Yemen: Enduring Conflicts, Threatened Transition
Sanaa/Brussels | 3 Jul 2012
Flawed as it is, Yemen’s political settlement avoided a potentially devastating civil war and secured President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation, but now the challenge is to address longstanding political and economic grievances.
Yemen: Enduring Conflicts, Threatened Transition, a new report from the International Crisis Group, proposes ways for the government to win back society’s confidence, tackle political infighting and distance itself from the leadership and practices of the past. It warns that the democratic transition remains messy and incomplete and that any failure to address the challenges soon will weigh heavily on an already divided and increasingly impoverished society.
“Theoretically, the settlement offers an opportunity to include marginalised groups, reform institutions and address longstanding conflicts through dialogue”, says April Longley Alley, Crisis Group Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula. “That said, the nation so far essentially has witnessed a political game of musical chairs, with one faction of the elite swapping places with the other but remaining at loggerheads. As politicians squabble in Sanaa, urgent national problems await”.
The political transition, sparked by protests more than eighteen months ago, cracked the regime’s foundations, while making it possible to imagine new rules of the game. Still, much remains in doubt, notably the scope and direction of change. Key parts of society – the Huthis in the North, the southern Hiraak and some independent youth groups – feel left out. Al-Qaeda and other militants are thriving in a security vacuum, with the army divided and tribal militias still operating in urban areas.
A successful transition requires significant steps from various parties, including:
In order to improve the security situation, the government needs to restructure the military-security apparatus, while the army should respect the orders of President Hadi and the defence minister; moreover, all forces should return to barracks, as stipulated by the settlement.
In order to improve the political situation, the government should distance itself from Saleh and other divisive elite figures who threw their weight behind the uprising; these individuals, for their part, ought to respect the new president’s authority and step away from the public limelight. The government also should rigorously enforce existing laws, including the civil service law.
In order to build confidence with marginalised groups, the government should immediately take steps to secure the meaningful participation in the forthcoming national dialogue of the Huthis, the Hiraak and independent youth. These could include, inter alia, apologising for injustices committed against the Huthis and the Hiraak, increasing humanitarian aid to displaced people, releasing all political prisoners and beginning to address issues of transitional justice.
International actors need to ensure that the UN continues to lead efforts to support the national dialogue. They must talk to all parties and openly criticise any individual or group that fails to respect their commitments.
“The transition remains on shaky ground”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “The only way forward is through national dialogue. But if it is not inclusive or fails to address the political challenges, violence is likely to intensify. The result would be more instability and a deepened humanitarian crisis”.