Yemen’s National Dialogue, which began on March 18, has been criticized for its lack of inclusiveness but has also received praise for successfully bringing together Yemenis to work through a number of issues. In order to examine the differing perspectives on the Dialogue, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East hosted a roundtable luncheon with National Dialogue delegate and former Human Rights Minister Amat Al Alim Alsoswa.
Ms. Alsoswa shared her perspective on the positive and negative developments at the conference as well as her projections on what the Dialogue will produce. Danya Greenfield, deputy director of the Hariri Center and the Yemen Policy Initiative, moderated the event.
Alsoswa expressed optimism that her fellow Yemenis, some of whom only weeks earlier were pointing guns at one another, have been able to talk at the Dialogue. However, she shared her concerns that the Southern issue, which is at the crux of Yemen’s successful transition, could lead to the state’s disintegration if outstanding issues of discrimination are not addressed among the delegates, political parties, and at the presidential level. Alsoswa commented on the recent withdrawal of Ahmed bin Farid al-Suraima, chair of the Southern Issue working group, noting that his replacement, Muhammad Ali Ahmed will help President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi control the Herak representatives at the conference. When Greenfield and others asked Alsoswa why Hadi has not done more to implement confidence-building measures that would satisfy some of the Southerners’ demands, Alsoswa lamented that Hadi’s current advisors do not give him good advice and that the presence of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa as the head of the General People’s Congress party continues to constrain his ability to govern effectively.
Offering specifics on how the Dialogue working groups are proceeding, Alsoswa stated that two representatives from each of the nine working groups are currently making field visits to a number of provinces to hear from Yemenis in rural areas. Each working group is scheduled to submit a report by the end of May outlining the groups’ resolutions thus far, ranging from the Saada Issue to statebuilding to human rights. Many of the event attendees expressed skepticism that the working groups would be able to meet this deadline given the contentious, complex issues the working groups are tasked with addressing. Alsoswa agreed that the Dialogue’s timeline is too compressed and shared anecdotes about the heated debates over the kind of state Yemen should be—central, decentralized, or some hybrid of the two—as well as the place of Islamic sharia in the Yemeni constitution. The discussion ended with Alsoswa expressing optimism, that despite the many challenges for National Dialogue representatives, progress is being made. However without action from the central government, civil society, and political parties, the delegates’ comprehensive constitutional principles and other work will be rendered worthless, she cautioned.