Yemen's Stalemate; Scholars Discuss Current Situation at GWU
January 25, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
On January 24, the Yemeni government announced its support of the provisions made by Supreme Committee for Elections and Referendum (SCER). The Yemen Observer reported that the cabinet has completed most of the preparations for the early presidential elections, now scheduled for February 21. The cabinet also approved the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Many Yemenis are not satisfied with the results of the signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative. Opposition members are angry over President Saleh being granted immunity and believe the elections are only meant to ensure the transfer of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Vice-President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is currently the only candidate. According to the Associated Press, Saleh has asked parliament to delay the elections until May 22, which would violate a United States-backed agreement signed in November 2011. As of now the government has made statements reaffirming its commitment to holding elections in February 2012, but the opposition believes Saleh’s followers are using other methods to postpone the elections. CNN reported that the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) believe the government let al Qaeda affiliated militants take over the town of Radda in the Baitha province so Saleh – who is currently receiving medical treatment in the United States – can claim the country is too insecure to hold the election in February.
Meanwhile, numerous groups have declared their intention to boycott the election. In Aden, on January 27, thousands demonstrated by raising the flag of the former South Yemen and burning their voting cards. The following day, heavily armed gunmen attacked an election committee office in the south. However, Reuters reported that separatist leaders, who wish to revive a socialist state in the south, have vowed to use non-violent tactics to voice their demands. The Shi’ite Houthis from the North are also planning on boycotting the vote.
On January 25, the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMED) convened a panel on Yemen’s current political stalemate at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Dr. Marc Lynch (The George Washington University) moderated the panel featuring Stacey Yadav (Hobart and William Smith Colleges), Sheila Carapico (University of Richmond) and Laurent Bonnefy (Institut de Recherches et d'Etudes sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman, Centre francais d'archeologie et de sciences sociales de Sanaa, Yemen).
Professor Carapico set the stage for the panel by discussing the unique aspects of the Yemeni revolution, the condition of civil society and the consequences of the opposition not being able to coalesce around a particular platform. She also expressed concern over US and GCC actions, which seem to take Saudi Arabian interests into account more so than Yemeni interests. Professor Yadav discussed the fragile alliance of opposition groups that make up the JMP and how it has become part of the system over the years. Today many JMP members are removed from their constituencies and the younger members have begun to split off to join the anti-GCC groups.
Professor Bonnefy used his time to sort out the differences between the five major groups of Islamists in Yemen. According to him, Islamists will play a central role in Yemen but Salafists are not likely to organize with the success they had in Egypt any time soon. Al-Islah though, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, is already active amongst the opposition and has connections with tribal elites. It is also part of the current regime to an extent, so it is well placed to influence events going forward. Overall, the panelists were unsatisfied with the GCC agreement and view the upcoming presidential election as a “rubber stamp” for Saleh’s successor. Though the panelists are doubtful that civil war will break out in Yemen, the political tensions combined with the famine and water shortage could lead to some degree of violence in the short to medium term.
For previous news on Yemen, please see:
Yemeni President Saleh Steps Down; Influence Still Remains
Project on Middle East Political Science - Arab Uprisings: Yemen’s Stalemate
Yemen Observer - Yemen government supports SCER measures for early presidential elections
Reuters - Gunmen attack Yemen election committee office
The Associated Press - Yemen Presidential Elections Not Delayed, Foreign Minister Says
CNN - Yemeni opposition: Saleh family let al Qaeda take over town