In a major public event hosted by the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council and the Woodrow Wilson Center, President of Yemen Abdrabo Mansour Hadi provided a stark assessment of Yemen’s political, economic and security conditions and what failure there would mean for the United States and the international community.

He characterized Yemen’s political transition as part of the broader trend of the Arab Spring, with thousands of Yemenis taking to the streets to denounce years of governmental mismanagement and corruption. President Hadi stressed that these protests could have pushed Yemen into a period of prolonged chaos, with tribal divisions and a pervasive presence of firearms threatening a full-blown civil war, however, Yemenis were resolved to avert this scenario.

Through a series of compromises, and with logistical and financial assistance from international supporters such as the United States, the European Union, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Yemen managed to steer clear of a civil war. In November 2011, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh accepted a plan for a peaceful transfer of power in which he would step aside in exchange for immunity. The GCC-brokered deal provided for the formation of a coalition government comprising equal representation from the former ruling party and the main opposition coalition, including the appointment of a prime minister from the opposition. This step was followed by early elections—which were held in February 2012—and preparations for a national dialogue intended to lay down the blueprint for an inclusive, democratic government.

President Hadi stressed the importance of this achievement, focusing on the high turnout for the February vote and on Yemenis’ refusal to descend into civil strife. Despite intensely adverse conditions—road blockages, oil shortages, gunfights in the streets—Yemenis made their way to the ballot boxes to invest in their country’s transition. He also elaborated on the progress that has been made in counterterrorism, noting that 344 terrorists had been killed or captured between May 2011 and September 2012. Meanwhile, Yemen’s armed forces pushed militant groups out of the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa by July —a success Mr. Hadi labeled the beginning of the end for al-Qaeda. He also noted that Yemeni tribes rejected the presence of Ansar Al Sharia in their communities, and formed popular committees that played an integral role in these efforts, providing critical intelligence and support to security operations.

Yet despite these successes, Yemen continues to face daunting challenges. On the one hand, Yemen’s stability is threatened by an increasingly dire humanitarian and financial crisis; President Hadi suggested that seventy-five percent of the problems Yemen faces are rooted in its economy. Yemenis suffer from severe food and water shortages, along with skyrocketing unemployment and a deteriorating GDP. Meanwhile, Yemen is experiencing a youth bulge, with some six million people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-eight, and some 600,000 graduates struggling to find employment. Faced with the Yemen’s grim economic realities, these young people are increasingly vulnerable to the influence of extremists.

Yemen’s humanitarian situation is thus intimately related to the problem of radical extremism, which, despite important progress, continues to pose a serious threat to Yemen’s stability. Just as economic setbacks increase the appeal of extremist networks, terrorist violence further exacerbates Yemen’s humanitarian situation by destroying infrastructure, displacing Yemenis from their homes, and forcing the government to divert scarce resources into providing food and shelter for these individuals.

Economic and security challenges thus pose a formidable challenge to Yemen’s stability. As President Hadi emphasized throughout his address, this stability is not merely a matter of domestic concern; on the contrary, it has far reaching implications for the Middle East and the international community. On the one hand, Yemen’s strategic position at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula makes it a critical juncture for maritime trade, sitting adjacent to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Meanwhile, the active presence of al-Qaeda and its affiliate groups on the ground in Yemen means that the country’s instability has the potential to endanger countries across the world; these militant groups seek to take advantage of instability, using Yemen as a launching point for transnational terrorism. In view of these points, President Hadi insisted that ensuring Yemen’s stability should be viewed as a global imperative.

During the question and answer portion of the discussion, President Hadi reiterated the importance of close cooperation between Yemen and the international community, as support from abroad will be critical to the success of Yemen’s transition. A prime example of such support was the Saudi government’s provision of oil while Yemen was suffering from severe shortages in early 2012; without this assistance, Yemen would likely have been unable to hold elections in February. Mr. Hadi also acknowledged the value of American military backing in the struggle against terrorism, pointing to the superior precision of drones and the importance of American support in carrying out operations at night. He affirmed a close partnership with the United States, which is essential for overcoming the security and economic barriers in Yemen’s path towards a successful transition.

An address by 

His Excellency Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi
Republic of Yemen 

With introductory remarks by 

Jane Harman
Director, President, and CEO
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 

Moderated by

Frederick Kempe
President and CEO
Atlantic Council