“One year after what was billed as a ‘historic vote’, hopes for the new Yemen that protesters thought they had won are quickly disappearing in the face of a crumbling economy and a worsening political situation,” says a prominent analyst.
“Yemen is a broken country and no one – not the US, Saudi Arabia or any of the varied Yemeni factions – has the strength to put it back together again,” writes Princeton University’s Gregory D Johnsen:
Outsiders like the US are more concerned with fighting Al Qaeda than with rebuilding, and the Saudis have always worked to keep Yemen divided and dysfunctional. None of the Yemeni power groups have enough strength to impose their will upon anyone else, but most of them have enough guns and men to act as a spoiler.
Nobel peace laureate Tawakkul Karman (right) also recently described Yemen’s transition as “on the brink of collapse.”
“This dialogue will fail if this matter is not sorted out; restructuring the military and security forces comes first, then comes the national dialogue,” she said, warning of a possible return to street protests.
But Yemen’s vice president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi said the conference, which should kick-start a process to draft a new constitution and electoral law for polls in 2014, was a “strategic and historic opportunity… to achieve a civic and modern state.”
The problem today is the same as a year ago, writes Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia:
….the deal that brought Mr Hadi to power was less a solution than a mechanism to buy time. None of the key issues were addressed and, more importantly, none of the country’s various armed factions were dealt with. Everything was pushed off to the future in the blind and desperate hope that a national dialogue would arrest the country’s disintegration. That has not happened.
“Few in Yemen seem to think the National Dialogue will work or bring about any sort of a lasting political settlement,” he concludes.
Even if all of Yemen’s factions agree to participate, “there are long-standing and near-intractable grievances that are unlikely to be resolved quickly,” says Johnsen.
“What happens if national dialogue doesn’t work is a question that is ignored as inconvenient.”
Tawakkul Karman founded Women Journalists Without Chains, a Sana’a-based NGO, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.
Further updates on Yemeni affairs are available through the Center for International Private Enterprise’s invaluable Yemen Digest. CIPE is one of the NED’s core institutes.