For many Yemenis, that has sent a clear signal that Saleh and his relatives are intent on preserving his rule in his absence, even as calls mount from opposition groups and the international community for a swift transition of power.
“Power, wealth and intelligence are all in the hands of the president’s son and nephews,” said Muhammed Qahtan, a senior opposition leader. “They are the reasons that are preventing the vice president and the government from firing the president.”
The rising profile of Ahmed and his cousins has handcuffed Hadi’s ability to run Yemen at a critical and volatile time, forcing the vice president into a delicate balancing act to avoid overstepping boundaries set by Saleh’s family.
“The president’s son’s move into the office sends a signal to both the opposition and loyalists that Saleh’s regime will not cede power,” said Katherine Zimmerman, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute’s critical threats project in Washington. “Any attempt to challenge the regime will likely provoke a military response.”
Ruling party officials said that before he left for Saudi Arabia, Saleh instructed his son and nephews to follow Hadi’s orders, adding that they were complying with those directions. “The state follows the orders of the vice president,” said Ahmed al-Sufi, a spokesman for Saleh. “And that includes the son and nephews of the president.”
But Yahya al-Arasi, a media adviser for Hadi, said the vice president had a good relationship with the president’s son and nephews and that they listened to him. But Arasi also conceded that there would be real limits to the vice president’s power if he wanted to accede to growing calls by opposition leaders to move Saleh aside by creating a transitional presidential council.
The president’s many backers would make any such transition very difficult, Arasi said. “If we go in this direction, his supporters will burn everything.”
Before the political upheaval that broke out in Yemen this year, Saleh had been postioning Ahmed to take over as his successor, a plan that the Yemeni leader has since renounced.
But Ahmed remains head of the country’s Republican Guard and special forces. Amar, Saleh’s nephew, is deputy director for national security, while Yahye, another nephew, is head of the central security forces and the counterterrorism unit. Yet another nephew, Tarik, leads the Presidential Guard. Other relatives are in charge of the air force and in key political and diplomatic posts.