By NY Staff
Six out of the National Dialogue Conference’s nine working groups have completed and submitted their decisions to other Dialogue members, meaning that between 60 and 70% of the Dialogue’s mandate has been completed. The work remaining, however, comprises “the bulk of the issues,” according to Deputy Secretary General of the Conference, Dr. Afrah Al-Zouba. The Dialogue is still awaiting submissions from the working groups on the southern issue, the Sa’ada issue, and state building.
National Yemen spoke with Dr. Al-Zouba in an interview last week, where we learned that she remains optimistic about the conference’s progress, even though these three groups are technically behind schedule. “[These groups] have not slowed down. It’s very normal. You brought people who were fighting in the streets; it’s not realistic at all to expect them on day one to discuss hard issues and come to agreements.” Even though the three groups have not yet made their submissions, they have been discussing “crucial, but not sensitive issues,” a process which is necessary to establish relationships among dialogue partners. “The previous stage was team-building,” says Dr. Al-Zouba. “Now they have to start to work on real content.”
Dr. Al-Zouba spoke very highly of the caliber of participation by Dialogue members, in particular the contributions of female and youth participants. The conference’s 28% female contingent did not quite meet the NDC mandate of 30% female involvement, but the women present have gladly picked up the slack. Yemeni political parties are dominated by males, but this simply means that political parties brought the best women they had to offer to participate in the conference. “I would say that I have seen stars,” Dr. Al-Zouba says of the women in the conference. “In many cases, the women are better than their male colleagues.”
Similarly, Dr. Al-Zouba was very impressed by the work of the youth members of the Dialogue. “They are receptive, they have the willingness to change; they are not stubborn about issues. If you build trust with them…they can get the message correct. This is very good.”
In general, Dr. Al-Zouba has been very pleased by the attitude of all participants. Conference members have been very mindful of schedules, goals, and even conference regulations. Dialogue members have been very cooperative in accepting security checkups and leaving their guns at home.
Some obstacles still remain for the conference. The relationship between the Dialogue Conference and the current Yemeni government is, at present, a fragile one. Dr. Al-Zouba suggests that this tenuousness may be a product of the distinct mandates of the government and the Conference. “The government is trying to implement their own programs and keep daily life going; the conference is trying to look to the future.”
Similarly, discussion within the Conference can at times be obstructed by political party participants trying to maintain too wide of a view. “Some movements try to keep one foot in the Conference and one foot outside,” says Dr. Al-Zouba.
Furthermore, the Conference suffers from a public perception that the Conference is reliable for the state of Yemen today, when the real work of the NDC is to shape the Yemen of the future. “There have been no real improvements in people’s daily life so far, and this impacts the Conference in the eyes of the people. We still have these problems—electricity cuts, insecurity in some areas. But we are not just talking about electricity or water or eggs or tomatoes. We are speaking about changing the structure of the state.”
Despite these challenges, Dr. Al-Zouba has a positive view on the work of the Conference. Furthermore, she invites the Yemeni people to share the NDC’s burden of building a better Yemen. “The future constitution is not a human being; it is just a document. We have to restructure our values, our principles. Yemenis aren’t critical about their outcomes or products. I am calling on people to support this country to succeed. If we don’t change our mindsets, we will come to another failure. There is no hope until people change their attitudes.”
Similarly, those who speak against the Conference or have worked to disrupt it are interrupting the formation of a better future for all of Yemen. “You should put in your mind your children, your grandchildren,” she says. “You should build a state that supports them, even if they aren’t the son of a president or sheikh or military officer. You should be building a state that protects them, even if they are just an ordinary person.”
The six groups that have submitted their decisions will now return to their working group to finalize their submissions, which have been approved by the general plenary of the Dialogue. Meanwhile, the three groups who have yet to submit will focus on the biggest issues of their topics in order to efficiently reach a set of decisions to present to the general Dialogue body.
Despite conjecture to the contrary, the Conference will conclude on September 18, 2013. The Conference’s first budgetary report will be released on the NDC website in the near future; current projections suggest that the Conference will have incurred a deficit by its conclusion in September.