Editorials 19 January, 2012

The Uncertain Future of Yemen


The political scene in Yemen gets more complicated with every step taken towards what is said to be a compromise between the conflicting parties. Reflecting on the most important aspects of this complexity, expressing the presence of different parties impairs the truth of the political scene: the people are on one side, and the regime is on the other! While mediators move to deem the factional opposition as against the regime, herein the settlement is being achieved. The factional opposition represents only one element of the revolution that the mediators from neighbouring countries do not want to acknowledge, as the term "revolution" fosters in them a sense of worry and fear.

The opposition parties tried but could no longer control the different squares with its various components. Groups, parties, and movements became decision makers in the political scene, and could not be excluded from any settlement. These decision makers include the Houthis, the southern movement, the opposition living abroad, and independents. Still, new political factions are declared on a daily basis, each with its own political agenda.

The erroneous reading of the Yemeni political landscape brings about false solutions that further complicate the situation. Society and the state are at risk of complete and utter collapse. It could be said that the nature of the ongoing struggle cannot be diverted from its course towards total political reform and the restructuring of the regime according to new political arrangements based on a change in the government's structure, tools, rhetoric, and policies. A dangerous complication that threatens the unity of geography and people in Yemen arises, whereas some factions insist on their disengagement project, and this is a political issue par excellence. This project is confronted by another tribal sectarian one, though it enjoys the political façade. Between them arise the plans that call for the continuation of unity within the framework of a new federal political system that reformulates the relationship between the political center and its local societal base. Here, the nature of the regime changes, along with its political and constitutional procedures.

If the reality shows a move toward a compromise between the two parties through recognition of the Gulf initiative (mainly negotiated by Saudi Arabia) and the subsequent artificial calm and creation of a shared government, the general scene remains as it was before. Public squares are still crowded with protestors, and their rejection of the Gulf initiative continues. Granting legal immunity to the president and his allies is what causes the initiative's failure.

The values inherited by tribal society are apparent. It is not in the tradition of tribes to remain silent and forgive a killer, for revenge is a must. This cannot be controlled by political negotiations between parties that are not part of that revenge. The seeking of revenge will be turned into a tribal and civil struggle funded by foreign parties.

For his part, it cannot be said that President Saleh was fully dedicated to departing upon signing the initiative. He remains in control of the most important sources of power, controlling most military institutions and funding sources. In addition, he still enjoys regional and international support, as many states do not want to see a comprehensive political change and removal of the regime. What the existing regime had offered them in large favors, no future political elite will be able to match. They will not be able to go along with implementing policies formulated by regional and international players, without Yemen itself gaining any benefit out of them.

The acclaim the course of settlement received and the recognition of the deputy's role as a temporary alternative, along with the sharing of ministerial portfolios between the regime and the opposition, carries elements that could end in disaster by not declaring the President as part of the terms of settlement. According to the President's tribal ideology, he does not like the fact that he might be forced to relinquish power. Giving up power is disgraceful in tribal culture even if it is acceptable in state logic and civil culture. Also, his allied groups are formed of high-ranking men of power in military, security, and economics, and do not approve of the settlement that will no doubt force them out of their influential leadership positions. Hence, they are wary of what might happen to them, especially in light of the crowds in public squares that continue to raise their demands for the symbols of corruption and those that stole public funds, from those related to the President and the leaders of his political party, to all be held accountable.

Catastrophic scenarios are to be expected for the ninety-day duration of the deputy's rule. This will cause major disruptions that will paralyze the effort of many to calm things down, will take things back to square one with plans to assassinate the deputy or the president, as well as causing security and military disturbances. Opportunities will exist for clashes between the Houthis and the reform party, for Al Qaeda and its explosions that shake pillars of stability, or for tribes to fight each other, in addition to continuing battles between military forces and tribal groups supporting revolutionary.

Many political powers and revolutionary components have newly started taking the position publicly that the president should be chosen without regard to tribe, sect or military position . The president is using this to foment Hashid tribal feud. He garners the favor of the tribe, even those that support the revolution. Even if they do not declare their approval of the president, they definitely do not want their tribe Hashid to lose this position.

