Mr. Hassan al-Yafa'ei, head of the secessionist "Hirak" in al-Houtta South of Yemen, spoke with passion and grief about his region. He is filled with indignation over the unfair discrimination of the South. He is completely convinced, however, that the 1986 civil war is a historical incident that will not be repeated. In his view, the almost 10,000 deaths that occurred in a single month is just an "aberrant phenomenon." Al-Yafa'ei, just like many other Southerners, underplays the possibility of violence occurring if a Southern secession should take place. Such incessant denial of the possibility of the past repeating itself is convenient for many Southerners who want to become an independent Southern nation -- putting the chapter of "Unity gone bad" behind them.
The question of "What will happen to the South if a secession takes place?" has rarely been probed by Hirak. The mechanisms of this desired disunion are left to the same politicians who plunged the South of Yemen to its previous fate of wars and instability. And once again, sentiments of people in the streets are high on "self-determination" rhetoric, without adequately thinking through how this step would resolve their political differences and leaders' penchant for popular exploitation.
Fatima Abo Alasrar
If there is any consensus on Yemen these days, it is around the assertion that the National Dialogue Conference that commenced Monday must succeed. Of course, what must happen often does not. But the problems with the insistence on the need for success go deeper. The meaning of success is subject to such widely different interpretations, by domestic and international actors alike, that any outcome short of outright anarchy is likely to be heralded by some, while even a seeming breakthrough will be condemned by many.
But the more substantial problem with the claim that the National Dialogue must succeed is that it overlooks features of Yemen's transitional process that have been broken from the outset, and largely ignores the sustained, reasoned critique that this process has engendered from the beginning. This critique has been expressed not simply by mounting separatism in the southern city of Aden and its peripheries, or even the obvious loss of sovereignty over some parts of the country over the past two years. Indeed, those forms of critique actually fit the prevailing narrative of Yemen as preternaturally divided and ungovernable, a narrative that helped to justify former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule for three decades, as he sold himself to Yemeni and foreign audiences as the least worst alternative to anarchy.
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Among the urban elite and diplomatic community in Sanaa, all eyes will turn to the launch of the long-awaited National Dialogue Conference today, a key component of the transition plan agreed upon in November 2011 that ushered out former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in exchange for full immunity. The good news about the internationally-backed agreement is that Saleh was finally forced from the presidency after more than 30 years of autocratic rule and the fighting stopped. The bad news is that it did not address any of the underlying issues that have plagued Yemen since before the uprising and have only been exacerbated in the time since. The National Dialogue, thus, is positioned to tackle the thorniest issues including calls for Southern independence, the restive Houthi movement in the north, the question of federalism and decentralization, constitutional reform, empowering women and youth, and other issues.
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This March is a critical month in Yemen's political transition since 2011, when millions of peaceful street protesters ended 33 years of rule by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In the coming week, the country's transitional leader, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is scheduled to inaugurate the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). Beginning on March 18, the NDC is expected to hold a series of meetings with more than 500 representatives, who will attempt to find solutions to several pressing problems for Yemen. What hangs in the balance is nothing less than Yemeni national unity. The conference was supposed to start last year after Hadi was elevated to the post of president by public referendum in February 2012. For the sake of a successful national dialogue, it was recognized the NDC had to take place under a large tent encompassing all the major political parties and social factions. Building this tent has proven difficult. The process was postponed more than once because some parties refused to accept a predetermined number of seats, while others refused to participate under any circumstances.
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In early February, a car made its way along the winding road from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to Dhale, a dusty mountain town of traditional mud-brick houses. As the car sped toward its destination, the flags and checkpoints increased in regularity with every passing mile.
Yemen's flag is made up of three horizontal stripes of red, white, and black. Those flying from the rooftops along the roadside sported an additional blue triangle dotted with a single red star. The flags, a remnant of the south's independent past, are a symbol of defiance; the checkpoints, manned by soldiers from Yemen's north, a source of simmering tension.
"See," said Fatima, an Adeni college professor, as the car stopped at yet another checkpoint so that a uniformed youth, his cheek bulging with the narcotic qat leaf and an AK-47 casually slung across his shoulder, could take a look inside. "How can they say that this is not an occupation?"
