Deep Divisions within Yemen Undercut any Chance at Reconciliation
Yemen is one of the oldest centers of civilization in the region, and is currently the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is also the only state in the Arabian Peninsula to have a purely republican form of government, and was the first country in the region to grant voting rights to women.
Sadly, Yemen is not in the headlines for the right reasons. Present-day Yemen is far from perfect. Yemeni unification occurred back in 1990 when North Yemen (officially Yemen Arab Republic) was united with South Yemen (PDR of Yemen). What seemed to be a peaceful unification later led to civil war and a power-grab ensued. While there were signs of an insurgency in late 1990s and early 2000s, the actual ‘revolution’ occurred in 2011. Yemen’s revolution coincided with the Arab Spring movement that shook the region. Initially the revolution focused on unemployment, a dismal economy and corruption.
Things soon deteriorated and protests led to violent clashes between the activists and the police. Under domestic and international pressure, a joint government was established, with the intention of drafting a new constitution and conducting both presidential and parliamentary elections by 2014.
As expected, the insurgency was not defeated. Yemen today stands divided between various groups, both violent and peaceful, as well as pro-government factions.
The Current Situation
Are elections likely in 2014? The chances seem bleak. What makes matters worse is the fact that unless elections are held on time, the very essence of the revolution dies. Yemenis might be forced to take to the streets again and push for democratic reforms. Whether or not their protests yield any merit is a debatable question, but rest assured, insurgents will waste no time in hijacking the revolution and pushing their violent agenda.
Back in 2011 Yemen’s revolution provided a ray of hope. It hinted that a possible change might finally be able to eliminate the elitist handcuffs and proceed towards the growth and prosperity of its people. When the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was sidelined, protestors had a reason to rejoice. Yet, that reason now seems to be fading as we speak. Saleh’s replacement, the interim president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, is anything but a revolutionary. Of course, this does not mean that his tenure as the transitional president has been a disappointment, but Hadi does not have many positive things to talk about either.
The major point of contention is the near-failure of the Conference of National Reconciliation (CNR). The goal of the CNR was to discover agreement between all sections of the Yemeni masses, in order to successfully implement a new constitution and proceed towards the 2014 elections. However, as the CNR learned the hard way, speedy resolution and elimination of sectarian, political and ethnic differences are not easy to accomplish. To make things worse, delegates from the southern part of Yemen have decided that leaving the CNR was a smart thing to do. Why? Because when everything is falling apart, separatism is appealing.
As of now, the situation in Yemen is very different from 2011. Back then, both North and South Yemen stood together in their fight against corruption and inefficient governance. Sadly, the collective vision endorsed by Yemen’s revolution never transformed into political victory because even after the elimination of Saleh, things failed to progress as planned. The international community too has failed to play a proper role in Yemen’s crisis.
The situation might be better than what it used to be in days before unification. Nonetheless, Yemen is currently standing on the edge of a cliff. If things continue to go downhill, the unification of 1990, achieved by bringing together the northern and southern parts of the country, might be in serious jeopardy. To make matters worse, internal divisions and disagreements of their own mar both the North and South.
The divisions within Yemen are growing rapidly. At this junction, if the interim president leaves or is removed, Yemen might be torn apart by a vicious power struggle, or worse, if he manages to extend his term in office, political unrest might deepen and further segregate the North and South. A third alternative might be that the previous regime of Saleh might come back, possibly as an entity capable of uniting the Yemeni people and saving the country from disintegration. While this might save Yemen from another civil war, it will also sterilize the goals of Yemen’s.
Yemen is one of the world’s poorest countries, and Yemenis are aware of this. Even in the midst of such chaos and astute poverty, the spirit of the revolution is still going strong, albeit the frenzy and euphoria seems to be dying. Considering the fact that the interim government is a silent witness to the rising instability in the country, Yemenis might soon be compelled to re-kindle the revolution and push for democracy and transparency all over again.