POMED Notes: “Yemen’s National Dialogue: Prospects for Success”
On Thursday, February 14, the Middle East Institute hosted an event entitled “Yemen’s National Dialogue: Prospects for Success,” where Charles P. Schmitz, a Professor of Geography at Towson University, spoke on the conditions surrounding Yemen’s upcoming National Dialogue Conference (NDC). Professor Schmitz began by sketching out the series of events leading up to the NDC—which is scheduled to commence March 18—and touching on the Yemeni revolution’s successes and failures to this point. These successes included the peaceful handover of power from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to current president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, as well as Hadi’s reshuffling of the Yemeni military and successful counterterrorism coordination with the United States. Its failures include the government’s inability to protect Yemen’s oil pipelines, which are routinely attacked by militants; regular failures in parts of the country’s electrical grid; and the lack of a widely accepted system of transitional justice, particularly with regards to the immunity granted to former President Saleh by the GCC-brokered transition plan.
For full event notes continue reading, or click here for the PDF.
Professor Schmitz went on to discuss the details of the upcoming NDC. He noted that the Southern Movement (or Hirak) and the northern Houthis have both agreed to attend, but that the southern issue is still poised to represent the greatest challenge to the NDC. The Hirak has yet to actually submit their list of participants, and, still more worrying, southern politicians have been increasingly moving toward a secessionist stance. In view of this trend toward secessionism, Professor Schmitz remarked that he has “difficulty believing there’s going to be a settlement in the South any time soon.”
Professor Schmitz further discussed the international dimension of Yemen’s transition, focusing on the respective roles of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran, he explained, is presently attempting to exert influence in Yemen by supporting various actors, including the Houthis and Ali Salim al-Beidh, a prominent southern secessionist, but that its influence remains decidedly limited; indeed, he argued that Yemeni actors are using Iran to gain influence more than the reverse. Meanwhile, he proposed that Saudi Arabia is “by far the most influential” foreign actor in Yemen, suggesting that the Kingdom is prepared to back any group in Yemen that it believes will help further Saudi interests.
In response to a question regarding President Hadi’s popular mandate and ability to guide Yemen through its transition, Professor Schmitz reflected that President Hadi has very limited domestic constituency, and also lacks a certain degree of political savvy—indeed, at an event last fall at the Wilson Center the Yemeni president “looked like a befuddled old grandfather.” Professor Schmitz suggested, however, that these qualities may ultimately serve Hadi well; Yemenis are distrustful of political elites with strong tribal backing and clear tribal agendas. The fact that Hadi is not perceived as having such an agenda, coupled with his strong support from the international community, puts him in a position where he may be able to succeed.