Facing perhaps its biggest crisis yet, Yemen's ruling party of over three decades, the General People's Congress (GPC), is in desperate need of reform. As one of the only ruling parties to have survived a widespread Arab Spring uprising, it is now navigating uncharted territory. While the party and its leader, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, are doing infinitely better than their imprisoned, exiled, dead, or dismantled counterparts across the Middle East and North Africa, the party's continued relevance and prosperity is by no means guaranteed, a reality to which it is struggling to adjust.
Formed in 1982 by Saleh, then president of the northern Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), the GPC was created to counter the rise of dissident leftist groups, like the National Democratic Front. Over time, the GPC grew into the country's dominant political force, winning the most seats in the first national elections held after the unification of the YAR and the southern People's Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1990. In the last parliamentary elections held in Yemen, in 2003, the party won 76 percent of seats. But, by the time the Arab Spring broke out the GPC was more a collection of powerful elites living off access to government coffers than a political party in the democratic sense of the term. Hardly bound to public opinion, the GPC ruled with relative impunity and only occasional resistance from the country's pseudo opposition coalition (the Joint Meeting Parties, or JMP). In hindsight, it is not surprising that the party became a primary target of revolutionaries.
Nearly a year after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a transition agreement, Yemen risks significant localized violence and territorial fragmentation. While politicians and the international community in the capital prepare for national dialogue, Zaydi rebels, known as the Houthis, and Salafi fighters associated with the Islamist party, Islah, are positioning for further skirmishes in the North. Already, clashes during the last months have killed dozens of people and inflammatory rhetoric by both sides is a harbinger of violence to come. In the South, separatist sentiment remains high and there is no agreement on how to effectively include the southern movement, a loose and divided coalition calling for immediate southern independence or at a minimum greater autonomy, into the dialogue process. Attacks by al Qaeda and its local affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, are on the rise, with assassinations of over 60 military-security personnel in 2012 alone. The minister of defense has escaped assassination on at least six different occasions.
For decades, "human rights in the Middle East" was a subject of scrutiny, debate, and mobilizations spearheaded from outside of the region. Western governments including successive U.S. administrations frequently took up the region's dire human rights conditions and funded a variety of human rights initiatives to remedy them, in many ways as a substitute for forgoing economic and military alliances with highly repressive regimes. These foreign governments' human rights talk was heavy in its emphasis on women's rights and other violations for which backward cultural and religious belief were designated as the key culprits and light on its emphasis on civil and political rights violations. During the post-9/11 era, as highlighting the Middle East's deplorable human rights conditions added a veneer of moral purpose to military interventions in the region, the "human rights in the Middle East" line of inquiry took on a life of its own and created a cottage industry of Western-driven human rights assessments and prescriptions. All the while, local voices promoting human rights were largely silenced by authoritarian rulers simultaneously paying lip service to human rights and undermining it by arguing that it served foreign, Western, imperialist agendas. Cumulatively, there dynamics resulted in minimal Middle Eastern agency in defining the nature and scope of its own predicament vis-à-vis the human rights paradigm.
Today, the region's myriad of human rights mobilizations and contests are increasingly being spurred from within the Middle East, not abroad.
The death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials in Libya last Wednesday should serve to draw much-needed attention to an increasingly untenable contradiction in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Even while it seeks to recover from this latest attack by Islamic radicals, the United States continues to support or tolerate the mobilization of adherents of that very same ideology elsewhere in the region, most clearly in Syria and in Bahrain. There, U.S. policymakers should expect equally frightening results.
The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was carried out by suspected members of Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Islamic Law, a group adhering to the same Salafi (or Wahhabi) religious interpretation more commonly associated with Saudi Arabia. And while the popular anti-American protests that have continued to spread across the region cannot be painted with a single brushstroke, and doubtless have roots in local political grievances, still one feature they share is the conspicuous presence -- and organizational power -- of Sunni Islamists.
read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/GettyImages
During Yemen's rainy season, which stretches from August to October, the Silah, the cobbled road that intersects the capital Sanaa's ancient Old City, often floods becoming, for a few brief hours, a fast-running river. Over the years, the road has been gradually deepened, with steps built up the side and bridges spanning its width so that the rest of the area does not overflow with water from the surrounding mountains.
At such times it is hard for Sanaanis, the residents of the capital, to countenance the idea that their city is rapidly running out of water. But this may happen sooner rather than later: Sanaa province's water aquifers are being exhausted by rapid population growth, demand for the narcotic qat leaf, and the growing threat of climate change.
