November 15, 2012

Yemen's National Dialogue Delayed To Mid-December

After months of seesawing rumors pulled the status of Yemen's National Dialogue in opposite directions, two anonymous officials involved in the preparatory committee have informed Xinhua that November's conference is now postponed to December at the earliest. No reschedule has been set due to the uncertainty - or certainty, depending on who you ask in Yemen - surrounding the negotiations between Yemen's national government and representatives of the Southern Movement (Hirak).

“During meetings with UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Bin Omar in the Egyptian capital of Cairo last week, the southern leaders insisted to have an official recognition of the right of the people in the south to self-determination of independence as a precondition for the dialogue,” the officials are quoted as saying.

Other unresolved issues also threaten the dialogue's launch before it gets off the ground. Most parties in Yemen agree that the country's military must be restructured into a national institution before a national dialogue can be held, as the military will guarantee those decisions made at the conference. Yet the new government, led by former Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has left an incomplete mess to clean up during or after the dialogue. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh retains influence over his loyalists in the military and his Republican Guard, still commanded by his son Ahmed, remains a chronic threat to Yemen's stability. Many Yemenis believe that the Republican Guard should be eliminated completely.

For now both father and son operate under the immunity granted the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC), an arrangement facilitated by Washington and Riyadh. Yemen's revolutionaries naturally protest Saleh's immunity for obstructing a national dialogue and the continuation of their uprising. The chatter over Ahmed's presidential ambitions isn't calming nerves either. Multiple actors, including Saleh's own General People's Congress (GPC), have also called for a national debate on the drone program run by America and approved by Hadi,

Hadi and Washington presumably want to avoid a public forum - Saleh owes his immunity to insider knowledge of U.S. covert operations.

Separately, the oppositional Islah party utilized by foreign powers to maintain influence over Yemen's politics is causing problems for other actors. Nasser Alojaiby, co-founder of the Coordinating Council of Yemeni Revolution for Change (CCYRC), recently explained to The Trench how Islah moved to add new members to the dialogue's technical committee, and subsequently attempted to postpone the dialogue. Controlled by the wealthy al-Ahmar family, Islah has piggybacked on and outmaneuvered Yemen's unaffiliated protesters throughout their revolution, and enjoys the greatest mobilization of any oppositional party involved in the dialogue.

The northern Houthi sect claims to be open to participating, but their grievances with the national government stack so high that their presence may be counterproductive to national unity. Islah is accused of interfering with the Houthis and Southern Movement's political agendas.

Pushing these factors down its list of priorities, Yemen's national government has expended the majority of its energy trying to sort out its position with the Southern Movement. The first article of Yemen's draft constitution declares, “The Republic of Yemen is an Arab, Islamic and independent sovereign state whose integrity is inviolable, and no part of which may be ceded." A long-standing issue with die-hard supporters, the southern cause blocks national and international interests from advancing their interests in Yemen: Hadi desperately needs to hang onto half of the country, and the U.S. can't afford to lose authority over al-Qaeda's southern territory.

Xinhua reports, "Government officials said President Hadi has been exerting efforts to rally support from GCC leaders to press pro-independence southern leaders for participating into the planned national dialogue unconditionally and under the umbrella of the Yemeni unity."

Accordingly, Bin Omar and other diplomats working on behalf of Hadi are pushing hard for the Southern Movement's inclusion. Last week Ali Salim al-Beidh and Haidar al-Attas, South Yemen's former vice president and prime minister, announced that they would not participate in November's summit, viewing no progress on their end. Rather than take no for an answer, Hadi requested a Kuwaiti-Omani mediation initiative before flying off to both countries for high-level meetings. This effort clearly failed to produce a breakthrough in time for November 15th, an unrealistic deadline from the start.

The majority of southern Yemenis appear to wholeheartedly favor independence, presenting a legitimate but unhelpful roadblock to the country's overall political transition. Bin Omar, who's currently discussing options with Hadi, has warned, “the transition process will succeed or we will be going back to zero." Although postponing Yemen's National Dialogue is a wise decision in the moment - failure seemed inevitable - one month still doesn't leave enough time to solve any one issue, let alone all of them.

This turn of events adds to the mounting evidence that the GCC and UNSC mainly preserved the interests of established powers, both domestic and foreign, while creating as much chaos as order.

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