POMED Notes: “Yemen’s Ongoing National Dialogue: Moving Forward”
The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) hosted a discussion titled “Yemen’s Ongoing National Dialogue: Moving Forward” with Amat al-Alim Alsoswa, Former Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States, United Nations Development Program, Stephen McInerney, Executive Director, POMED, and Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Regional Director, Africa and Middle East, CIPE.
For full event notes continue reading, or click here for the PDF.
Amat al-Alim Alsoswa began the discussion by acknowledging the economic reality in Yemen, pointing out that Yemen is the poorest country in the region, has the highest unemployment, and has one of the highest population growth rates in the world. In moving forward with Yemen’s National Dialogue, Alsoswa said it was important to examine how the youth were participating and to see how they were represented in the Dialogue. Since they were the ones behind the initial revolution, their presence in the Dialogue will signal weather the decisions match popular opinion. Alsoswa sees the biggest challenge facing the Dialogue as the question of whether the al-Harak movement will participate. She sees this as being far from a reality. Alsoswa also voiced her concerns about the Yemeni media, which she sees as “highly politicized.”
Alsoswa says the National Dialogue will “supposedly” discuss the major issues in Yemen, namely the establishment of a new political system, the structuring of that system, and the major political divisions within the country. She said she has met young Yemenis who are discussing the formation of a United States of Yemen, while others can’t imagine a political system different from the current system, a strongly dominant central government. In addition to discussing Yemen’s political structure, the Dialogue will have to think about forming a committee to draft a new constitution, which will ultimately shape the government and guarantee citizen’s rights. Alsoswa believes the success of the Dialogue will be difficult because not only will all of the issues have to be debated between the representatives, but significant positive changes will have to be made in Yemeni society for the public to accept any decisions made by the political leaders. Alsoswa said there were other political issues in Yemen outside of the Dialogue, specifically water shortages and the drug qat.
Remaining focused on the Dialogue, Alsoswa pointed out the complaints from groups like the General People’s Congress, who are not happy with the extent of their representation, and she stated that the overall representation in the Dialogue will not adequately represent the vast majorities of Yemenis. Alsoswa thinks the many political problems will certainly make the success of the dialogue difficult, but that “we owe a success” to the Yemeni youth who have “sacrificed their lives and the lives of their families” in an attempt to bring real change.
Alsoswa closed her remarks by again mentioning the economy. “It is clear that the question of the economy… is the maker or breaker of any settlement.” She pointed out increasing unemployment in Yemen’s youth, currently around 62%, and believes that the economy is a major threat for any peaceful political settlement.
Stephen McInerney followed Alsoswa, and was able to share experiences from his recent trip to Yemen. He started by saying Alsoswa’s remarks resonated very much with what he saw on the ground and that one of the most striking things from his visit was the mood of deep disappointment and frustration at, what many youth saw as, a failed revolution. He believes most people want the dialogue to succeed but there isn’t much confidence, when he pressed them on why they felt unconfident, it was usually not specific grievances but an overall feeling that the deep fundamental change they had been fighting for was lost.
McInerney found significant differences in the levels of optimism throughout the country. In Sana’a, he found more confidence in the National Dialogue and a more engaged youth, while in Ta’izz he heard repeatedly that the revolution had failed and had been hijacked by the traditional elites. “The different attitudes reflect the extreme difficulties in achieving progress and satisfying the diverse population in Yemen,” he said. McInerney also said it will be difficult to achieve the Dialogue’s goals in a way that will resonate with and satisfy people across the country.
McInerney also emphasized that while there will be difficulties, there were a number of things he found positive. He sees Yemen taking a different path than other Arab countries going through political transitions, and he sees Yemen avoiding a lot of these countries’ mistakes. Also, while he acknowledged the ambitious goals of the National Dialogue, he was impressed with the institution’s commitment to move forward through consensus, and believes this may help Yemen avoid problems facing other countries who rushed quickly to elections and new constitutions.
McInerney also made a point to agree with Alsoswa’s assessment of the media. He said there is a great frustration with the “highly politicized media” and a feeling that it will be extremely difficult to find a consensus when the media isn’t designed to inform but rather takes positions that exacerbate political divides.
He concluded his remarks by saying “real opportunities have been missed by failing to move forward sooner.” While recent programs have been created to examine southern grievances, if this progress had been made six months ago, the Dialogue would have much more popular support. He believes it is still very important for continued progress, but that more has to be done soon in order to set up a dialogue that is successful in the minds of all Yemenis.
Alsoswa was given an opportunity to respond to McInerney’s remarks and she only wanted to add that the restructuring of the security forces was extremely important for the country to develop, but that it would not be possible for Yemen to be responsible for its own security until the country tackles the economic issues. She reiterated the fact that Yemen was going through one of the most difficult economic hardships in its history.