While John Brennan's, President Obama's chief counterterrorism advisor, recent speech on U.S. policy in Yemen still echoed in the halls of the Council of Foreign Relations, the rebel Houthi movement was busy planning an anti-American demonstration galvanizing hundreds of supporters across the country. Although the Houthis are by no means representative of the Yemeni public, they are tapping into a widespread sentiment in order to garner sympathy and support. Originally emerging as a geographically-contained, rebellious movement seeking autonomy and independence from Sanaa's central government and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, they are now positioning themselves as a revolutionary force that seeks to advocate for the downtrodden and overturn injustice.
This afternoon, a sizable Washington audience turned out to watch White House Counterterrorism advisor John Brennan talk about American policy toward Yemen. Imagine that -- a large Washington audience turning out in the dead of summer to hear about Yemen! And even better, Brennan began by responding directly to the criticisms of U.S. policy toward Yemen expressed in a recent Atlantic Council-POMED letter to President Obama, which called for moving "beyond the narrow lens of counterterrorism." (I made similar criticisms in this space in January.)
Brennan's main goal was to push back against these criticisms. It is simply wrong, he argued, to claim that the U.S. views Yemen only from a security and counter-terrorism lens. He laid out the administration's "comprehensive" strategy for Yemen, including support for the political transition, humanitarian aid and economic development, and institutional reforms. He effusively praised President Hadi and his efforts at institutional reform and political transition, and he emphasized several times that more than half of the increased U.S. aid to Yemen went to the political transition and economic development, not to counterterrorism. Of course at the end he came to AQAP and mounted a spirited defense of drone strikes as ethical, legal, and effective, but the speech was structured to show that these efforts came within a broader political and developmental context. (He also, thankfully, didn't waste our time blaming Iran for Yemen's problems).
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemen's recently installed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi surprised many observers by moving swiftly to establish control over the battered nation's military. His efforts, backed by an unusually assertive United Nations mediation effort, offer a rare glimpse of hope for a nation battered by more than a year of instability and political conflict.
Few believed that the new government would be able to dislodge the entrenched power of the family of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. But Hadi has already moved to sideline two prominent members of that family faction. Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, Saleh's half brother and commander of the air force, was "promoted" into a position of impotence. Tarik Saleh, Saleh's nephew and commander of a powerful brigade encircling Sanaa, was offered a new posting in the remote eastern desert province of Hadramaut.
Last week's shutdown of Sanaa's airport by security forces seeking to reverse President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi's dismissal of top brass loyal to the ancien regime exemplified exactly where Yemen is stuck.
After three decades under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, elements within the transitional civilian government are eager to move forward, with ambitious plans to reform the country's legal and security infrastructure. But they lack the muscle to rein in the security forces, implicated in many of the worst human rights abuses during last year's uprising yet still operating their fiefdoms. Restoring law and order requires a major restructuring of those security forces and a strong dose of accountability for the killings of hundreds of peaceful protesters and indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.
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On April 17, 2012, M. Cherif Bassiouni, international Arab legal expert and Chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry joined Middle East Channel editor Marc Lynch for a short conversation at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies. Among the topics covered: Bahrain's response to the BICI recommendations, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's immunity deal, a war crimes tribunal for Syria...and why Muammar al-Qaddafi's sex addiction will make it difficult to convict Saif al-Islam.
The United Nations should establish an investigation commission to collect evidence about war crimes in Syria to prepare the ground for any future investigation, leading Arab international law expert Cherif Bassiouni told Foreign Policy during a wide-ranging interview yesterday following his talk at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies [videos of both the interview and the talk will be posted shortly]. He warned that Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh should not count on his immunity deal holding up, discounted the ability of Libya's courts to try Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and blasted Egypt's post-revolutionary trials as focusing on flimsy, marginal cases which avoided dealing with systemic, institutionalized corruption.
Also, he explained that Moammar Qaddafi was a sex addict whose heavy use of Viagra badly affected his decision-making -- which could complicate the ICC's efforts to convict Saif al-Islam (FP's web editors wanted that to be the lead, for some reason).
