Assessing the impact of regional dynamics on Yemen’s political transition, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and German diplomat and Yemen expert Philip Holzapfel discussed the relevance of Yemen’s transition for the broader Middle East and North Africa region in a moment of uncertainty and instability in the Arab awakening countries. In closed discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and the United States Institute of Peace, more than sixty regional experts, government officials, and civil society representatives explored the impact of regional dynamics on Yemen’s transition and whether Yemen presents a viable model for other countries undergoing transition in the region.

The participants explored whether Yemen’s relatively peaceful transfer of power from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to a consensus-based system has lessons for the broader Middle East region. Yemen’s unique characteristics cannot be replicated, and some of these helped create an environment that has enhanced its chance of success at this stage in its democratic transition. Yemen is less strategically significant than other countries, compared with Egypt and Syria, and its geographic isolation has meant that it has been influenced (and manipulated) less by regional and international rivalries. Furthermore, there has been broad international consensus, from the United States to Saudi Arabia to Russia, on the path forward for Yemen’s transition and how the international community can support that process. On the other hand, some aspects of Yemen’s transition plan that contributed to a positive outcome—the presence of a mutually-hurting stalemate between the opposition and the ruling regime and Yemen’s acceptance of third-party mediation by international actors—could also be relevant for other countries as well. The concept of “no victor, no vanquished” has been an important component of Yemen’s ability to avoid civil war and reach a power-sharing arrangement—a lesson that would be important to consider in other transitioning countries.

The participants acknowledged the myriad of crises facing Yemen, including the humanitarian, economic, and environmental challenges, but they were optimistic that Yemen’s transition is on the right track. National Dialogue Conference (NDC) delegates are tackling sensitive issues such as the secessionist movement in the south and the Saada conflict in the north, and have reached a stage in which each party is presenting its own solutions to the particular issues. The greatest challenge for Yemen’s successful transition is not whether political actors will be able to reach consensus at the conclusion of the dialogue, but rather the next government will be able to implement reforms to address the underlying economic and humanitarian challenges.