Before the start of the comprehensive National Dialogue Conference in Yemen, some members of the technical committee insisted on beginning with measures to build confidence in the South and normalize the situation in Saada. These measures would provide a means to carry out the GCC agreement, from which the idea to hold the Mövenpick sessions emerged. This was done with the aim of building a modern state or, as some call it, a “New Yemen.” This particular name was chosen despite it being the same name promoted by Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his advisers in the 2006 elections and that failed to live up to expectations. However, the original New Yemen initiative did serve as a catalyst for young people to pour out into public squares and demand his departure, which landed his advisers in the opposition camp.
The conference ended with most participants in support of the final document. They said they were pleased with it, and a vote showed the vast majority was indeed in favor of the final outcome. The focus later shifted to the Regions Committee, which was expected to effectively nullify the portion of the final document related to the South. The Houthis, a Zaydi insurgent group, care little about the decrees of committee members and of UN envoy Jamal Benomar; they impose their plans as they wish despite their loud protest of the Committee’s final decisions. This represents continuity with the Houthis’ style, in which they appear to cooperate with other groups while still solidifying their position in the capital. It is strange that Benomar did not dare talk about the near-daily battles on the outskirts of the capital, nor did he mention them in any of his numerous statements to belligerents, or consider it an obstacle to implementing the Gulf Initiative or the Security Council resolutions. He continued to insist on discussing his personal rivalry with a number of politicians belonging to the General People’s Congress, and he curiously insisted on imposing sanctions on some of its leaders.
Less than two weeks after its formation, the Committee reached a decision to divide the country. This sparked confusion among party representatives, most notably those hailing from the Socialist Party and the Southern movement Al-Hirak, even though the Socialist Party representative had signed the document. The Socialist Party quickly announced that they rejected the outcome, and the representative provided an unconvincing explanation for his withdrawal. He said he had made his reservations known, expressing his satisfaction that the other parties had understood his reticence. He added that his party would not stop cooperating with the agreement and would seek to implement it. This is an example of what political parties become when individuals act on their own, miring their parties in situations inconsistent with the wishes of the membership and stated party policies. The second party, Al-Hirak, has been subverted and its representatives replaced.
Now the issue lies in convincing Southerners of the Regional Committee to allow the map to be redrawn to match how it was when the British departed in November 1976.
In their current forms, the regions are not viable. Some lack a people, some have no economic resources (including the capital, Sana’a, which will remain autonomous), and nearly one third of the population of Yemen lives in one of the regions, a fourth boasts all the nation’s wealth, and a fifth, Aden, is nothing but a port. Is it even possible to have conducted studies regarding the efficient design of the regions in the time it took the committee to craft them? What are the economics of these regions and what are the sources of their viability?
The delineation of the regions first surfaced in a memorandum of agreement during the war-torn summer of 1994. Instead of beginning to mend the destructive psychological and physical effects of war, the ruling party in Sana’a and its new Southern allies (at the time) aimed to settle old scores and marginalize the defeated. It is unacceptable to impose outcomes that clearly do not enjoy majority approval in the South; this is no secret. However, those handling Sana’a’s power and money continue to exercise their paternalism over everyone and impose coercive solutions.
I am of the conviction that we must not live deluded by high-minded rhetoric. The former president relied on such rhetoric for many years, and confessed as much to everyone close to him during his rule. However, the inevitable end lies ahead: As the saying goes, “By others’ faults, wise men learn.” It is true that it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to reach a consensus on the crucial issues; they must be analyzed objectively and the discussion must encompass the basics. In my opinion, none of this has been achieved, because those who proposed and agreed and signed the agreements represented only a tiny portion of stakeholders. They worked with the mentality of a government employee that fears losing his job. The Houthis, however, are the strongest, most organized and most influential group, and they refused to sign. They truly represented those not present. The socialist representative signed with a trembling hand, imagining himself the leader of a party whose members would not win any seats during the upcoming elections. I spoke with one person among those passionate about the regions document, and he said to me, “Forms were distributed to the public as a means for them to express their desires, and the vote was carried out by a show of hands.” I cannot imagine that dividing the nation using feedback from forms and a show of hands is the means by which the people of Yemen will achieve victory in both the South and the North.
Dividing the South is a mistake that will not contribute to emotional or psychological stability, not to mention economic stability, given the prohibitive financial cost of creating regions in geographic areas lacking sources of economic or administrative development. It would have been useful if the Regions Committee explained why and how this issue was resolved with blazing speed—it resembled the division of a man’s inheritance where his friends divide up his belongings before the rightful heirs take note. It would also have been useful if the standards the decision was based on were announced, which could have potentially reduced the stridency of the opposition of those involved.
With time, Sana’a will lose all that remains of its ability to control what happens outside its geographical boundaries, which will provide an opportunity for armed groups to take root. Terrorist organizations that have capitalized off of Yemen’s tumultuous past and spread throughout Yemen will again be the prime beneficiary of this lack of authoritative control. The South will be split in a way that threatens stability. Moreover, the statutes on the North the Committee hastened to pass will further deepen sectarianism and place control squarely in the hands of those with power. International resolutions will be useless and incapable of holding officials accountable.
Many say that I am not optimistic, and this is true. The issue will not be resolved by simply wishing things were better and failing to face the reality on the ground.