“Yemen’s transition to democracy has hit a snag,” says analyst Hashem Ahelbarra
The country’s main factions are embroiled in a bitter power struggle. Emboldened by President Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, allies of Yemen’s former leader Ali Abdallah Saleh have sensed an opportunity to stage a comeback.
Saleh still retains huge power. The vast patronage system he built over three decades has tentacles everywhere. Many tribal leaders, bureaucrats, army officers and businessmen are still loyal to Saleh. If he is reinstated, they stand to profit a lot.
On the other hand, the Islamists, who now comprise the bulk of the governing coalition and seen as the real king-makers, are becoming nervous. They interpret the clampdown on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a campaign financed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE with the backing of Western powers to check the rise of Islamist parties in the Arab world.
It is time to temper expectations of the National Dialogue because “Yemen today is more divided and further from a consensus than it was six months ago,” says Yemeni analyst Fatima Abo Alasrar:
Fundamentally, the process needs to shift toward making the government of Yemen work for the people through providing much needed basic services while working on the constitutional process. More attention has to be given to the polarizing politics of the North-South divide. The first step is acknowledging that this divide exists; otherwise Yemen will find itself conceding political space to extremists of every stripe who appear to be more in tune with the frustrated society.
Qatar did not content itself with switching allegiances from the Houthis to the Muslim Brotherhood inside Yemen. It even proved through its mediation efforts to free a Swiss female kidnapped by al-Qaeda in February 2012 — without even informing or coordinating with Yemeni authorities — that its influence in Yemen had become astronomical.
With the next Friends of Yemen meeting scheduled for September 25, what should international donors and partners consider in the post-National Dialogue phase of Yemen’s transition? Donor governments are pursuing long-term development goals to support political and economic reform, and prevent future state failure. However, donors have prioritized stability and security, inevitably resulting in a short-sighted focus on ‘quick wins,’ which may not necessarily advance a development agenda.
Peter Salisbury will present key findings from a new Chatham House report, “Yemen: Corruption, Capital Flight and Global Drivers of Conflict” followed by a discussion on developing effective policy and assistance strategies, and important considerations for Yemen’s international partners. How can international partners consider a political economy analysis when developing aid programs? How can donors incorporate proposed governance reforms while considering elite competition and incentives? How does the international community contribute or impede broader access to decision-making? Please join us for this discussion as we explore these and other issues.
Peter Salisbury is a freelance journalist and analyst, consulting for the Yemen Forum with Chatham House since 2011. He is the former energy editor of the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED). His writing has appeared in the Economist, the Financial Times, and Foreign Policy, and he has worked as an analyst and researcher for the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Bank. Chris Jennings is the senior democracy and governance specialist for USAID’s Office of Iraq and Arabian Peninsula Affairs and has worked directly on US assistance to Yemen to support the political transition and the national dialogue process. Fatima al-Asrar is an independent policy analyst with more than a decade of experience in international development and governance. Previously, she served as economic and congressional attaché at the Embassy of Yemen in Washington, DC from 2006 to 2012, and worked for the Department for International Development (DFID) in Yemen.
The Hariri Center and the Project on Middle East Democracy launched the Yemen Policy Initiative in the spring of 2012 to provide a platform for debate and dialogue on Yemen. The initiative calls on the US government to reevaluate US policy in Yemen and to prioritize long-term investments in political, economic, and human development in order to promote stability in Yemen and protect US security interests.
Thursday, September 12
Yemen’s Political Economy: Avoiding a Governance Crisis
A presentation by Peter Salisbury, Consultant, Chatham House
With commentary by Fatima al Asrar, Independent policy analyst;
Chris Jennings, Senior Democracy and Governance Specialist, Office of Iraq and Arabian Peninsula Affairs, US Agency for International Development (USAID)
Moderated by Danya Greenfield, Deputy Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council
DATE: Thursday, September 12, 2013 TIME: 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
A light lunch will be served at 12:00 p.m., the event will begin at 12:30 p.m.
LOCATION: Atlantic Council, 1030 15th St, NW, 12th Floor, Washington, DC 20005 (please note new address)