The transitional president of Yemen, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, is working to bring together the variouos factions in Yemen for the Conference of National Dialogue starting in mid-November 2012. The dialogue, expected to last six months, is intended to address the range of issues relating to the transition to a "civil state". The dialog is supposed to include drafting a new constitution for the country, and to prepare the way for Presidential and Parliamentary elections in February 2014. If the dialog fails, civil war is a probable outcome.
Yemen in the 21st Century reflected the takeover in the 1970s of the Yemeni state by northern Zaydi tribesmen through their acquiring a dominant presence in the military officer corps. The historical tension in both the pre-modern and modern Yemeni states was between state power, representing urban and non-tribal populations derived from the Shafa'i (Sunni) peasantry who lived in the fertile lands of lower Yemen, and northern tribesmen who heralded from the harsh and barren lands of upper Yemen. Upper Yemen could not support significant settled agriculture, so northern tribes from that area supplemented their income through livestock herding, trade, and most importantly, raiding the more prosperous communities of lower Yemen. The state never enjoyed full control over the tribes, but did established a delicate balance of power vis-a-vis the major tribes based on the sharing of economic and political benefits of power.
In the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), all political parties were amalgamated into the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), which became the only legal party. In the aftermath of the 1994 civil war, YSP leaders within Yemen reorganized the party and elected a new politburo in July 1994. However, the party remained disheartened and without its former influence. In 1994, amendments to the unity constitution eliminated the presidential council. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was elected by Parliament on 1 October 1994 to a 5-year term. In April 1997, Yemen held its second multi-party parliamentary elections. The country held its first direct presidential elections in September 1999, electing President Ali Abdullah Saleh to a 5-year term in what were generally considered free and fair elections.
Constitutional amendments adopted in the summer of 2000 extended the presidential term by 2 years, creating a 7-year presidential term. The constitution provided that henceforth the President would be elected by popular vote from at least 2 candidates selected by the legislature. The amendments also extended the parliamentary term of office to a 6-year term, with the next elections occurring in 2009. On 20 February 2001, a new constitutional amendment created a bicameral legislature consisting of a Shura Council (111 seats; members appointed by the president) and a House of Representatives (301 seats; members elected by popular vote). In April 2003, the third multi-party parliamentary elections were held with improvements in voter registration for both men and women and in a generally free and fair atmosphere. Two women were elected. In September 2006, citizens re-elected President Saleh to a second term in a generally open and competitive election, although there were multiple problems with the voting process and use of state resources on behalf of the ruling party.
The General People's Congress (al-Mu'tamar; GPC) was generally similar to other party machines, from Mayor Daley's Democratic Party in Chicago to the contemporary National Democratic Party in Egypt. That was to say that the GPC had no real ideology to speak of, and its raison d'etre was to distribute patronage to any local leader wishing to participate in the system. The GPC could set up employment for clients of local patrons, it could arrange for projects to be built in the parliamentary districts of its members, and given the absence of disclosure laws, it could distribute funds as it deemed necessary. The boundary separating the state's finances from the GPC's was not clear. While the state awarded bloc grants to parties based on their number of seats in Parliament (so the GPC generally got 80 percent of this money), it was widely believed that such open distributions to the GPC made up only a small fraction of state monies that would find their way into the GPC coffers.
Political parties were also not allowed to have permanent symbols posted in public. However, one frequently saw the GPC's rearing horse symbol on buildings, including right next to ministries and other government buildings. Political parties were similarly supposed to have equal access to state media during campaign periods. The advantage of incumbency was that the state's media monopoly ensured continuous coverage of the head of state, often the incumbent presidential candiate as well (this was the case with President Saleh). Again, in established democracies, the incumbent leader also received considerable (some would argue disproportionate) media attention because he is head of state and/or government.
Yemen's elected Parliament prior to 2011 was largely impotent. This was due in large part to (1) GPC political domination (the party controled almost 80 percent of the seats and most leadership positions); (2) the sociopolitical profile of a majority of MPs (many with low, or very low, levels of education and even functional illiteracy, and many with military and security backgrounds); and (3) various constitutional and legal constraints on parliamentary roles and responsibilities; because of the GPC's internal diversity; the presence of some opposition MPs; and the fact that many MPs have their own individual, tribal and regional interests and agendas, Yemen's Parliament possesses a certain political fluidity and occasionally a dynamism which MPs can exploit.
