In the Aftermath of the Arab Spring: Yemen’s Search for Stability


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The transition government and the international community’s efforts to preserve Yemen’s unity and strengthen the legitimacy of its institutions and sovereignty were, to a great extent, channeled into the National Dialogue Conference. The conference, which met for the first time in March 2013 supported and encouraged by the Gulf states, the United States, the United Nations and the World Bank, consisted of 565 representatives from every political party and faction in Yemen.

Emphasis was given to the inclusion of young people, who were at the heart of the popular protests, as well as the inclusion of women and minorities. Conference participants received a wide mandate to deliberate the core issues such as the nature of the regime, civil rights, the structure of the security forces, and the formulation of a constitution, in order to fashion a new Yemen and neutralize the loci of conflict and instability through dialogue and consensus.

The beginning of the talks was accompanied by optimism, though it was not long before many of the protest leaders came to realize that the old elites were seizing control of the talks, many of which were held with notable lack of transparency. Over a ten-month period, the conference lost most of public support and trust, and many started questioning the legitimacy of its actions and decisions.

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The conference’s legitimacy was dealt a harsh blow when, four days before its end, the head of the Houthi delegation was assassinated. This was the second assassination of a member of the Houthi delegation, and it led to the group’s withdrawal from the conference and doubts as to the legitimacy of resolutions reached in the conference.

While the talks were plagued by many difficulties, it seems that the conference’s resolutions, made public on January 25, 2014, will affect Yemen’s stability and unity. The most critical decision refers to turning Yemen into a federal republic composed of several provinces with local parliaments and extensive autonomous authority. The federal regime will be headed by a president, and elections for national institutions will be held on the basis of relative representation for each of the provinces.

The number of provinces and their borders were determined by a sub-committee headed by the president. It decided that, pending ratification by referendum, Yemen will be divided into six provinces. The capital city of Sana’a will be autonomous and not belong to any of the six provinces, while the southern port city of Aden will be given special status as an economic city.

Other than the decision on establishing a federation, the National Dialogue Conference also appointed a committee to formulate a constitution. This committee shall work for three months after which it will present a new constitution for a national referendum. Should the constitution be approved, general elections to all national and provincial institutions will be held within one year.

Furthermore, President Hadi’s term in office was extended by one year to allow him to promote and oversee the implementation of the National Dialogue Conference’s recommendations. These reforms, seeking to generate stability, are receiving widespread international support as well as the support of large segments of the Yemeni political system and public. But the road to this elusive stability is still long, and significant challenges, both domestic and external, threaten to bring about further deterioration.

Written by: Sami Kronenfeld and Yoel Guzansky