The influence of this tribe, politically and economically, resulted from that position as it expanded the circle of trustworthy people possessing close tribal ties with the president. Dozens of military and security leaders and influential business figures emerged facilitated by the regime and its dealings with them, and they turned a blind eye to plans by the elite to bequeath power, something apparent after the summer war of 1994.

This elite enjoys tribal and sectarian ties that allies itself with members of other tribal and sectarian groups to acquire power and wealth, thus taking away the institutional and judicial foundations of the state. It has positioned itself as the center of influence, replacing institutions. This enhances the resistance to the revolution, and sheds light on the compromise that may lead to the removal of some of these leaders from their posts.

The complexities of the Yemeni political scene are linked to the complexity of its social structure, its tribal, sectarian, and regional impediments, with the presence of national political components linked to modernist political agendas related to various parties in the nation beyond the interests of the tribes.

The relations between local Yemenis and regional and international players are apparent not through Yemen's relations with its regional and international peers, but rather the relations of tribal figures with ruling families of neighbouring countries. These peers have family and tribal constituencies, and enjoy the privileges of profits from oil.

According to its relationships and interactions it could be said that the Yemeni political scene is not only local, but is also regional and international. The political scene was constructed by unofficial, non-state figures who were decision makers in the political scene and manufacturers of stability. The political scene witnessed enticements, and political groups rejected the continued favoritism of tribal figures that positioned themselves as a substitute to the regime, with links to parties with religious affiliation based on alliances with dissident military wings. According to this, other revolutionary and political groups see the need for the rehabilitation of the state as a political and legal entity that is representative of the unity of the country and its people, and the need to work within institutional legal frameworks, away from the sectarian and tribal entities that are harmful to the interests of the nation and its unity.

Yemen does not have a legacy of accrued experience in the building of a modern state with its legal and institutional mechanisms. Yemeni politics are not based on constitutional determinants and institutional regulators. There is an urgent need to restore the state and its political regime and to work through legal and institutional mechanisms. Corrupt groups and individuals that in practice control the majority of military, security, and economic interests do not approve of these changes.

The success of the revolution is not achieved by replacing or removing the president, but by restructuring the state's institutions, and what accompanies that in terms of new leaders that were not symbols of the system. A drastic change in the shape and nature of the regime will result, as well as a resulting leadership possessing social roots different from that of the predecessor elite. However, this change may not be fully accomplished, as there are complications that may occur before achieving it. Change will not depend upon the power of the resistance, but on the regional and international support provided to the elite figures of the former regime. Regional and international powers refuse to allow the revolutionary path of change.

The Saudi regime in particular does not recognize revolutionary terminology and its implications for change, for it fought the revolution in 1962. The US and Saudi Arabia supported anti-revolution forces, with a civil war taking place for eight years. The Saudi regime trembled with the revolution in the south and the adoption of a socialist system. So it was lying in wait, in the context of a proxy war for the United States in its declared wars against the Soviet Union.

While Saudi Arabia was welcoming ostensibly Yemen's unity, it was yet concerned about the movement in the Yemeni political scene in 1992, within the framework of a strong political system with a large demographic base (the number of Yemen's population exceeds the population of the Gulf states combined). Saudi Arabia does not accept the revolutionary change on its southern border, just as it did not accept the democratic and constitutional reforms on its eastern border in Bahrain.

If regional and international players were indeed supportive of political change in Libya and Syria (and to some extent in Egypt and Tunisia), they have hindered it in Yemen. They have sought to stop revolution and substitute it with bargaining, within the framework of partial reform limited to some changes in political and military leadership with the former regime restructured and represented as if new.

The key to political and social stability in Yemen lies in the path to comprehensive political change, to establish the foundations of the civil state, its pillars of citizenship, and the rule of law, as well as to adopt rational economic policies. Here, it is imperative to have a societal consensus based on the rules of national and political action and its mechanisms, without reference to tribes and sects, to lay the foundations of a unified nation and enhance its unity in the context of a political and developmental perspective, dependent on federalism in multiple provinces that work within the framework of a single country.