Without International Support, Yemen Could Slide Backwards

A meeting during the National Dialogue Conference discusses the issue of South Yemen, December 13, 2013. (credit: NDC)

After two years of intense dialogue about its present and future, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) reached a broad agreement in January on the basic principles and norms that would be enshrined in a new constitution, including changing the current centralized form of governance by having a federal state based on principles of democracy, equal citizenship, and the rule of law.

Munir Al Mawari, an independent member of the NDC, said it was very hard to end the conference—it went four months longer than intended—but he called it “a big success.”

“My assessment is that if we can implement these articles [from the conference], Yemen will be in good shape,” he said.

However, he had strong words of caution about the former regime. "From my experience in the NDC, they did many things to make it hard for us to conclude the conference." He said the former regime still has the “power to destroy Yemen if they decide to,” but “they are afraid of the international accountability.”

“Without the involvement of the Security Council and the international community, even if we have a social contract, we're not going to be able to have elections or implement the constitution itself,” he said.

Mr. Al Mawari said the former regime, which lost power after the 2011 revolution, stole money and property from the people of Yemen, and this money could be used to destroy the country. “The money in Yemen is more dangerous than weapons,” he said. He recommended that the international community intervene to freeze this money, “not only because we need it in Yemen, but also because this money is being used against the country, against the outcome of the NDC, against stability.”

Farea Al-muslimi, a 23-year-old Yemeni activist and writer who also participated in this interview, agreed that this is not the time for the international community to disengage, and that the resurgent regimes in Syria and Egypt could inspire Yemen’s former regime, adding that, "if there isn't concrete action by the international community to stop the former regime from trying to go back in a time machine, I think there is a huge danger that Yemen will collapse at any second.”

“Yemenis will be highly influenced by the commitment of the international community to this transition—political-wise, economical-wise, and most importantly, sanctions-wise on those who might hinder this transition,” he said.

Mr. Al-muslimi said that one very good outcome of the national dialogue process was the inclusivity of women and youth from outside and within traditional political parties. “I am not usually a big fan of quotas in Yemen,” he said, “but I think the good thing with the national dialogue is, for the first time, there was a political entity in Yemen that was the first to include new actors at the table.

“And this is connected to, somehow, the international role in this. I don't think it would have been possible to include youth, women in the national dialogue if it was not for the international pressure and pressuring political parties. Despite what we think (whether successful or not) about the national dialogue, that is definitely an aspect: that it was successful in including youth and women to a huge degree that has not happened before in Yemen.” 

The interview was conducted by Waleed Alhariri, a research assistant at the International Peace Institute.

Waleed Alhariri: Today, I welcome Farea Al-muslimi and Munir Al Mawari to the Global Observatory. Farea Al-muslimi is a 23-year-old Yemeni activist and writer. He cofounded and chaired several youth initiatives in Yemen since 2007. In 2013, he was listed by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the 100 top global thinkers. 

And Munir Al Mawari is an independent member of the National Dialogue Conference in Yemen, and a powerful voice in the team of transitional justice during the conference. Thank you for speaking with us today. 

My first question will go to Munir. What is your assessment of the results of the recently concluded National Dialogue Conference in Yemen? 

Munir Al Mawari: I believe it was a big success. We were afraid that it would never end. It was hard to conclude the conference and to agree on anything, but at the end, we concluded the conference. It was supposed to be concluded in six month, but it took ten months. 

And we were lucky that some political powers did not mind passing on some suggestions and some articles, hoping from their end that the conference would never conclude. So, it was almost like that GCC initiative—they signed the initiative thinking that it will never be implemented, but, in the end, it was implemented. 

And the conference was very hard to conclude. But I think it is a big success, and we have now a roadmap. My assessment is that if we can implement these articles, Yemen will be in good shape.

WA: My second question will be directed to Farea. Farea, can you please tell us: how do you assess the role played by the regional and international actors, including the UN?

Farea Al-muslimi: I'm happy Munir is here, because he is an optimistic, and I am not, so we have a good balance. But I guess, clearly the whole international, regional, and the UN role is within the context of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] deal—which I think, so far at least, it has delayed the possibility of a war in Yemen rather than actually ended it. In other words, I think the role of the region and the world has ended the possibility of a military conflict within the military, but it did not end the possibility of a conflict through another route, like, I think, sectarian, geographical... so, as much as it ended, clearly, the possibility of a war within the military, it opened, or at least let the possibility of other conflicts even increase today. 

But it's also... it responded to a huge point, though not completely, that was made in the 2011 uprising demands. I think in Yemen in 2008, we had a political crisis that brought political parties to the table, on a dialogue, international support—or at least a theoretical support at the time. And that was in 2008. 

