The political arena in Yemen has been getting more and more uncertain in the run up to the month-long final session of the National Dialogue Conference, which finally began on Sunday. The session will supposedly discuss reports drawn up by nine teams. There is no harm in saying that all of these reports that will be read—following six months of preparation and high financial rewards given to those who participated in this supposedly voluntary task—will not be of any use unless the issue of the South is resolved.
Before the Mövenpick Hotel sessions started, Southern participants demanded that a list of 20 points (to which 11 have since been added) be established in an attempt to appease the Southerners and bring down growing levels of anger among them. Many promises were made, but to no avail. I can neither find an explanation for this passive attitude that led to a crisis nor the silence of those who supposedly have influence. Procrastination spurred some participants to step up their demands in a manner that made it difficult for them to back down later, especially since the public has taken them to heart. It is not enough to talk through the media about referring the issues needing resolution to parties that are incapable of resolving them.
Many have fervently requested that power be taken away from committees that are known to sap people’s will, however well-intentioned these committees were. It has been frequently discussed, both in public and behind closed doors, how important it is for achievements to be quick. However, none of this has happened. Public anger grew, accompanied by high levels of frustration. For example, the government has failed to finish even one electricity project in the Southern cities, which have suffered from heat for years. Promises continued to be made to resolve the issue, but in the end all we can see is an electricity issue that only needs a few weeks to be resolved remaining unresolved for two years. This is one simple example of how slow and heedless to human suffering officials are, provoking public resentment.
One of the groups in the South issued a statement on Wednesday expressing indignation over the failure to achieve any of their points. The statement demanded that the dialogue be transformed into negotiations to be held between the North and the South outside Yemen. The statement also pointed to the government’s procrastination in issuing an official apology for the catastrophic war in summer of 1994, in which the victorious imposed a system of governance that did not comply with the concept of equality among citizens. Moreover, the statement claimed that the government dismissed calls and appeals to address the problems that resulted from that tragedy whose cost both North and South Yemen still bear.
What is needed is serious work outside the lobbies of the Mövenpick Hotel. Politicians have to focus on the solutions that are satisfying to the Southerners. A great deal of effort should be made to adopt the alternatives chosen by the Southerners.
Decision makers in Sana’a have opposed talk of establishing a federal state. They also continued to resist demands that the government ease its control over the people. Since most of those who opposed the establishment of a federal state are currently the country’s decision-makers, it would be unreasonable to expect them to yield to such demands except in an attempt to outbid each other.
It may escape some people that the reality in the South has changed, and that the general mood there is leaning towards separation, or what some Southern leaders call “restoring the state.” Therefore, the available solutions must not be linked to wishes, sentimental feelings and old slogans, and those who actually have the keys to the solution must realize that no one can think that it is possible to resort to force or to silence people in order to achieve their aims. It is wise to think carefully and work on what is possible, not what is wished for.
Under circumstances that can be described as “uncomfortable,” may people think that ready-made solutions from outside sponsors will be passed, no matter what, through the lobbies of the Mövenpick. They forget that any outside solution needs internal tools to make it happen on the ground, because solutions that are not accepted by people are not considered to be achievements—except in the eyes of the media. It is important not to repeat the approach used by advisers for many decades by referring all state issues to one party, and to talk only in a way suited to this party’s vision. It is also important for advisers to be brave by providing advice, and not avoid responsibility just to stay safe and enjoy the comfort of being close to the people at the top.
Deliberately ignoring reality by persisting with old promises and covenants, shouting through the media, taking troubles lightly, and issuing statements that no longer fool people is a repeat of the past. But it is worse; it is an open invitation to the owners of small projects in the South, and in the North, to depend on their own power and not communication, dialogue and negotiations.
They must abandon the illusion that the Mövenpick talks will shape Yemen’s future. Most Yemenis have grown tired of the repeated scenes, the nice words, and the false achievements and statistics. They no longer trust what is taking place there. This is where the role of those who really are in charge comes in, where they abandon the burdens of the past and its consequences and realize that the threats Yemen is facing cannot be taken lightly and cannot be faced by weakness and cowardice, which will pave the way for more terrorists to appear in every corner of Yemen.
Yemen is in a race against time, and what is happening does not give reason for optimism. Every delay in implementing the 31 points will impose a reality that will be difficult to change. We can see signs of this in the shift among forces in Yemen that used to be seen as moderate to extremism and to the ranks of those demanding total separation. It is strange that many of those who caused problems and consternation in the South now lead the ranks of those who call for quick solutions to the problems they created, absolving themselves of any blame and pretending to be innocent.