What’s next for Yemen?
The transitional period and President Hadi’s term should have ended by now, according to the Gulf Initiative. But is Yemen making progress along the right path? What are the expected scenarios for the upcoming phase? What are the possible opportunities to overcome the problems currently faced by President Hadi and his government?
In an interview with the Yemen Times, Loai Abass Ghaleb, a journalist and political activist, discussed the transition and what is up next for Yemen.
How do you evaluate the transitional period in general?
First of all, we must admit that we are still in a tentative situation and the country faces several challenges, including the existence of the Southern Movement, of the Houthis and of Al-Qaeda. However, the main problem, in my opinion, is Yemen’s fragile economy, because incidents in recent years have proved that the three aforementioned movements are economically motivated.
Regarding political compromises in Yemen over the past two years, we must admit that things are better than in other Arab countries—we all know what is going on in Syria. Looking at the situation of the past two years, we realize that we have achieved several good things and can be optimistic.
But isn’t it true that these achievements have not had a positive influence on everyday life?
I partially agree with you because although there were several political achievements, economic challenges dominate everything. Many Yemenis undoubtedly realize that we live in a situation of disorder, instability and poverty at the level of society and state in terms of services. All politicians must work together to confront this challenge. Generally speaking, I believe that avoiding a civil war has been our greatest challenge.
Do you mean to say that the current situation has created more political elites and has not been to the benefit of the average person?
I told you that the situation was complicated. We put down our weapons and stopped pointing them at one another. We removed the barricades. We have withdrawn from the armed conflict arena and entered the political and economic sphere. This is an achievement.
Now president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi stands before a major challenge, considering that he bears immediate responsibility for this phase. He faces many obstacles, including [people who actively oppose his] making changes to the government. Those running this government—who are either affiliated with the General People's Congress or the Joint Meeting Parties—admit the government’s failure.
Some ask what the value is of the NDC outcomes—particularly in terms of the Southern Issue—at a time when many southerners reject these outcomes. What do you say?
So, we should ask what the alternative is. If we do not have a dialogue, what is the alternative? Should we fight? If the dialogue participants refuse to participate in a dialogue, what do they want then? Should we continue to watch [events from the sidelines and criticize them]? Or should we contribute to finding a solution to our problems?
What do you think about the NDC outcomes in relation to Sa'ada and the Southern Issue?
First, we should realize that the NDC outcomes are a big achievement, but I think many people do not realize this, particularly when the media affiliated with the south neglect to highlight the [importance of the] NDC outcomes. I think divvying up important government jobs [for example, the ministries] between the north and the south is a good thing, and it appeases southerners. However, what is happening is that the southern media…have further mobilized the southerners who reject the NDC and its outcomes.
Some say that the economic problem is a core reason behind many of the country’s crises and conflicts. However, the elite seemingly makes politics its priority. Why is this?
Prioritizing politics or the economy has been an extant controversy among communities since the emergence of the state. I believe that economics is the dynamic driving all political events. However, [jockeying for power has been the priority of politicians] since 2011.
Although the public drove political change, it has since been on the sidelines of the political scene. What do you think about this?
We can say that this is so. The political elite has taken advantage and played all sides…. Moreover, the political elite seized the opportunity to use the youth…. All the political parties have claimed that they struggle to give the youth their rights, resolve their issues and support them. However, once the politicians got what they wanted, they left the youth behind.
Let’s move to another topic, federalism. Some say the solution does not lie in redrawing the country’s internal borders. They say that the real problem is corruption and mismanagement. What is your opinion?
Talking about regions is discussing the future. So, it should be clarified that federalism is a system that has been adopted by about 29 countries. About 40 percent of the world population is governed by federal systems. Therefore, mention of a federal system should not invoke fear. But it seems that fear is entrenched in the Arab political mindset.
Anyway, in our recent history, a centralized government structure proved to be a failure. One advantage of the federal system is that it gives the population of each region or governorate an opportunity to hold their own officials accountable. The important thing is that [holders of major political offices] will be chosen in [regional and democratic elections rather than being appointed in a decision made by one individual].
But some people say that Yemen is different from other countries that have adopted federalism.
…Yemen could be a successful example of federalism. I think that continuing [to operate under our existing] centralized system will create fear and could end up splintering the state. So, federalism is a conciliatory administrative [compromise] between two parts. One is pro-separatist and the other is pro-unity. Federalism is an ideal solution to this current political situation [that can be embraced by both sides].
Some areas of the country may demand to be shifted into a different region or may demand a separate region. How would you respond to such a situation?
We should explain that [the current plan for regional divisions] is temporary. The media hype following the announcement of the regions and people’s reactions to it occurred because the media did not examine all aspects of this issue. The committee appointed to determine the regions issued a statement that the division is temporal—transitional—and that the final division will be settled following two rounds of voting. The committee’s decision also empowers the residents of each governorate or district to put the issue of being included within a certain region to a [local] vote.
Some have said that shifting to a federal state will cost Yemen a huge sum of money. Do you think this is true?
It is not correct to think of cost as an obstacle because the cost, no matter how great it is, would remain small in comparison with the results of continuing with the current system of governance.
How will national wealth be distributed throughout the regions?
Resources fall into two categories: natural resources and other resources [such as customs revenues]. Each region will share in a percentage of the country’s resources, and this division will be detailed in the new constitution. It has been suggested that each region maintain 20 percent of the [income from] local resources and that the remainder go to the central government to be distributed among the other regions.
Some fear that a certain group or party may end up controlling a region and its resources. Should that be a concern?
This depends on community awareness, which will be the greatest challenge for us. However, I think that the direct elections will establish this awareness over time.
A controversy has recently arisen over whether federalism is a national resolution or an external interest. What do you have to say about this?
Speaking as a specialist in the political sciences, I have seen several reports that speculate about this issue. I can’t say that it is impossible but it is a weak possibility considering the current circumstances of the Arab world. I think we can safely say that this is not true because [federalism] emerged from the National Dialogue Conference with the participation of almost all of the country’s political and social groups.