Situation Assessment 27 February, 2014

Outcomes of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference: A Step toward Conflict Resolution and State Building?


The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


Although Yemen’s February 11 revolution aimed to oust the old, corrupt regime and establish a new one, the traditional political and societal elites succeeded in diverting the course of the revolution to a process of negotiations which culminated with the signing of the Arab GCC’s initiative, on November 23, 2011, stipulating a comprehensive National Dialogue Conference. The conference concluded with an Outcomes Document on January 26, 2014.

Factors behind the National Dialogue Conference’s Success

Key factors helped the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference reach a positive outcome, despite the obstacles entailed. Internationally, UN Security Council Resolution 2051 set mandatory conditions for the parties to the dialogue and created a deterrent against attempts to derail the settlement by regional parties. At the domestic level, the presence of a consensual president, who held a neutral stance toward all the forces participating in the dialogue, played a pivotal role in ensuring the conference’s success. In addition, dialogue took place between various relatively equal parties representing influential political and social groups, with the participation of new balancing forces, such as youth and women, the Ansar Allah group, the Salafists and the southerners’ movement. The rules of the dialogue, guaranteed by Presidential Decree 10 of 2013, formed a powerful guarantee, and prevented any participating party from sabotaging the conference. The internal system worked to prevent any party from making decisions on its own, ensuring that the majority could not impose its will, and that the minority could not disrupt matters. According to article 41/2, decisions of the working groups would be taken by consensus, with measures put in place to deal with situations when this was not possible.[1]

Participants in the conference were divided into nine teams, each of which was responsible for dealing with one of the nine issues specified by the conference’s agenda, including Southern secession inclinations and Saada, national reconciliation, transitional justice, state building, good governance, rebuilding the army and security forces, the status of special entities, rights and freedoms, and comprehensive, integrated, and sustainable development.

The South and Saada Issue Key to a Solution

Despite differences between the participants, there was unanimous consensus over all debated topics apart from the issue of the South, where no consensus was reached with regards to either a solution or the number of regions in the federal state. This required the intervention of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy Jamal bin Omar, who, on September 10, 2013, proposed a focus group made up of 16 members, with equal representation for the North and South, to look into the issue of the South. The team held 32 meetings between September 10 and December 21, 2013, but was unable to reach consensus on the number of regions composing the federal state.[2] The team commissioned the president to form a committee that would determine the number of regions, and “consider the option of six regions (four in the North and two in the South), two regions, or an alternate option that would help reach consensus”.[3]

On February 10, 2014,the committee, headed by President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, endorsed dividing Yemen into six regions: Hadhramout (with al-Mukkalah as capital and covering the provinces of Hadhramout, Shabwa, al-Mahera, and Socotra); the Saba region (with Marib as capital and covering the provinces of Marib, al-Jawf, and al-Bedhae); Aden (with Aden as capital and covering the provinces of Aden, Abyan, Lahj, and al-Dhalea); al-Janad (with Taiz as capital and covering the provinces of Taiz and Ibb); Azal (with Sanaa as capital and covering the provinces of Sanaa, Saada, Amran, and Dhamar); and Tihama (with al-Hodeida as capital and covering the provinces of al-Hodeida, Rayma, Hajah, and al-Mahweet). This division conforms with the joint proposal put forward by the General Popular Conference and the Yemeni Rally for Reform to the focus group on the issue of the South. The only difference being the inclusion of province of Dhamar in the Azal region rather than al-Janad.

Nevertheless, it appears that these divisions have not solved the problem, at least not among those calling for secession, who remain adamant that the North dominates the federal legislative authority (including the Representative Assembly, the Federal Assembly, and the National Assembly), since the conference stipulated that “the Federal Assembly will be made up of a number of members, who will also be elected by direct, free and secret ballot on the proportional closed list system on the regional level and with equal representation between the regions; no more than half the number of members should come from the Representative Assembly”.[4] To those who remain sceptical, the North will also dominate the National Assembly, which is made up of a joint session of the Representative Assembly and the Federal Assembly.[5] However, there will never be an arrangement to please those intent on secession, but if the aim is to achieve justice in the South, then these arrangements undoubtedly open the way to this, and the matter lies in the hands of the elites who will represent the various regions and the proportion of new revolutionary elites among them.