Parliamentary elections were due in April 2009, but following a dispute between the main parties were postponed until 2011. Yemen's first direct Presidential election (September 1999) was won comfortably by President Saleh. A referendum held in 2001 extended the presidential term from 5 years to 7 years. The next Presidential elections were subsequently scheduled for September 2013.
Popular protests across the Arab world spread to Yemen, where thousands of demonstrators turned out across the capital, Sana'a, on 27 January 2011. The crowds called for the ouster of President Ali Abdallah Salih, who had been in office for decades, and for economic reform. The Yemen Post newspaper reported that many opposition demonstrators carried banners condemning poverty, calling for new elections and demanding change. It added that pro-government rallies also took place in other cities.
Yemen's interior minister, Mutahir al-Masri, indicated that security forces had been told to protect the demonstrators and that no violence had been reported. He said that up to 1,200 people turned out to demonstrate at one location, while 3,000 to 5,000 others turned out in another. He added that Yemeni security forces were doing their utmost to protect the demonstrators, who were expressing the will of the people.
A protest organizer in Sana'a criticized President Salih for enriching himself and not working in the interest of the nation. He said that President Salih had not respected agreements that his party has signed and that he worried only about his personal interests and treats most people in Yemen like "slaves."
Hundreds of pro- and anti-government protesters gathered 3 February 2011 in different parts Yemen's capital, Sana'a, on what opposition supporters called a "day of rage." The rallies came a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Yemen's parliament he would not try to extend his presidency when his current term ran out in 2013, and that his son would not seek to be his successor. Mr. Saleh, who had ruled for 32 years, also called for a halt to all planned demonstrations. The Yemeni opposition said it welcomed his announcement, but said it would continue a string of rallies activists have said were inspired by demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt. The opposition had not demanded Mr. Saleh's ouster thus far, but had asked for reforms and a smooth transition of power through elections.
Government loyalists clashed with protesters in Yemen on 17 February 2011, as demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh broke out for a seventh day. Witnesses said the anti-government protesters had gathered at Sana'a University in the capital and clashed with loyalists armed with batons and daggers. One person was killed on 16 February 2011 during a clash between demonstrators and police in the southern city of Aden. Protesters calling for President Saleh's resignation also maintained a vigil in a central square in the southwestern city of Taiz. Some demonstrators put up makeshift tents in the square, mirroring actions taken during recent anti-government protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
After a month of protests across Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh pledged March 09, 2011 to draft a new constitution, which he says will be voted on by the nation before the end of the year. An opposition spokesperson says the move is too little, too late. In May 2011, the violence escalated to a new level, with government troops clashing with tribal opposition. In June 2011, President Saleh was badly injured in an attack on the presidential mosque in his compound in the capital Sana'a. The country's Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament were injured and at least three guards were killed. Elements of the Army reportedly defected to the opposition and the violence took on the character of a civil conflict. After months of conflict reports about President Saleh's intention to follow a plan sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council, he finally agreed to resign from the presidency on 23 November 2011.
Violence continued, in part because the crisis had reinvigorated various factions, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In December 2011, however, a new parliament was sworn in and in February 2012, a presidential election was held with only one candidate on the ballot, former Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was sworn in on 25 February 2012 and on 27 February 2012 former President Saleh officially resigned from his post. Unlike Egypt, Yemen’s military lacked the capability and legitimacy to act as a viable transitional power. The Yemeni political and social landscape is teeming with tribal leaders and Islamist groups that had the arms and the power to turn the situation into an all-out civil war.
President Hadi continued to face protests and violence. Protesters demanded that President Hadi work to remove Saleh family and loyalists from positions or power, and there was anger over the immunity granted to Saleh by the new parlaiment as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council deal. President Hadi's new government did remove some Saleh family and loyalists in early 2012 from positions of leadership in the military. In addition, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its new affiliate, Ansar Al-Sharia, continued to attempt to unseat the established government, taking advantage of the continued instability in the country.
In Yemen, like in many Arab Spring countries, the revolution’s center of gravity shifted from the popular revolts in Sana'a’s Change Square to quiet boardrooms across the capital, where nominally-elected political elites are guiding the beleaguered country through the democratic reform process. However, in contrast to other revolutionary struggles around the Middle East and North Africa, Yemen's political transition is being driven by an experimental regional and international effort to stabilize the geopolitically sensitive hotspot in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudi-brokered, U.S. and UN-backed Gulf country initiative has achieved progress toward its stated goals of restructuring the military and government in preparation for multiparty elections in early 2014.
