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Opinion: An agreement born in the shadows | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Yemen’s President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi speaks during the opening session of the second national dialogue conference in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a on June 8, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED HUWAIS)

The news that has preoccupied Yemeni public opinion in the past few days is that signatories to the Gulf Initiative for Yemen and its executive mechanisms have almost reached an agreement whereby Yemen could become a federal state with a presidential system.

This was accomplished secretly in a feverish race against time, to reach a way out of an impasse in the talks. Unfortunately, some politicians have pushed Yemen into this impasse to benefit their own parties. Those politicians tended to forget the risks that accompany such selfishness and blackmail, and became a source of mockery and sarcasm among the public.

Furthermore, the parties, whose primary demand from the previous regime was to establish a parliamentary system where power is not exclusively in the hands of the president, now have relinquished their demand and are championing the presidential system and are praising its merits and virtues. This itself is a proof of those politicians changeable attitudes, attitudes that change according to their calculations of their own interests. They lacked the ability or the desire to defend their positions, something that prompted them to maintain a veil of secrecy and silence for fear of being criticized.

Many of those who participated in the ongoing negotiations at Sana’a’s Movenpick hotel have disavowed the news leaked to different Yemeni newspapers and social networking websites that have served as indicators—though somewhat inaccurate ones—of observers’ opinions on the ongoing developments. There has almost been an unanimous agreement about the structural defect of those who attended the meetings, the way they were appointed and the manner the conference was run. A young activist wrote on Facebook that “Sessions of the dialogue conference may be concluded before the conference is even prepared. This should mean that the result will precede the premises, which proves that Yemeni politics rival quantum physics, something that defies human logic.”

The current impasse was a definitive product of improvisation, overriding ambition, aspirations that remained unfulfilled on the ground, irresponsible statements about unreal development rates of different factions, and deceptive attempts to further the interests of different politicians, regardless of public interest. This is all aimed at reaching solutions commensurate with the ambitions of those aspiring to increase their personal power and status, or cling on to what they already have. This is being carried out without regard for the consequences for the country as a whole.

Some have mastered the art of creating conditions commensurate with their personal desires, even if this contradicted the interests of the people and the country’s future. For them, their maximum ambition is to conclude deals and divide the promised spoils. However, whenever a calamity happens, they rely on international envoys and seek assistance of some Western ambassadors, and generally resort to the carrot and stick approach to deter whoever thinks of rebelling or objecting.

The obstacle of finding a fair solution satisfactory to the southerners is still facing everyone, a choice between separation and federation. The latter solution of federation was described by renowned journalist Sami Ghaleb as something that now has become like opium for some people.

The problem is that the parties negotiating at the conference did not dare to present a well-researched and rational proposal for a mechanism of dividing Yemen into two or more regions. In fact, the absence indicates the role of fear and backroom dealmaking, as a result of either pressure or threats. However, this all is happening despite endless talk about transparency, which shows that the patronage system political parties are trying to impose on citizens continues to be close to the hearts of the leaders of those parties.

Ambiguity, confusion, indecisiveness, and prolonged arguments have all driven the country to the impasse of either extension of the dialogue process or elections. A leaked draft charter handwritten by Dr. Abdul-Karim al-Iryani that sets out terms of the agreement between the parties signed up to the Gulf Initiative for Yemen—appended to the words “upholders of God”—has shown the fragility of agreements that are concluded in secrecy. It is extremely naïve to think that passing such agreements could be an attractive approach for the southerners on the ground by winning over those who participated in the ongoing negotiations.

Those politicians, however, prompted a prominent participant to disappear from the conference and attach conditions to his return. Here, some claim that foreign pressures were imposed on him in order persuade him to return from a European capital to resume work, something that will definitely cause him to lose the stature and credibility he had begun to enjoy.

The conference is scheduled to end around the middle of this month, followed by the drafting of the constitution, and then a referendum before parliamentary and presidential elections. However, the desire to hastily bury the past has disturbed the situation, giving preference to the work of different teams discussing the problem of the south, regardless of what was happening on the ground. This led the already tense political process to become subject to further blackmail by all parties.

What some are trying to promote now by pushing the country towards elections in February 2014—in accordance with the Gulf Initiative for Yemen and its executive mechanisms, as if it was a holy book—would be tantamount to nation suicide, if it is carried out in the present climate of unrest and economic recession. The situation will be no better than in other countries where the consequences of equally reckless changes are obvious. It would be a real shame if we held the elections in such a gloomy climate, in which everyone in the south is resentful of everything decided by the officials in Sana’a. This is because the south’s continued objection to participation in the ongoing political process is akin to a referendum in itself. It would be exceedingly dangerous to actually put it to a vote.

The rush to elections without a convincing settlement is step into the unknown and dangerous territory, in which no one in Yemen would be safe, even if a few politicians thought that an envoy or an ambassador would bring them a magical solution.

The hardships that everyone was conscious of could have been overcome. Yet the shine of deceitful power has pushed things onto a path full of obstacles that has further intensified the state of frustration. This was not ended by the transition process began in February 2012, reliance on money as a means of muzzling and winning over people has failed in the past and will fail again in the future. In spite of the attempts made by some Western ambassadors, their attempts will be unproductive. This is because those people will not give priority to Yemen’s interests over their own countries’, for they seek to establish their countries’ goals and policies even at the expense of our states. The example of Ambassador Bremer in Iraq is particularly illuminating in this regard.