Yemen: There is No Use in Discussing If You Cannot Talk

Written by J. Comins 

Translation: Jon Sebastian Rodríguez 

An A -. That is the grade that the journal Yemen Post has given to the new president Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi’s administration during these six months in which he has led a transition process full of controversy. The decrees for the reform of the security sector and other institutions of the state have not managed to hide the Government’s inability to stop the constant terrorist attacks in the capital and in the Southern provinces of the country. If all this was not enough, the preparations for the Conference of National Dialogue, the top priority in the Government’s agenda, have become yet another headache for the Yemeni leaders. The agreement to start this initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is under risk of not producing any results if, finally, the opposition movement of the south and other important actors within the country’s stability do not participate.

The GCC’s initiative sets a transition period of up to two years in which to base a negotiated end to the current Yemeni crisis. This period started with the so-called-election of February 21st. The roadmap contemplates the celebration of a National Dialogue Conference which the Government plans to start in the month of November and in which the problems of the functioning of the State will be debated as well as the main ideas for theconstitutional reform. The meeting is intended to be a useful exchange, far away from sterile dialectic discussion and consisting in «listening to the other one with interest and esteem and the other one also listening to us. Without considering ourselves owners of the truth», to put it in the words of Huriyah Mashhur, Minister for Human Rights in Yemen and member of the committee that has, for months, been in charge of preparing the conference.

Amongst the main obstacles for the national dialogue’s success is the reluctance of the groups which have not signed the agreement sponsored by the GCC and the international community. The Yemeni youth, where lack of unity and mistrust are spreading, is still pressing in order to be included in the meeting. Alsothe Houthis (Shiites who live in the North and consider themselves heirs to the Zaidi Imamate and which oppose the Government since 2004) have been optimistic towards the national dialogue, though with some reserves. In June they announced, through their spokesman Saleh Habra, their interest in participating in the meeting without leaving their weapons. But the most problematic posture is the one of the South Yemen Movement (al-Harak al-Janubi), a coalition of different political groups – many of which are asking for independence through peaceful means – that strongly rejects assisting to any of the meetings.

The Preparatory Committee for national dialogue has recently apologized for the grievances occurred during the Civil War in 1994 and after it. It has also recommended the restitution of the Southern civil servants and military which were sacked, as well as the urgent liberation of all jailed activists. But reality is very different. Only two weeks ago one of the main secessionist leaders in exile was arrested: the General Secretary of the Democratic Forum for South Yemen, Ahmed Abdulah al-Hassani – who was detained by the Yemeni security at Aden International Airport, where he intended to meet other members of the South Yemen Movement. Qatar’s mediation (the emirate has offered to pay for all of the ex president Saleh’s expenses during his stay there) has not managed to persuade the man who was vice-president after the unification of the country in 1990 and Southern leader Ali Salim al-Beidh to abandon his idea of peaceful resistance and accept to take part in the national dialogue. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is still benefiting of the power absence and, little by little, going back to its most active times with new and violent actions.

The distrust and skepticism of the most critical sectors towards the GCC’s initiative question the effectiveness of the national dialogue and compromise Yemen’s political future. The country is before a political problem from the base that, nevertheless, is not alien to Western societies: lack of trust in political elites and their disconnection from the citizenship. The credibility of the conference, therefore, depends on how reasonable and separated from the personal interests of the leaders the agenda is, and not only on sharing out the political power quotas that used to be in the President’s hands. If this does not happen, the meeting will be a failure and will possibly delay a process in which the achievement of its aims seems, today, quite difficult.

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J. Comins

J. Comins is a political scientist specialising in Diplomacy, International Relations and Security. In recent years, he has served with the United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and Mali (MINUSMA), and also worked as safety advisor for the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) in Afghanistan. He occasionally contributes analysis to the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (Ministry of Defence) and the International Security Studies Group (GESI) at the Department of Political Science of the University of Granada.

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