Yemenis march against Saleh's immunity agreement with the GCC and UNSC
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) recently landed a team in Yemen to assess the country's political situation and lend support to a planned National Dialogue, which has been delayed several times since its scheduled opening in November 2012. The busy delegation would hold its own council with many of Yemen's political actors, including President Abd Mansur Rabbo Hadi's transitional government, the country's Military Committee and National Dialogue Technical Committee, and representatives of the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) and oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).
"We believe that President Hadi's leadership has been instrumental in driving forward the reforms necessary to make Yemen a more stable and prosperous country," British representative Mark Lyall Grant said as foreign sponsors met to discuss the progress of the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) power-sharing agreement.
The UN's representatives surely arrived in Sana'a with good intentions to aide Yemenis during a time of crisis and hardship. Assisting their new president has become the pillar of international efforts to prevent civil strife between Yemen's array of political actors, re-energize the country's crippled economy, and roll back the influence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). To his credit Hadi has performed beyond expectations in his quest to achieve independence from his former boss, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and is gradually nudging the dictator's relatives out of their political and military positions. Without Hadi's perceived neutrality, Yemen's diverse set of actors would struggle to find an individual capable of guiding the country through a National Dialogue.
However this same earnestness doesn't apply to the powers that these individuals represent, and rarely has a UN mission been dominated by so few powers. In reality the UNSC is minimally involved with Yemen's crisis. The political transition that its officials speak of originated in the back-channels of U.S.-Saudi relations, conceived with the intention of salvaging the useful remains of Saleh's regime and the influence they amassed within Yemen's government. The GCC's power-sharing deal was initially crafted by U.S. and Saudi diplomats in conjunction with Saleh's GPC and the equally unpopular JMP, as a means of splitting power amongst themselves.
Left out of the equation were the civil revolutionaries that forced Washington and Riyadh to intervene against their cause of a sovereign Yemen.
This private agreement was eventually passed along to the GCC itself and signed by Saleh in Riyadh, far from Yemen's street demonstrations, before undergoing final ratification in the UNSC. Unlike in Syria or Libya's geopolitical war zones, the UNSC's five permanent members had already unified around the U.S.-Saudi position in Yemen and approved the measure unanimously, adding the final veneer of international law to the GCC's "initiative." Among those conditions endorsed by the UNSC: immunity for Saleh and his family, the powers responsible for mismanaging Yemen and attempting to violently suppress the country's revolution.
UN officials have argued otherwise at infrequent points, claiming that those responsible for human rights abuses should face justice, but that argument invalidates itself. UNSC Resolution 2014 accepts the GCC initiative and all of its conditions as the basis of the UN-sponsored "political transition," a term used by foreign officials in lieu of revolution. While Resolution 2014 "stresses that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable," its legal wording is theoretical rather than practical - Saleh and his crew "should" or "must" be held accountable, but they won't be. Instead UN and U.S. officials surface on occasion to remind certain "spoilers" that sanctions could be levied on them, but only if they don't obey the powers in control of Yemen's transition. The strongman and his relatives possess too much information on U.S. and Saudi to see an international court or endure Western-Gulf sanctions.
Coordinating their actions with the UN's, Yemenis rallied over the weekend to hammer their objective into diplomatic minds and repeat their demands to prosecute Saleh for crimes against humanity.
A letter written by Yemen's Nobel Laureate, Tawakkol Karman, delivered the following message to the UNSC's delegation: "Though the GCC-brokered deal, its implementation mechanism and UN Security Council resolutions envisaged the departure of Saleh and his family from power and politics in general, and despite the fact the deal has granted him immunity from prosecution, Saleh is still leading the General People's Congress (GPC) to take revenge at the political and public life in Yemen. Our people and great youth are waiting for your resolutions to openly bind Saleh not only to step aside as the chairman of the GPC, but also to quit politics once and for all, or else the transition will either fail or stall at best."
To this end Karman has urged Hadi to quit Saleh's GPC and form an independent party.
The Saleh family's immunity isn't the GCC and UNSC's only transgression. These blocs conveniently arranged for Hadi to replace his boss after serving for nearly 18 years as his vice president, a suspect trade-off in itself. After being selected by foreign powers to maintain their relationships, Hadi was then "elected" by a single-candidate referendum and tasked to lead the country through a two-year political transition, culminating in true elections in 2014. This policy continues to carry its positives and negatives into the future, as Hadi has utilized every ounce of strength and intelligence to hold the country together. Problematically, he also serves as an obvious tool of Washington and Riyadh, and has opened the skies to U.S. drones in an effort to secure influence with the Obama administration.
The controlled transition that is supposed to prevent civil war serves a double purpose of maintaining Yemen's status quo.
Yemen's National Dialogue has also been delayed for multiple reasons and, in the best case scenario, won't be held until months after its original date. On one hand a conference of this magnitude cannot begin until positive conditions are established, but a handful of delays could impact future electoral time-lines and reform policies. The main cited problem is the exclusion (or inclusion, depending on the viewpoint) of Yemen's Southern Movement, whose split leadership cautiously approached the process and has yet to make a final decision. UN and GCC officials have spent most of their energy trying to secure the South's participation, and for good reason since a National Dialogue goes nowhere with half of a country. Except the UNSC's position is determined by powers that oppose South Yemen's secession and refuse to allow self-determination; among the motivating factors is a loss of control over al-Qaeda's sanctuaries in the south.
UNSC Resolution 2014 begins by, "Reaffirming its strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen." Responding to the UNSC's delegation, protesters gathered in the southern port of Aden to reject its coercion and chant, "The decision is ours."
Additionally, the JMP has publicly refused to participate in the National Dialogue if Saleh represents his GPC party, and the JMP in turn has interfered with the youth's efforts to be represented. The most seats went to Saleh's party, Southerners and JMP - in that order - leaving the youth and women's movements with leftover crumbs (60 combined seats out of 565). As a result, Yemen's civil movement has encountered disagreements over how deeply to participate and receives little attention from the international community. The country's northern-based Houthi sect has remained similarly ambivalent about a National Dialogue; its thirst for autonomy mirrors the outright hunger in Yemen's south.
A national summit is badly needed and clearly preferable to violence, but its current state is likely to inflame tensions and divisions rather than alleviate them. Yemenis must also be left to their own choices rather than be forced by foreign hands.
Yemen's present situation combines the local dilemmas of sharing power with the international dilemma of hoarding influence, and cannot move forward until numerous preconditions are established. Otherwise a dialogue stands a high chance of collapsing or becoming irreparably corrupted by self-interests (think Bahrain), at which point Yemen will continue along a dangerous course until 2014's wildcard elections. According to UNSC Resolution 2014, the implementation of the GCC's power-sharing agreement "is essential for an inclusive, orderly, and Yemeni-led process of political transition." Unfortunately this statement fails to conform with reality or else the whole initiative would be altered - or it may not exist to begin with.
Until Washington, Riyadh and their proxies elevate sovereignty to the top of Yemen's agenda, long-term hegemony will cast a destabilizing shadow over the country's future.