The "Arab Spring" is now over one year old. In much of the popular analysis over the past year the term "Arab Spring" has become the defining characteristic of the "new" Middle East emerging from decades of authoritarian and repressive rule. However, one should be cautious about inflating the importance of the democratic uprisings in several Arab countries in shaping the future contours of the Middle East. This caution applies especially to exaggerating both the prospects of democracy -- particularly the unhindered linear transition to representative rule -- in the Arab world and the role of major Arab powers in determining political outcomes in the Middle East in the short and medium-term future.
In late 2011, the British government sent one of its top humanitarian advisors to Yemen after a year of protests, bloody crackdowns, and inter-elite fighting. Drawing on his experience from a career spanning three decades, the advisor reported back that Yemen faced the most complex set of circumstances he had ever seen.
Some of the key issues at the time, such as fighting between elite military and tribal factions in the capital of Sanaa and north Yemen's second largest city, Taiz, have since eased off. But others, including rising violence between Shiite Houthi tribesmen, government forces, and Sunni Salafists in the northern Saada province and the rise of Ansar al-Sharia -- the local al Qaeda affiliate -- in the south, are still causing mass displacement on a daily basis.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemen's army chief of staff, Major General Ahmed Ali al-Ashwal, arrived in Washington, DC earlier this week to review the current state of military cooperation between Sanaa and Washington. Much rests on whether Yemen's new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, can effectively reform the country's military and security forces and bring them under unified, professional leadership. White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan recently voiced support for al-Ashwal as "an impressive and professional military officer" and praised Hadi's understanding of what it would take to "turn the Yemeni military into a professional and first-rate military organization."
But neither Hadi nor al-Ashwal has a free hand in their task of restructuring the military and security services. Hadi commutes from home to meetings at the palace across a city divided into zones of multiple military control and studded with checkpoints. So far, he has tried and failed to persuade Yemen's rival factions to withdraw their armed forces and militiamen from Sanaa. Stability for now depends on maintaining the balance of power between the Republican Guard under the command of Saleh's son, Ahmed Ali, and the First Armoured Division under the command of Saleh's kinsman, General Ali Mohsin. Both factions are counting on support from powerful external stakeholders.
Walking last month into the Shabaab al-Sumud tent in Yemen's Maydan Taghayr -- Change Square -- I was greeted by eager faces and talkative qat chewers. "We love Americans," a Houthi supporter nodded his head vigorously, and, in doing so, revealed an enormous poster on the tent flap behind him on which the group's infamous slogan was inscribed: "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, a curse on the Jews." Seeing my eyes widen, he offered, "We hate American policies, not people. The roots of the slogan lie in America's war on the Iraqi people and support for Israeli policies against the Palestinians. Let me tell you what it is that the Houthis want..."
Even the dedicated observer of Yemeni affairs can be forgiven for not fully grasping the complexity of the country's political milieu during this shaky revolutionary period. Researching Yemeni politics, one often feels stuck in an intractable game of telephone. Part of this is the grammar of how information spreads in the Middle East, which is often informal and decentralized. But part of it can be related to the political ecology of the country and the palpable gap between the geographical center and periphery. The history of the political evolution of the Shiite "Houthi" rebels of Saada province is no different. Unraveling what the Houthis want may indicate how other independent and marginalized groups, like the southern separatists, will navigate a post-Saleh Yemen. The political integration of the Houthis is one among the myriad problems faced by newly minted President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, who underwent his official installation ceremony today in Sanaa. An assessment of Houthi interests also suggests a larger difference than we realize between the opposition movements in cities like Sanaa, Taiz, and Aden, and the supporters they claim to represent in rural areas.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
"Where do I stamp?" said the old man, flashing a wry smile as he dipped his thumb into a pot of ink and peered down at the piece of paper in front of him. With a picture of Yemen's balding vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, next to a map of Yemen in the colors of the rainbow, the card looked more like a ticket for a Ferris wheel ride than a ballot paper. Pausing for a second, the man pressed his thumb into the circle next to the face of the vice president -- the only candidate on the ballot paper. "I'm voting to save Yemen," he told me, before folding the ballot in half and stuffing it into the voting box.
It was a year ago this month that young men and women, spurred on by the dramatic downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, first flooded the streets of Sanaa with noisy demonstrations against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the wily, 65-year-old leader was pushed out of his 33-year presidency through the ballot box. Millions of Yemenis turned out to vote in a one-candidate election, ushering in Yemen's vice president as leader and making Saleh -- who is in New York undergoing treatment for burns suffered in a bomb attack against him in June -- the fourth Arab leader to be ousted by the mass uprisings of last year.
