Yemen’s economic activity centers on decisions over contracts for oil and gas, as well as internationally funded projects. When these decisions are all made in Sana’a, it is easy for those in Sana’a to take all the benefits that follow these decisions. The true reason behind all of this grabbing is the approach of the dialogue to the new proposed federal system, which would include three levels of regional to local authority. Because of this, the old regime is putting up a fierce resistance.
A member of the National Dialogue Conference recently put the points on the letters quite simply: “the traditional powers want to pass through this period with the least amount of change, then they can return later and stronger to regain control.”
The southern issue is very complex, but its roots represent historical injustices that stem from the conflict between unity and independence. The southern issue reached its peak during the civil war in 1994, when thousands of army personnel and government employees were forced to retire. Tracts of land were claimed by the northerners, and southerners in general were marginalized out of the political and economic life of the country.
In 2007, the southern al-Harak movement began to mobilize to secure their rights. However, when the protests that overthrew the former president erupted in 2011, many al-Harak supporters joined the popular uprising across the country. Since that time, the Sana’a government’s frustration has grown, and southerners’ desire to secede has also increased significantly.
Although president Hadi hails from southern Abyan province, he and his government haven’t tried to prove to southerners that the transitional phase and the national dialogue will serve their interests, and therefore he has lost their trust and support.
The Preparatory Committee and the Southern Issue working group of the National Dialogue have summarized a set of recommendations that aim to strengthen confidence and encourage southerners to participate in the discussion. Until now, the government has slowed in implementing these recommendations, and the two Committees that were established to address the military issues and forced retirement, and the confiscation of land in the south have handed back only a few of the tangible results of their work so far.
Although these measures worked to solve problems drastically during the last 12 months, the southerners probably have reasons to stay in a unified country. At present, very large sections of the people in the south reject the Gulf Initiative and the National Dialogue, and any solution proposed by the capital Sana’a is bound to be refused in the south.
Some Yemenis think Hadi doesn’t want the participation of the southerners, and any person who doubts the seriousness of the southern opposition should watch clips from the recent demonstrations of al-Harak in a stronghold in Aden city on October 12, which attracted thousands of opponents to Yemeni unity and the dialogue.
However, the tension isn’t limited to the south. Yemenis from various parties and regions feel the situation has been deteriorating during the last few months, while kidnappings and assassinations increased across the country. Power outages have been growing in frequency, and queues at petrol stations last for hours There is a feeling of tension in Sana’a, and everyone is waiting to see how it will resolve.
The Collapse of security and attacks on oil pipelines and electricity networks can be attributed to one of two reasons: either the forces of the old regime are working to undermine any success of the national dialogue, or competition between security forces that stand beside Hadi, Saleh and Mohsen, have created a security vacuum filled by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or by other al-Jihadi militants. In both cases, many believe the critical security issues can’t be resolved through a political agreement alone.
The search for a solution may achieve part of the consensus on the south. At the same time, protecting the fundamental interests of the elites of the old regime will not be an easy task. The Secretary-General of the Conference of National Dialogue, Bartha Ahmed bin Mubarak, said that the “8 +8 Committee” was “created specifically to resolve the Southern issue”. The Committee was going to reach an agreement last week when the al-Harak members began feeling pressure from the streets of the south, as the current political parties withdrew (Islah and GPC) from the idea of federalism to decentralization.
The dialogue stopped mainly because of the southern issue, but the final plenary session also collapsed because of the withdrawal of members of the General People’s Congress, protesting the proposed political isolation item, which would prevent Saleh and many leaders of the Congress party to participate in public political life in the future.
How will the dialogue be accomplished? And what will happen after that? It’s a dynamic process, and few can make any solid predictions on the subject. At the same time, the political conflict exists between the old system (divided along parties, tribes, and ideology lines) and the new powers that derive their legitimacy from the National Dialogue, such as the Houthis and al-Harak. Old and new political forces are unable to trust one another no matter what country they hail from.
While the Yemenis should determine a solution for all this, the international community also has an important role to play in their participation at this stage. The situation should be evaluated to the better or worse, and the positions taken by the Group of 10 in Sana’a carry great weight. This gives them significant responsibility to think on what is best for Yemen from this moment, as opposed to thinking solely on the items that enumerated in the Gulf Initiative.
United Nations envoy to Yemen Jamal bin Omar has played an important role in pushing things to the front. But the moment now is for stopping and evaluating again the coming transitional phase, and how it should transpire.
The carelessness of many in the international community regarding the importance of southern anger will also affect the next steps taken by the Gulf Initiative.
Although many diplomats and donors have admitted that opposition in the south is a major issue at hand, they have moved to discuss the constitution and the elections regardless, as if southern discontent will solve itself without any impact on the rest of the dialogue process.
Even if they have agreed on a federal system in the dialogue, the southern people may refuse this result, leaving the people divided with limited ways to communicate with each other. According to the current circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine a situation in which the majority of southerners interrupt a referendum on the constitution, refuse the constitution, and refuse to register their names in the new voter registers. Similarly, we could see a mass rejection of president Hadi (or any other candidate) if they stood for the upcoming elections.
Besides, the possibility of the outbreak of widespread protests at every stage of the previous process could change into acts of violence. The refusal to actively examine the southern issue could lead to a disaster on the Gulf Initiative and the National Dialogue. The international community should place pressure on Hadi and his government to implement the recommendations of the 20 points +11, and initiate diplomatic initiatives at all levels with southern leaders.
A final item: the Gulf Initiative has ordered an end to the transition process within two years of its’ beginning. Everyone in Sana’a admits that this time period is insufficient. Clearly there will not be a referendum to the Constitution or elections in February 2014, when this period should be completed. Instead of extending or delaying the referendum on the constitution and elections, the G-10 and the United Nations have to work with Hadi and the leadership of the national dialogue to develop a new timeframe that will allow sufficient time to complete this difficult process properly.