Consequences of the Arab Spring and international humanitarian and military interventions in the Middle East remain a large point of contention and controversy both in terms of ethical and political validations and in terms of effectiveness. In Libya, Syria, and Iraq, the attempts to create a peaceful and prosperous “end state” have failed (Cordesman). Instead, civil war and disorder followed, which resulted in great losses of human lives, humanitarian collapse, and failures in every aspect of governance.
Although many problems associated with the aftermath of Arab Spring appeared as a result of corrupt and inefficient leadership from various dictatorships that controlled the region for some time, the revolutions did not assist in solving the crisis and only made it worse, deepening feelings of anger and mistrust, and introducing numerous agents driven by radical ideology and opportunism, into the fold (Gaston).
Almost every transition of power from the totalitarian governments to the people have escalated into civil war. Yemen suffered the same fate, eventually, as the in-fighting between the Houthis and the pro-Hadi supporters sparked yet another civil war. Although the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) has been relatively successful at bringing all sides and parties to the table, when compared to other instruments, the progress was too slow. In order to understand the underlying forces behind Yemen unification process, we will examine the NDC, its successes, and failures, in order to learn from them, and plan for the future.
Yemen is, and has been, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, for quite a long time. For over three decades, it was ruled by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. For a long time, his rule was supported by Saudi Arabia and the US, who had their own interests in the region (Zyck). His rule was increasingly authoritarian, as he began taking political power away from important families and political adversaries, in order to instate his own authority.
Protests and riots over the state of the country, poverty, unemployment, corruption, and unresolved territorial disputes began in 2011 (Zyck). The increasingly popular opinion in Yemen is that the “revolution” was an engineered coup funded by the outside forces and the members of powerful Al-Ahmar family, rather than a grassroots movement (Zyck). Either way, the situation was going out of control, and once the EU and the USA threatened to confiscate his financial assets, President Saleh agreed to step down.
After the first free elections in 2012, the country received a new president – Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Around the same time, the NDC was formed to tackle the country’s most prominent problems including food shortages, constitution, state-building, security, as well as to prevent the country from falling apart through the secession of the northern and southern provinces. This conference included a great number of representatives from all sides of the conflict, all conflicting parties and political groups prominent enough to be included on the agenda. In 2015, the country was torn apart by civil war.
Problems with the NDC
While the NDC had shown itself capable of bringing an unprecedented number of delegates under one roof, the levels of mistrust towards the committee continue to grow, largely among the populace. Due to the lasting nature of the crisis, they become more and more disenchanted with politics, losing faith in the state and its competencies, which include the NDC. The Conference proved itself to be marginally effective on several occasions, the most striking failure being the inability to negotiate a very important make-or-break southern situation in 2013. Many decisions and memorandums made by the NDC take the form of unsteady compromises often rejected by one or several sides of the conflict (Gaston).
Another problem experienced by the NDC is due to the size of its operating body. With over 500 delegation members present, conversations and decisions take too long. Univocal agreements are rarely if ever achieved, and prolonged debate prevents important decisions from being made (Gaston). The draft of the new constitution, the arrangements for a constitutional referendum, and preparations for the new elections, which were meant to be held in 2014, took from three to six months more than they were supposed to (Gaston). This is just one of many issues. Similar delays and scenarios happen over every aspect of NDC’s functioning, ranging from distribution of humanitarian aid to social and economic policies.
To summarize, the problems that NDC experienced were as followed:
- A large body of delegates, conflicts of interest and disagreements make quick decision-making impossible.
- Slow decision-making hampers NDC’s ability to timely and quickly introduce the much-needed changes and reforms into Yemen’s governmental structure.
- Lowered levels of public trust and approval are largely motivated by the committees’ inability to incite tangible and visible changes.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Many of NDC’s efforts were either unsuccessful, marginally successful, or took too long. Many of the problems associated with the meeting stemmed from relative inexperience of the Yemen representatives with the democratic format of this conference. The atmosphere of distrust between different parties is prevalent due to the long and turbulent history of social disparity and military conflicts incited by the previous administrations.
While the UN had no mandate to directly influence the free and independent democratic processes in Yemen, its assistance in organizing and solving different issues would have been valuable. For example, the UN’s representatives could have served as 3rd-party judges in order to mediate conflicts and disputes. The UN were widely accepted by all parts of the negotiation process due to the extensive role it played in providing humanitarian relief and much-needed food and medical supplies. Intermediaries, advisors, and negotiators could have been of great help in streamlining and speeding up the negotiation process.
Another thing that can be improved upon is the size and scope of the conference. Right now, it is too large, and it tries to tackle too many issues at once. Right now, it is working on development and implementation of over 1500 different recommendations. The sheer number of issues and the number of delegates tackling them makes the negotiation process slow and inconclusive. Compartmentalizing issues and reducing the number of delegates might improve reaction and decision-making times. In turn, that will help the conference receive the so-much-needed trust and confidence from the people of Yemen.
The UN chose to take a limited part in assisting the NDC, in order to emphasize the national identity of this initiative. However, the analysis of the situation strongly suggests that NDC required the experience, contacts, and resources of the UN in order to overcome some of the basic problems that the Yemen state was facing, such as hunger, unemployment, corruption, and basic security and social duties. The problems that Yemen is facing at the moment could be viewed as lessons for the future, in order not to repeat the same mistakes in the future.
Cordesman, Anthony. “The “End State” Fallacy: Setting the Wrong Goals for War Fighting.” CSIS. 2016. Web.
Gaston, Erica. “Process Lessons Learned in Yemen’s National Dialogue.” USIP. 2014. Web.
Zyck, Steven. “Mediating Transition in Yemen: Achievements and Lessons.” IPI. 2014. Web.