 to 90 percent since protests started and a tent city formed in front of his store.

Goodwill from public

 Last Tuesday, nearly two-thirds of Yemen’s eligible voters went to the polls to confirm Hadi as president in an uncontested election. The high turnout has been a cause for optimism that Yemenis will support Hadi as the nation prepares to draft a new constitution and have a referendum to pave the way for competitive elections in two years.

For the time being, Hadi appears to enjoy the goodwill of many Yemenis who are glad to finally see the end of Mr. Saleh’s three-decade rule. Still, Hadi will have to work fast to prove he is serious about pursuing the reforms many fought for during the past year.

“We are going to continue working on our revolution until we achieve our goals,” says Nadia Abdullah, a student who has protested for the past year. “In case of failure, if he [Hadi] doesn’t achieve his goals, we will demand he leave.”

Saleh’s departure from power comes after revolutions that toppled Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. These leaders have been convicted in absentia, face criminal charges, or, in the case of Mr. Qaddafi, murdered.

But Saleh has indicated he would like to remain active in Yemeni politics. The transition agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council controversially granted him immunity from prosecution. If Saleh becomes heavily involved in politics here, it is likely to become a serious point of contention among demonstrators who protested for his removal from power.

 “I think Saleh has decided within his heart and mind that he is finished as president and now we start to build the image of him as ex-president. He wants to be the first Arabic ex-president who behaves normally, calm, and continues as a politician after he is president,” says Ali Saif Hassan, executive director of the Political Development Forum in Sanaa. “We have past the least dangerous phase. The most dangerous will start today, which is preparing for the national dialogue.”

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