But in 2011, I think there was a revolution that was asking for everything to be enough, enough for the opposition, the government and everything. And the role of the international community I think responded perfectly to the 2008 political crisis; less so in how it responded to 2011 revolution demands. 

And I think the next few months are crucial in evaluating this role; especially, Yemenis will be highly influenced by the commitment of the international community to this transition—political-wise, economical-wise, and most importantly, sanctions-wise on those who might hinder this transition. I think the big challenge is yet to come in the role of the region and the world. 

WA: Since you are also young, I would like to address the following question to you. How do you assess the role of youth and women in the National Dialogue Conference?

FAM: I am not usually a big fan of quotas in Yemen, but I think the good thing with the national dialogue is for the first time there was a political entity in Yemen that was the first to include new actors at the table. It shows youth and NGOs, women, and other new, I would say, non-armed actors, or those who are behind the uprising in 2011. 

And this is connected to, somehow, the international role in this. I don't think it would have been possible to include youth, women in the national dialogue if it was not for the international pressure and pressuring political parties. Despite what we think (whether successful or not) about the national dialogue, that is definitely an aspect: that it was successful in including youth and women to a huge degree that has not happened before in Yemen. It's one of these very good things the national dialogue brought is the inclusivity of woman and youth from outside traditional political parties and within political parties.

WA: Looking forward, what are the chances of success of the constitutional writing process and outcomes?

MAM: Constitutional writing is a technical matter. The political power in Yemen agreed already how the main articles in the constitution are going to be—the shape of the state. So, it is just a technical matter— if there is a political will to start and to do the job. And the constitutional writing is just one outcome of many outcomes that should be implemented during the next twelve months, according to the outcome itself. 

So, the crucial thing for success is going to be the international backing. Without that, I don't think that the Yemenis can achieve the social contract because there are many political powers that their goal is not to have a social contract, not to implement the outcome. They will do whatever they can do if there is no accountability or international punishment. Without the involvement of the Security Council and the international community, even if we have a social contract, we're not going to be able to have elections or implement the constitution itself. 

The former president is still there, acting, and his agenda is to prove that his regime, or Yemen, was in better shape under him than now. So, he has the ability to destroy many things. From my experience in the NDC, they did many things to make it hard for us to conclude the conference. And they are able to destroy Yemen if they decide to. But they are afraid of the international accountability. So, the success is going to depend on the international backing. 

And historically, Yemen doesn’t' have a problem with the outside involvement or engagement like some Arab countries do. Historically, the Yemeni people understand that all changes in the history in Yemen have two factors: the youth and the outsider. The hero Sayf ibn Dhī-Yazan, the Yemeni hero in history, had the support from Iran. Ali Abdul al Moghny, a young guy in 1962, had the support from Egypt to change Yemen. Ibrahim al-Hamdi in 1974, a young guy, military man, had support at that time from Saudi Arabia. Even Ali Abdullah Saleh was young when he became a president, and he had all the support from Saudi Arabia. He made a change—it was for the worse, but it was a type of change. So, the outside engagement is very important to achieve success or the opposite.

WA: Before we close the interview, what additional thoughts or observations do you wish to share with us? I will start with Farea.

FAM: There has been, up to a certain point, success of this international engagement in Yemen. However, I think, there is no time to [throw a] party, so far. The next stage is pretty critical. So far, ability of the regime in Syria to stand up to international pressure and the ability of the former regime in Egypt to take over things back is very inspiring for the former regime in Yemen. And therefore, if there isn't concrete action by the international community to stop the former regime from trying to go back in a time machine, I think there is a huge danger that Yemen will collapse at any second. 

There was a group in Yemen; they were in charge of the state and in charge of the mafia, but right now they are only in charge of the mafia. Therefore, they have no problem destroying and damaging the state. And I think that takes more than just threats or words. If they don't stop what they're doing, I think it needs a concrete action by the international community. This is so far the only example of success of the international role in the Arab Spring countries. And there is a high chance it will lose this success story if it doesn't move beyond the traditional thinking of press statements regarding those handling the transition.

WA: Munir, the finally word to you. 

MAM: I would like to mention the importance of money in Yemen—not just to build the country, but also to destroy the country. There is money, property, that was stolen from the people of Yemen, and now the former regime is using this money to destroy the country. 

The money in Yemen is more dangerous than weapons. Because with money, they can prove their point that the country under the former regime was better than the current situation. So my recommendation to the international community is to freeze the money stolen from the Yemeni people. Not only because we need it in Yemen, but also because this money is being used against the country, against the outcome of the NDC, against stability. So, freezing money is more important than any other accountability or punishment for those who are playing a negative role in the Yemeni situation.

WA: Thank you very much, for both of you.



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