On 18 November 2020 The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies conducted a Democratic Transition Seminar titled “Yemen and the Democratic Transition since the 2011 Revolution,” as part of its project on Democratic Transition in the Arab Countries. The seminar came in three sessions discussing draft chapters of the forthcoming book, Democratic Transition in Yemen: Trajectories, Obstacles and Prospects, with contributions from 21 authors, including 15 Yemeni specialists in addition to commentators and discussants from Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia.
Abdelfattah Mady began the seminar by illustrating Yemen’s importance from the standpoint of democratic transition, as the country has had several chances at reaching the transition towards democracy, prevented by internal and external factors. He noted that the book’s chapters form a part of a publication series, under the project’s supervision, that aims to deepen our understanding of attempts made by Arab countries to transition to democracy in the aftermath of the 2011 revolutions. Bakil al-Zindani then underlined the centrality of the Yemeni experience today, noting the Arab Center’s interest in further study that builds on preceding work on the issues involved.
Olfat al-Dub’ai chaired the first session on economic matters and state administration. Adnan Yassin al-Maqtari presented his chapter reviewing the mix of economic and political effects observable in the Yemeni scene since the 1990s and how citizens' economic demands were marshalled by counterrevolutionary forces to effectively mount a coup and bring the political transition process underway to an end. Nizar Jouini and Salah Yassin al-Maqtari were discussants in this session.
In the second session, moderated by Adnan Yassin al-Maqtari, Hani al-Mughales presented the nature and build-up of the legitimacy crisis in Yemen and its impact on political transition, from the May 1990 unification between the two former halves of the country to the present war. He emphasized its profound impact on the trajectory of democratic transition, with the ancien régime’s crisis of legitimacy leading, in his opinion, to the most prominent transformation of the peaceful revolution of February 2011. He concluded that the current internationally recognized government suffers from complex dysfunctionalities derived from the lack of effective authority on the ground, comprehensively poor and faltering management performance, a confused relationship with its supporting international coalition and the inability to frame this relationship within boundaries of strategic national interests and respect for sovereignty. Olfat al-Duba’i, Abdul-Jalil al-Sufi, and Musa ‘Alaya were discussants for the presentation.
Ali al-Dhahab then examined the challenges of rebuilding the Yemeni military in the wake of the 2011 popular revolution, identifying those which have impeded rebuilding the Yemeni military as a professional military establishment that can protect the country's unity and prevent its embroilment in future political conflicts. Future attempts to rebuild the Yemeni armed forces will face the increasingly complex challenges posed by the multiplicity of armed formations, militias and agendas that stand in the way of a sole unified national army. He added that the concerns of some countries in the region over any future emergence of a strong Yemeni army exacerbate the difficulty of rebuilding the army. Omar Ashour and Qais Nuri were discussants for this presentation.
Olfat al-Dub’ai then addressed transitional justice and national reconciliation in Yemen after 2011, concluding that success in implementing transitional justice in the country depends on the ability of elites to create a path for transitional justice that is adaptable to political and economic conditions and Yemen’s cultural environment. She also indicated a determinant of success includes awareness among the masses and elites alike of the need for transitional justice combined with the availability of regional and international support bolstering local political will for its implementation. Discussants for the session were Ibrahim Fraihat and Ali al-Dhahab.
The third session, moderated by Balqees Abu Asba, began with Fouad al-Salahi who addressed the question of the extent to which democracy can bring about positive change in societal conditions in Yemen, given that the country is currently replete with multiple crises that negate essential foundations of democratic practice. He asserted his view that democratic transition in Yemen has become a political, developmental, and civilizational necessity, not least as an important instrument of enhancing political consensus within a national reconciliation process between the various actors, a process only possible with the rebuilding of state institutions and the invoking of constitution and law. al-Salahi also referred to the importance of building a historic bloc calling for democracy at all levels, to render the state primarily an institution of national development, rather than of taxation. Hani Al-Maghles and Ahmad al-Maori served as discussants.
Finally, Nasser Al-Tawil revisited the 2011 revolution in Yemen and the opportunities for democratic transition there, observing that Yemen had two historic opportunities for moving towards democracy, the first of which coincided with the 1990 unification. The second opportunity arose with the February 2011 revolution. At each of those stages the country underwent many contending factors, structures, values and practices that either supported democratic transition or veered towards one-person rule in an authoritarian regime, aborting the democratic transition. Abdul Baqi Shamsan and Olfat al-Dub’ai were discussants for this intervention.
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