Regarding Saada, the charter decrees “guaranteed freedom of confession, thought, and the practice of religious rites, and forbids their forced imposition or prevention by any party. The state and its apparatus are to be neutral and avoid adopting or offering material or moral support to any confession in a manner contained in the constitution and regulated by law.” The charter continues, stating that “regulations for school curricula, religious education, and civic education will be stipulated such that these shall be under the oversight of the state.” Additionally, obtaining funds from foreign bodies will be a criminal act viewed as high treason, and the army must remain free and clear of all internal conflicts as it is banned and criminalized under the revised constitutional texts. Furthermore, any person or group that has looted or seized weapons that are property of the state will be divested of these items. The charter also forbids “the possession of heavy or medium weapons acquired through trade,” except for those possessed by the state. The law shall regulate the ownership of weapons for personal use. It also will deal with feuds and disputes arising from the Saada wars within the framework of transition justice and national reconciliation.[6]

Although these principles will be guaranteed by the constitution, the main challenge will be the government’s ability to enforce them, particularly in the Saada region where the Houthis—the largest armed group outside the control of the state—are in control. It is yet unclear to what extent the Houthis are willing to commit to the decisions of the National Dialogue Conference, particularly given the violent clashes they started against tribes in the Amran region immediately after the national dialogue’s outcomes were declared.

Winners and Losers in the National Dialogue Outcomes

Throughout the National Dialogue Conference, the tension between traditional conservative elites and those seeking change was evident. The former tried to retain the gains they had made over past decades, while the latter tried to curtail these gains and privileges in an effort to guarantee a modern civil democratic state. In spite of this, the outcomes of the conference were generally balanced: the traditional elites were able to preserve some of their gains, while the civil forces also made substantial gains, taking into consideration the prevalent social and cultural structures of Yemeni society.

There is no doubt that the adoption of the closed list system of proportional representation will affect the traditional social elites’ position within the elected Representative Assembly and National Assembly, particularly that of the tribal sheikhs. This fact explains their rejection of a federal state composed of two regions and acceptance of six regions (two regions in the South and four in the North). This division ensures that the traditional elites in Hadhramout, who are characterized by conservative tendencies and whose sheikhs have alliances with some power bases in the North, will sit in parliament and the National Assembly. The same applies in the North, where traditional forces dominate three out of the four regions. These forces were also able to introduce a decision to protect their economic interests, primarily in the oil industry: the national dialogue document authorizes the Oil and Gas Resources Directorate to award exploration and development contracts and the organization of oil services contracts to the authorities of the oil-producing state and not the regional or federal authority.[7] It is well known that the ownership of most of the oil services companies is in the hands of the tribal sheikhs and senior military officers, many of whom belong to the sheikhs’ families, and whose influence is strong in the oil and gas producing states—Hadhramout, Shabwa, Marib and al-Jawf.

One can also note that perhaps Yemeni women came out as the greatest beneficiaries of the National Dialogue Conference following a number of recommendations that strengthen women’s political participation and combat violence against women. It was recommended that the future constitution should contain an article ensuring that women make up at least 30 percent of the leadership of independent bodies, providing they meet the required conditions and criteria. Recommendations also included the founding of a Supreme National Council for Maternity and Childhood, the restructuring of the National Committee for Women, the guarantee that women represent 30 percent of the team writing the constitution, as well as at least 30 percent of the seats on elected legislative assemblies. Finally, the government is expected to include a clause stating that “the state will take legal measures to empower women to practice their political rights and participate positively in public life according to the provisions of the constitution”.

The political parties, and hence the civic forces in society, also stand out as beneficiaries of the dialogue conference, which decided to shift from the individual candidate electoral system to a list system, which gives preference to parties over tribal organizations and traditional elites. In this way, it seems certain that the tribal sheikhs will have lower representation in the future parliament.

