Putting too much pressure on the National Dialogue’s shoulders
The committee is working hard, and starting next week it will intensify its work to meet the Oct. 14 deadline for submitting its final report to President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. Similarly, people are almost working themselves into a frenzy—aided by overexcited media reports in anticipation of this conference.
Anticipation is good. It shows the importance of the conference, which it is. However, we run the risk of putting too much on the conference’s shoulders. It is a major step in the country’s transition, but it remains a step and not the entire transition process.
For example, a different committee will draft the constitution—which is the most important element any country has— after the conference concludes. The drafting committee will spend three months working before presenting the draft constitution to the public for a referendum.
If the people say “no” to the new constitution, then the committee will rework the draft before presenting it again.
Here is what the National Dialogue Conference will do: Discuss the topics laid out by the preparatory committee and come up with agreements relating to each topic. The participants in the conference, tentatively between 500 to 600 people, will represent various social and political groups.
An outreach plan will accompany the deliberations so participants can dialogue with their constituencies. The purpose of this plan and another communication plan is to include the rest of the population even though they will not be actual participants sitting in conference rooms.
In theory, everything sounds reasonable and well planned. But the nation is so fragile that so much could go wrong.
I am already sensing a big problem with the public’s expectations. People think this conference will fix everything; that once the conference ends, Yemen will automatically be better. They believe everything regarding their personal lives will be decided in the conference, and whoever gets to be a part of it will somehow win. This is why everyone wants to be in the room. This is a good sign because unlike the national dialogue experiences of other countries, the Yemeni people are interested. But they might be getting it all wrong and putting too much emphasis on the actual presence in the conference rather than the entire transitional plan—and their role in it.
The Yemeni people cannot be blamed for this misunderstanding. In fact, it is the fault of the people working on this transition, starting from the president and trickling down to the committee members preparing. There is no clarity; the big picture is not there, and public involvement is undefined. Moreover, the media is so obsessed with what is going on in the preparatory committee’s meetings; they forget the more important story is the actual two-year transition plan.
It does not matter who said what during those meetings because they are work in progress. What matters is how the results of the committee’s work will become part of the transitional plan, and whether or not the conference will be successful.
It’s not about what goes on behind closed doors so much as it is about the bigger picture—the grand plan for Yemen—and how all Yemenis fit into this plan. Remember that.