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With daily massacres in Homs and prosecution of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cairo, the simmering conflict in Sanaa has faded into the background. Yet on February 21 attention will turn again to Yemen on the occasion of its presidential election. The election might seem hollow, as there is only one candidate in the race, however, it is still a pivotal step in Yemen's political transition -- and the United States should use this moment to press for a real shift away from the former regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The national vote could be more aptly named a referendum, as the current Vice President Abed Rabbo Hadi Mansour, who assumed temporary authority via a deal advanced by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), will be anointed Yemen's next leader barring any catastrophic outbreaks of violence.
While on the surface the election might seem like window-dressing at best, the psychological impact for Yemen of moving into the next phase is powerful. At a minimum, the election turns the page on decades of disappointment, despair, and disillusionment. And definitively removing Saleh from power could pave the way for opening new space for real political competition and accountable governance. He is a man who has ruled Yemen for 33 years, in his own words, "by dancing on the heads of snakes," through masterful skill in manipulating tribal alliances, political allegiances, and patronage networks. After prior pledges to leave power were reversed -- and months of hand-wringing when Saleh agreed to sign the deal and then three times reneged -- just having this official exit stamp is a relief.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Islamist movements did not start Yemen's revolution, but they have loomed large over its fate. Tawakkol Karman, an ex-member of Islah, a coalition party that includes Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her tireless political campaigning. Backers of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned of the inexorable rise of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), even after the killing of ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki by a U.S. drone.
But as in much of the Arab world, the Yemeni revolution has presented both opportunities and challenges to its Islamists. At least five different Islamist trends have played important roles in the unfolding events -- and some have fared better than others. Those struggling to help Yemen's political transition must recognize the diversity and internal struggles among these Islamist trends, and be prepared to engage with them as part of the country's political landscape.
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Is there any hope for Yemen's political transition? Is Egypt on the way to a new revolution? And has the Arab Spring really, really vindicated neoconservativism? Those are only a few of the topics that I take up today in the second exciting episode of Abu Aardvark's MEC Video Blog. All that, and some great guest appearances, which I won't spoil here. Enjoy!
Welcome to the Middle East Channel Editors Vlog, or possibly
MECTV, or the MEC-VLOG or -- if I get my way -- Aardvark TV! We're working
on it. Whatever the name, I'm thrilled to announce the pilot episode of what we
hope will be a weekly video blog hosted by me on the Middle East Channel. Hey,
it worked for Justin Bieber, right?
We recorded the pilot episode this week. It touches on Syria (jump to 1:01), Yemen (4:15), and the war debate (7:08); talks about some of my favorite articles on the Channel last week (9:45), including Aili Tripp's overview of the debate on electoral quotas for women and Michael Hanna's fascinating counterfactual on whether the Arab spring would have toppled Saddam; and profiles my book of the week (10:40). As we sort out the tech issues, we'll insert chapter breaks so you can link directly to segments. We had some fun with this one, and I hope you all do too!
Not all the episodes are going to be quite so, um....well you can provide your own descriptor once you've watched it. Each episode will be different, and most will bring in guests to join the conversation. Most weeks I plan to respond to selected questions which readers pose on Twitter, in the comment section, or over email. I'll talk about MEC articles, and when possible get the authors on camera -- or at least on Skype -- to answer questions about them. We'll feature conversations with scholars, authors, policy makers, and folks from the Middle East who come through Washington. We'll feature a book every week, some to recommend and others not so much. We'll have fun.
A big part of the reason for doing this is the opportunity to interact with readers, so do tweet questions or suggestions for the show at me (@abuaardvark) or drop me a line. We're hoping that this will be fun as well as informative. Thanks for watching, and be kind as we work out the bugs!
Women are at a crossroads in the Middle East and North Africa. This is widely reflected in the current battles over the adoption of quotas aimed at improving women's chances of being elected into parliaments. Although women's quotas were introduced as early as 1979 in Egypt, there are new efforts underway in the Middle East to implement them. Last year, Tunisia adopted a law requiring that party lists alternate between men and women. In a more restrained manner, Libya recently drafted an election law that gives women only 10 percent of the seats. However, the struggle for quotas has also met with resistance as in Egypt, which abandoned a 2010 quota law altogether that would have ensured the presence of 64 women in the parliament.