The law mandates that political parties be national organizations that cannot restrict their membership to a particular region, tribe, religious sect, class, or profession. During 2012, the implementation of the 50-50 power sharing agreement outlined in the GCC initiative allowed a range of political parties to organize and operate without undue limitation. Although instances of harassment of political party members were reported in the media, parties for the most part operated without restriction or outside interference. The constitution prohibits the establishment of parties that are contrary to Islam, “oppose the goals of the country’s revolutions,” or violate the country’s international commitments.
Although the the General People’s Congress Party, or GPC, had been the dominant party since unification in 1990, the power sharing agreement and ascendency of the Islah Party, the major “opposition” party in the JMP, began to erode the GPC’s influence. New political parties formed in the wake of the 2011 uprising, some apparently testing the constitutional prohibition against sectarian parties. The Rashad Party, representing Salafi conservative Islamists was formed and officially recognized in March. The Umma Party, representing moderate Zaydi Shias, also was recognized during the year. In addition the Watan Party, Liberal Party, and Arab Spring Party also were formed and recognized during the year, representing various youth and women’s groups seeking a voice in the political process.
Tribalism distorted political participation in previous years and still had an impact, influencing the composition of parliament and various ministries within the central government. Observers noted that elections and positions in government ministries sometimes were based on tribal affiliation. Patriarchal systems dominated in tribal areas, providing some tribal leaders with the reported ability to influence other tribal members’ votes.
The so-called “southern question” is considered by many to be the greatest challenge. In only five years, the Southern Movement or Hirak, based out of the southern port city of Aden, has transformed itself from a simple alliance of disgruntled workers from the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) into a formidable, although divided, political bloc whose more radical elements are calling for nothing short of secession from the “northern” government in Sanaa. Internal divisions among southerners in general has been a sensitive topic for both the committee and the Yemeni population at large.
Another major obstacle to the plan for a unified Yemen lies north of the capital in Saada governorate, which borders Saudi Arabia. There, a Zaidi Shi’ite movement, known as Al-Huthi, has been beating back government forces for control of the territory for most of the past decade. Last year’s anti-government revolts created an opening for the rebels not only to solidify their stronghold in Saada but to expand southward into the capital. President Hadi has routinely accused the Huthis of accepting Iranian support aimed at destabilizing the transition process. And the group continues to lambast what it perceives to be American and Saudi meddling in Yemeni affairs. Its caustic slogan, “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse Upon the Jews, Victory to Islam,” has flooded Sana'a.
President Hadi, for his part, has insisted that he will relinquish his post in February 2014, in an apparent gesture to his domestic audience and the international community that the days of power grabs in Yemen have given way to the rule of law. President Hadi has made commitments to respond to citizens’ grievances. For example, in January 2013, he established two committees to address land disputes and resolve cases of early dismissal or retirement of civil, security, and military personnel in the southern provinces, where grievances have persisted since the civil war in 1994.
Yemen continues to be plagued by frequent kidnappings, which have traditionally been used as a means for tribes to pressure the government to accede to their demands for resources or improved services. A government crackdown in recent years has reduced the number of kidnappings however. Investment projects outside the capital often succeed or fail solely based on the strength of relations with the surrounding tribes. Tribes frequently hijack vehicles belonging to foreign companies in order to pressure the central government to provide additional social services in the area. Attacks on oil pipelines are common in Yemen. These types of attacks occur most frequently in oil exploration and production areas, including, but not limited to, the outlying governorates of Marib and Shabwah. Tribes in these regions claim they are not getting their fair share of economic activity in their areas, and investors should be very sensitive to their need to build strong and lasting community relations. The provision of community-based services, such as healthcare and education, can contribute to protecting investments in isolated areas.
In addition to AQAP, other destabilizing elements are active in Yemen. For example, the Houthi tribe based in northern Yemen is another security challenge. Similarly, in January 2013, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen stated that Iran was destabilizing the region by assisting secessionists in southern Yemen. As of November 2012, the US State Department described the threat level in Yemen as “extremely high” due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. As indicators of the continuing tenuous security environment in Yemen, State noted the mob attack on the U.S. embassy compound in September 2012, the murders of several U.S. citizens in 2012, a growing trend in violent crime, and continuing piracy near Yemen’s shores.
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