Yemen’s Southern Question: Avoiding a Breakdown
Sanaa/Brussels | 25 Sep 2013
In Yemen’s Southern Question: Avoiding a Breakdown, the International Crisis Group examines the transition – now at a critical juncture – of a country still coping with the legacy of unification and civil war as it struggles with the violence of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) is winding down; its recommendations will shape a constitution-writing process followed by a constitutional referendum and elections. International and some domestic actors want to stick closely to deadlines, but a rush to complete the transition checklist could mean forcing an outcome lacking broad legitimacy.
The report’s major findings are:
- How to structure the state, and thus resolve the Southern issue, has arguably become the most complicated and divisive problem in current talks and must be a key component of any new constitution and durable political settlement.
- Forcing through a final settlement in current circumstances where basic trust, legitimacy and consensus are lacking will likely further discredit the transition process, strengthen militancy in the South and provoke dangerous brinkmanship.
- NDC participants and international partners should define the success of the NDC as reaching agreement on some issues while laying the basis for continued discussions on others, including state structure. They should also define extended transitional arrangements including:
- a time-limited delay of the constitutional referendum and subsequent elections;
- confidence-building measures for the South (addressing jobs and land grievances, improving security and devolving more financial and administrative responsibility to local government); and a clearly defined implementation timeline, mechanism, funding and oversight;
- inclusion of a wider set of Southern activists, especially Southern Movement (Hiraak) leaders inside and outside the country, in continued negotiations on future state structure.
“For the past two years, Yemeni politics has been guided by an imperfect transition agreement that, for now at least, has averted violence, initiated a political process and made some progress on substantive issues”, says April Alley, Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula. “More time and more work are needed to forge a broad-based solution acceptable to most Northerners and Southerners alike”.
“The alternative to a bounded delay of certain elements, especially the referendum and new transitional roadmap, is at best a thinly-backed agreement lacking sufficient elite and popular support”, says Robert Blecher, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. “The end result most likely would be further instability and a messy, perilous process of territorial fragmentation”.