Quotas are not only being adopted in the legislative arena in the Middle East, they are being entertained in government as well. Recently, the Iraqi cabinet approved a quota system that requires women to make up half of all hires in the ministries of health and education and to account for 30 percent of hires at all other ministries.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Yemen seems trapped in an endless political stalemate. More than a year after massive protests erupted challenging the 33 year old regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen seems no closer to achieving a meaningful political transition. The deadlock has persisted despite the outrage over regime violence against civilians, splits at the top of the military, a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the violence and calling for a transfer of power, a Nobel Peace Prize for leading Yemeni protest figure Tawakkol Karman, and the near assassination of Saleh himself. In the absence of a political solution, the humanitarian situation has dramatically worsened and regional conflicts across the country have intensified. Is there any hope for Yemen?
On Wednesday, January 25, from 12:30-2:00 pm, I will be hosting a POMEPS panel discussion at the Elliott School of International Affairs on Yemen's political stalemate, featuring three political scientists with deep experience in Yemen and very different specializations: Stacey Yadav, Sheila Carapico, and Laurent Bonnefoy. When I chose the title "Yemen's Stalemate" for the panel a few months ago, several people commented that this seemed gloomy. I would have loved to have been proven wrong, but here we are. I hope many of you can attend; a video of the event will be posted later. The post which follows is the introductory essay to POMEPS Briefing #8: Yemen's Stalemate, which can be downloaded here.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
On Nov. 23, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh belatedly fulfilled his pledge to sign the GCC initiative. His signing potentially opened space for a peaceful transfer of power and far-reaching reforms. Yet, such a positive outcome is far from guaranteed and will largely depend on how domestic and international actors tackle three interrelated challenges: 1) preventing political infighting and spoilers from derailing the accord's implementation; 2) demonstrating tangible progress by providing security and basic services to Yemeni citizens; and 3) addressing two key weaknesses of the initiative, political inclusiveness and transitional justice.
First proposed in April 2011, the GCC initiative outlined a "30-60 Transition Plan" whereby the president would transfer power to his vice president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, after one month in exchange for immunity from prosecution. An opposition-led coalition government would then hold presidential elections two months after the president's resignation.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the events that touched off the "Arab Spring," there is no lack of prudent handwringing. Writing in the Washington Post, my colleague Daniel Byman concludes that with the exception of Tunisia, where democratization is moving apace, "the Arab Spring may not bring freedom to much, or even most, of the Arab world. Even as the United States prepares to work with the region's new democracies, it also must prepare for the chaos, stagnation and misrule that will mark the Arab Winter."
There is ample justification for such pessimism. Egypt's transition has been marred by the military's repeated violent repression of popular protests, by its periodic efforts to limit the authority of the new parliament, and by the growing fears among Egyptian liberals sparked by the electoral victories of their Islamist rivals. Further afield, Bahrain's Sunni rulers have crushed a popular movement led mostly by Shiite leaders, Yemen might be plunging into tribal civil war, and Syria seems to be descending into sectarian conflict between a mostly Alawite regime and its mostly Sunni opponents. As for Libya, friction within the National Transitional Council might herald a much wider power struggle -- especially among the 100 or so independent and well-armed militias. Watching these developments, we might ask whether the death knell of authoritarianism in the Arab world was sounded too readily, or at least prematurely?
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Watching Tawakkol Karman jump to her feet and clap along throughout Jill Scott's anthem, "Hate on Me," at the Nobel Peace Concert on Sunday was a moment I will most certainly never forget. As a visibly emotional Scott sang with defiance, "You cannot hate on me, ‘cause my mind is free. Feel my destiny, so shall it be..." the room was electric, each of us watching to see the faces and reactions of the extraordinary women for whom we were told this song was specifically requested.
But aside from the unifying fact that the three recipients of this year's Nobel Peace Prize -- Tawakkol Karman, Leymah Gbowee, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf -- have each persisted in the face of personal and political adversity, it has sometimes been hard to determine the common thread connecting their work. Throughout a range of festivities this last weekend, I was frequently asked how Karman, in particular, fit in.
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