By: Asma’a Al-Kibsi
The National Dialogue Conference represents the most important phase in the implementation of Yemen’s power transfer deal. Intended to have been launched on November 15, a number of challenges and potential obstacles have led many to question whether the conference should be further postponed. Amal Al-Basha, the National Dialogue Committee’s official spokesperson, stated that “the National Dialogue is not going to be held on November 15th. On that date, President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi will announce when the National Dialogue will take place.”
Political parties are set to participate in the conference, including the General People’s Congress (GPC), the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the Southern Movement (in Arabic, ‘Herak’), Houthis, and representatives of youths who took part in last year’s revolution. Two southern leaders, Ali Naser Mohammed and Ali Salem Al-Beidh are widely expected to not participate.
Constant questions concerning the National Dialogue include where it will be held, will it even take place and, if it does so, can it truly be successful? Another central question concerns just who will participate. Radhia Al-Mutawakil, a member of the National Dialogue’s Technical Committee has said “Until now, we have been determining the standard for people who wish to be involved in the National Dialogue. In addition, its location has not yet been chosen.”
On the one hand, the National Dialogue’s Preparatory Committee has been taking necessary steps to hold the conference; on the other, a number of revolutionary youths in the nation’s ‘Change Squares’ have stated their refusal to participate. Spokesmen for the youths have stated that the National Dialogue cannot take place unless Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son Ahmed and other military leaders loyal to the ousted president are dismissed from their positions.
According to the Preparatory Committee, the setting for the National Dialogue should be safe to guarantee the dialogue’s success. “The dialogue’s success will depend on the political parties’ seriousness, and on their intentions. The dialogue may succeed and it may fail; but if it fails, the results will be very bad and the country may be destroyed,” read a statement issued by the Preparatory Committee.
Another obstacle facing the National Dialogue is the issue of Southern Movement (Herak) separatists in the south. Herak has no unified command, and is rather based on a number of different visions, with each faction claiming to speak on behalf of the whole movement. Three main ideas, shared or not, will guide Herak representatives’ participation in the conference: separation from north Yemen, the application of federalism, and the issue of autonomy or independence for the south.
One faction receives its inspiration from former president of South Yemen, Ali Salem Al-Beidh, who has been in exile since his defeat in 1994’s civil war. Followers consider that Yemen’s southern portion has been occupied by the north, and they have pledged to continue their struggle for independence. This group wants the National Dialogue to lead to the revival of an independent southern state. Another faction, led by Ali Nasser Mohammed, former president of South Yemen (and also now in exile), has called for a federal system which would see Yemen divided into three or five different regions.
All politicians and parties agree that participation by Herak represents a fundamental aspect of a ‘true’ national dialogue, yet its involvement is seen by many to carry real difficulties.
Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Iryani, Vice President of the GPC and Chairman of the Preparatory Technical Committee has said, “It is impossible for the dialogue to succeed without participation by Herak.” A number of prominent Islamists agree with him. Mohammed Qahtan, a leading member of the Islah Party, most prominent Islamic party in Yemen, said, “For the National Dialogue to be led to success, the South’s problems should be cured and addressed.”
Majed Al-Madhaji, a member of the National Dialogue Committee, said, “The most complicated obstacle facing the National Dialogue is the southern issue. There is no political will from the president to solve this problem.” He believes that the dialogue’s failure would lead to a “great disaster.”
With all of these concerns, former president Ali Mohammad Nasser, Haidar al-Attas and Herak leader Hassan Ba’oum recently met at former President Ali Nasser Mohammed’s home in Cairo. The meeting resulted in an agreement to maintain a unified front based on peaceful struggle, and in opposition to suggestions and proposals made by Ali Salem Al-Beidh, whose ties with Iran have been viewed by many in Herak groups as being harmful to the southern cause. When all was said and done, the meeting in Cairo resulted in an agreement by those present to support participation in the National Dialogue.
Meanwhile, offshoots of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda have attempted to impede any progress which may lead to political success. At the same time, some in Yemen have insisted that Al-Qaeda representatives be allowed to participate in the National Dialogue, seeing as Al-Herak and the Houthis, both recognized as armed groups, are set to participate.
There are further concerns that traditional, powerful tribes, who have been able to exert influence on both the government and revolutionary groups, may later reject the dialogue’s results if they don’t meet with their expectations and wishes.