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Opinion: What now for Yemen? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Yemeni artist paints a graffiti depicting men aiming firearms at themselves, in Sana’a on January 9, 2014. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Just over a month separates the Yemenis from the end of the transitional period set by the Gulf Initiative—February 21, 2014—and its protracted implementation mechanism.

It is clear that other political deals are being discussed and concluded by the main participants of the National Dialogue Conference, which is aiming to move to the second stage. That phase is the drafting of the new constitution, and concurrently an end to the deliberations of the 565 members of the national dialogue, who were allegedly representing different social groups and who divided themselves into the various working groups.

We recently witnessed regretful partisan activities, and we saw the low level to which some representatives have stooped. We have seen them change their stances and the tone of their speeches, with their voices rising and waning depending on the occasion. Many decision-makers wrongly believed that their stances would remain private, but the true natures of their positions have been uncovered, and it has become clear that the representatives of major countries had the power to make the final decisions.

The imperative—and indeed sole—objective became the ending of the hemorrhage of money, which has now reached into the millions of dollars. This money could have been spent on something more positive—something that could have benefitted the entire nation—had it not been for partisan greed and widespread self-interest. In focusing on all this, the national interest was forgotten.

We have witnessed six months of daily conference sessions, and the raised voices of those participants who were led to believe that they were drawing up plans for the future by those who had invited them to join. In reality, they were mere observers of a political process that had already been signed and sealed behind closed doors between the heirs of the previous era with the participation of UN envoy Jamal Benomar as a godfather and mastermind.

What happened in Yemen with the dialogue paints a revealing picture of the way the superpowers manage the fates of less powerful states and how they control events. Superpowers are not interested in the domestic repercussions of their actions or the impact on the people. Indeed, such concerns are likely the last thing to cross their minds, and they hold no moral sway over them. It is disgraceful that these powers do their work through local politicians who do not hesitate to contribute in exchange for promotions, both domestically and internationally.

It is hard to find a justification for what has happened over the last six months as we watch the current attempts to reach a broad deal to resolve the Southern Issue, which in turn would lead to another agreement on the final shape of the state. This has been discussed away from the Mövenpick Hotel where the national dialogue is being held. It is puzzling that the parties that opposed this same agreement just days ago have since changed their minds and signed it, while some newspapers appearing to speak on behalf of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi wrote of the existence of a previous agreement with the relevant parties.

But away from all the hype and the anxiety, the question remains: What happens after that agreement is signed?

There will doubtlessly be broad smiles on the faces of everyone at the announcement. The international community will express its pleasure at the achievement and the signing of the agreement. But equally certainly, a minority will express their concerns about the new agreement and how it will be implemented—or, to phrase it correctly, how it will be imposed on the ground.

Optimism about the resolution of national issues cannot be based merely on wishes and a reliance on external coercion; it should be founded on signs of real change and the realities on the ground, an attitude which would only serve to strengthen our chances. Pessimism should equally be based on past experiences; it must be substantiated. It is also true that the Yemeni people are despairing perhaps more than ever, and they are forced to look for the slightest glimmer of hope for a future less harsh and dark than their past and present. This is the feeling President Hadi has been trying to create for the past two years, despite all the obstacles.

A document was signed by some of the political forces agreeing solutions to the Southern Issue at the end of December, with the Yemeni Socialist Party and the Nasserites abstaining from the ceremony. According to sources quoting Hadi, it was not much different from the agreement reached before the start of the national dialogue between the presidency and the Socialist Party and the representatives of the Southern Mobility Movement.

However, developments on the ground in the South since the start of the dialogue have forced the Yemeni Socialist Party to change its position and propose a federal state with two regions—North and South—along the pre-May 22, 1990, borders. At the time, the Al-Islah Party and the Popular Congress Party reached a decision and were satisfied with preserving Yemeni unity according to their vision.

During this time, the situation became worse in the south due to the government’s failure to carry out its duty in implementing the issues which were recognized and known as the “21 Points.” The president formed a number of committees to implement some of the provisions although nothing happened on the ground.

The government’s failure to improve basic services in the South worsened, allowing more room to maneuver for those who supported the disengagement plan and the restoration of the state. The issues became confused because of they way the centers of power were preoccupied with enacting reform in ways that preserved and strengthened their own positions in the period after February 21, 2014. They failed to notice that this self-interest could create a backlash and cause the loss of all their recent personal gains.

At the same time, the new movements began to strengthen their positions on the ground by defeating their adversaries, as was the case in Saada. This could explain the participation of Ansar Allah—also known as the Houthis—in the ceremony where the statement of principles to resolve the Southern issue was signed, despite their previous announcements that they supported a return to the pre-uniification lines.

Although the Houthis’ decision to sign that statement of principles reflects a political opportunism that is easily explained if we acknowledge that signing the agreement has no bearing on the implementation of its principles on the ground and that force will instead be the deciding factor. Thus they imposed their control over areas they had gained by force and by weakening their adversaries.

The few remaining days of the transitional period will witness more foreign interference and more internal temptation, but the implementation on the dialogue’s outcomes on the ground will not be unaffected by that maneuvering. I can foresee a replication of the situation in South Sudan taking place in Yemen, and battles erupting between the partners in separation. The very people who worked on achieving independence for South Sudan anticipated such battles, but they deliberately ignored the fact that an environment that promotes conflicts cannot extinguish the flames of conflict through signing documents or holding celebrations and elections.

I foresee a bleak period for Yemen, and President Hadi should be more than capable of anticipating this and predicting its results himself. He must not repeat the mistakes of his predecessors by relying on the help of those whose positions change every time their masters do, and who make every effort to please others through vulgarity and hypocrisy. President Hadi is most aware that the future will be more difficult than the past. It will be a tough fight that will require bravery and courage.