Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Debate: Federalism could protect Yemen from anarchy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Yemeni man holds up the national flag during celebrations marking the third anniversary of the Yemeni revolution that toppled former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, at Sanaa University in the capital, on January 15, 2014. The Yemeni revolution came after the Tunisian Revolution and Egyptian Revolution of 2011. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED HUWAIS

Federalism is a promising idea. It could secure further international support for Yemen and simultaneously help put an end to foreign interference in the country. Despite the hardships that plagued the National Dialogue Conference’s efforts to rebuild and democratize Yemen, there are promising opportunities to overcome these challenges and build the foundations of a modern Yemeni state.

There are several things affecting the way Yemenis view the current crisis. The major political parties did not consent to dialogue out of some sort of nihilistic logic—though at times they did seem eager to come to blows. Rather, they recognized the cost of continued fighting and its inability to save Yemen, particularly since the current conflict is redolent of the many other futile conflicts that have beset the country since the 1960s.

The Southern issue was a major topic of the talks at the National Dialogue Conference, and in some ways it still is a key subject of discussion now the conference has ended and a federal system has been decided upon. For almost a year, this summit attempted to reach some kind of compromise with the demands of Southerners, many of whom wanted to secede from the unified Yemeni state altogether. However, the party of Ali Salim Al-Beidh refused to participate in a dialogue that would not agree to the secession of the South. This eventually created a rift in the Southern opposition.

To that end, the leadership of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi—who is also from the South—has sought to soothe southern discontent by putting forward a cohesive and decisive program to deal with this, including reintegrating large numbers of soldiers and civilians from the South who lost their jobs after the 1994 war. The national dialogue came to focus on the adoption of a federal system based on six regions, two in the South and four in the North. As an alternative to the unitary system that has failed to create the rule of law over the past few decades, the new system will afford Yemenis the opportunity to manage their local affairs for themselves.

There are additional problems confronting the rebuilding efforts in this country, particularly the tendency of some factions to look to the past for answers, as is evident in the rise of the Houthi movement, the continued popularity of certain elements of the old regime, and the resurgence of Southern separatist sentiment. But I expect this will not affect the reconstruction effort. The international community is keen to spare Yemen a new cycle of violence, and to actively contribute to President Hadi’s reforms. Going forward, success is contingent on stopping regional players from interfering in Yemen’s internal affairs, as well as shielding Yemen’s social, political and territorial integrity.

In this context, we must not lose sight of the massive challenge that terrorism represents to this nascent federal state. Al-Qaeda’s ferocity is increasing alongside our efforts to restructure national defense and security institutions. In response, we must reach an inclusive accord which yields positive results in snuffing out terrorism.

Many people are optimistic that we will overcome this crisis soon. Practical steps have been taken towards implementing the suggestions of the national dialogue, specifically the constitution-drafting process and the institutional reforms. This is very promising, despite the enormity of the challenges we face. We are running a marathon, but it is one we must win if we are to realize the aspirations of every Yemeni.

While it is easy to list all the difficulties facing this transition, we must focus on the few positives we have to be able to move forward. Among these is the engagement of regional and international supporters, including the Friends of Yemen. There is no other alternative than federalism to guarantee the continuation, and even perhaps the intensification, of this support.

The counterpoint to this article can be read here.