The Chances for Implementation

There are many difficulties standing in the way of implementing the conference’s recommendations, including those linked to the availability of material resources to compensate the families of the martyrs and injured, develop the areas damaged in past wars, and set up the committees, institutions, departments, and agencies. Other difficulties are linked to the weakness of state institutions and divisions within the army, which affects their ability to de-arm the militias and armed groups. The most prominent challenge, though, will come from the threat of those harmed by the conference’s recommendations. The beneficiaries are the civil forces, the youth, and women, whose only tool of coercion is the media. The traditional forces who have lost out possess weapons, money, and external support. Although the power of the tribal sheikhs has begun to weaken, this has not led to an increase in the power of the civil forces, but has benefited other traditional forces. For example, the weakness of the sheikhs in the Hashid tribe has benefitted the Houthi Ansar Allah group which remains a major force controlling regions of the North.

Even so, it will be difficult to go backwards in terms of the process of a political resolution in Yemen. The decisions of the National Dialogue Conference are backed by international guarantees and pressure, particularly in view of paragraph 6 of UN Security Council Resolution 2051, which indicates the council’s willingness to take further measures. The Security Council is expected to issue a resolution that would impose sanctions on anyone who blocks the political settlement. The support for the outcomes document is such that some are trying to turn it into an international document. However, the most important guarantees remain the desire and will of the Yemeni political forces to see the country emerge from chaos and the lack of security and development to implement the National Dialogue Conference’s suggestions toward the rebuilding of a modern, democratic civil state for all.

*This Assessment was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version published on February 19th, 2014 can be found here.

[1] According to this article, consensus is reached with the agreement of at least 90 percent of those present. If consensus is not possible, the disputed decision is handed to the Conciliation Committee to reconcile the opposing views. If consensus still proves impossible, there will be a vote on the decision which will pass on a 75 percent majority of the working team.

[2] The National Dialogue Conference, Sanaa, 2014, p. 37.

[3] Ibid., p. 40.

[4] Ibid., p. 95. The Federal Assembly has the following competencies: 1) second reading and final decision on laws related to the organization of the branches of the state, or those related to the political rights of citizens, and the following laws in particular: the law of the judiciary, the law of the cabinet, the electoral law, and the press law; 2) ratification of the elections to the Supreme Council of the Judiciary and the Constitutional Court; 3) choosing the heads and members of independent agencies; 4) agreeing on the appointment of the following civil and military leaders: governor of the central bank, chief-of-staff of the army and his deputy and assistants, head of the general organization for civilian services and the prosecutor general; 5) agreeing on the appointment of ambassadors abroad and representatives to international and regional organizations; and 6) proposing constitutional amendments.

[5] The National Assembly has the following competencies: 1) Setting the public policy of the state; 2) debating and deciding the overall development plan; 3) agreeing to the treaties that adjust the borders of the state, or stipulating union, alliance, defence, conciliation or peace with another state; 4) agreeing to the declaration of war and a state of emergency; 5) agreeing to a general amnesty; 6) electing the president of the republic (in the case of a parliamentary system); and 7) debating and deciding proposed constitutional amendments before a referendum on them.

[6] The National Dialogue Conference, pp. 50-2.

[7] Ibid., p. 39 and 89. The National Dialogue Conference stipulated that “the management and development of natural resources, including oil and gas, and including the awarding of exploration and development contracts, is the responsibility of the authorities in the oil-producing states, in cooperation with the regional and federal authorities as stipulated by federal law. According to the same law, the regulation of local services contracts is the responsibility of the authorities in the oil-producing state in coordination with the region” (p. 39). This text may contradict another provision in the document that states, “Natural wealth of every kind and the sources of energy underground or on the surface or in the internal waters or the territorial waters or the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf is the public property of the state which guarantees its exploitation to the public good and distributes its revenues fairly and equitably in all parts of the country, and will regulate this by law” (p. 89).