POMED Notes: Yemen’s Transition, the Way Forward
Yemen’s President Abd Rabbo Mansur al-Hadi made a public appearance at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Friday, addressing an overflow audience two days after his much-publicized speech at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The title of Hadi’s remarks was “Yemen’s Transition: The Way Forward,” although the Yemeni president also offered a brief overview of the country’s recent history, major security accomplishments and challenges, and the threat from Iran, as well as the forthcoming national dialogue. Hadi’s upbeat assessment of the drones program in the Question and Answer session made national headlines the next day.
For full event notes, continue reading below, or click here for the PDF version.
Hadi opened his remarks by highlighting the strategic position Yemen occupies in the world, with a port on major shipping lanes and a terrorist group that threatens domestic and international stability. Hadi said that there is an “international necessity to help Yemen fight terror” because a failed state in Yemen “could be worse than Somalia.” Terrorism poses an economic, political and social threat, necessitating a comprehensive strategy to successfully repel. Focusing on the political situation, Hadi said that the first half of the two-part GCC transition plan—which calls for the formation of an interim coalition government followed by a national dialogue process to lay the groundwork for a new constitution and elections—has been a success. Hadi said his government is an inclusive, civil body that respects the rule of law. With help from the international community, Hadi was confident the national dialogue process will be implemented in the coming months.
Making his case for continued international support, Hadi painted a bleak picture of Yemen today. The recent fighting in Abyan Province left 150,000 internally displaced and destroyed dozens of schools, Hadi said. There are six million Yemenis between the ages of 16 and 28, including 600,000 college graduates who cannot find work, members of a discontented youth bulge that is fertile recruiting ground for terrorists, Hadi continued. Iran is seeking to destabilize the country by bribing opposition leaders, buying media outlets, threatening maritime holdings, and spreading “a climate of chaos and violence” among the Houthis in the North and the separatists in the South, as evidenced by the recent capture of five Iranian spies in Yemen. The president prescribed a two-pronged approach to battling the violent insurgency: a continuation of the anti-terrorism ground fight and a jobs program. The terrorists have been severely weakened by recent Yemeni offensives in Abyan and Shabwa provinces, and Hadi noted 95% of the population is “against a civil war.” However, Hadi concluded his remarks with a somber warning, predicting that if there is an all-out war in Yemen, it “would be worse than Afghanistan.”
In the Q&A session, Hadi was asked to address American aid priorities in Yemen, the drone strikes, female and Islamist representation in the transition, and immunity for President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hadi said that economic aid is 75 percent of the solution for Yemen, but he also thanked Saudi Arabia for their military assistance and noted the Yemeni Air Force is still severely underequipped to perform night operations. Saleh addressed the shadowy targeted killing program directly, offering an extensive defense of the drones, which have “zero margin of error, if you know exactly what you are aiming at.” Although Hadi did not explicitly endorse CIA-directed drone strikes, he did say that drone strikes in general are a valuable tool in the ongoing fight against Al Qaeda. “The American army cooperated with us on the ground…but Al Qaeda was eliminated [in Abyan and Shabwa] by the popular Yemen army” forces, Hadi said, which marked “the beginning of the end of Al Qaeda.” Hadi said that the GCC deal mandates 26 percent representation for women in the transition government, which proves Yemen is serious about including women. The GCC deal also promised immunity for President Saleh, a decision that Hadi said is binding. Finally, Hadi said that the Islamist Islah party was among the signatories on the GCC deal and deserves a seat at the governing table. “We tried the cold war approach” of fighting each other, Hadi said, and now we must establish an inclusive government from across the board.