Why Yemen is no model for Iraq

YEMEN FAREAThe suggestion that Yemen could be an example for how to bring stability to Iraq came as a shock to most Yemenis, says a key analyst.

“The contradiction between their country’s political reality and its reputation as an Arab Spring success story has always been glaring, but now it had become absurd,” Farea Al-muslimi (left) writes for Foreign Affairs.

The deal that led to the ousting of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled since 1978, “was a rotten one,” he contends:

It merely handed the presidency over to his deputy, Hadi, and ensured that Saleh would continue to play a role behind the scenes. He was also given immunity for all his wrongdoing during his 33 years in power. And that is not the same thing as democracy. Even worse, the deal made a real transition to democracy in Yemen all the harder and it sowed the seeds of new conflicts.

One of the deal’s key promises to the tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists who took to the streets to bring down Saleh was to hold the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). It was supposed to bring together all the political factions, from the southern separatist movement to young modernizers to negotiate an outline for Yemen’s future political structure; and put the outcome of these negotiations to a public referendum for approval. However, the NDC, held from March 2013 to January 2014, did very little beyond extending the terms of parliament (whose mandate expired in 2008) and the president (whose democratic legitimacy consists of a hastily rushed-through referendum on his serving one term in office). The NDC then ignored its own bylaws and refused to put these decisions to a public vote.

A few years ago in Yemen, people used to warn of an “Iraq scenario” if its problems weren’t addressed, meaning that Yemen would be the new Iraq. They don’t anymore, Al-muslimi concludes.

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Is kneejerk opposition to coups misplaced?

egypt sisiIs kneejerk opposition to military coups misplaced?  We can all agree that coups overthrowing democratic governments are never good, but what about authoritarian ones? asks Slate analyst Joshua Keating:

The economist Paul Collier has made that argument, suggesting that “the very forces that sanctimony comfortably condemns can sometimes be the most effective ally of democracy.” After all, whether or not a dictator survives often depends more on the support of those around him than the support of citizens. 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” – probably history’s most famous “good coup” ….

A recent paper by political scientists Clayton L. Thyne and Jonathan M. Powell in the journal Foreign Policy Analysis examines the relationship between coups and democracy in the context of the Arab Spring., where the behavior of the military was often the deciding factor. As they note, “loyal militaries have allowed the governments in Bahrain and Syria remain intact, regimes in Tunisia and Egypt fell after military defections, and military splits led to prolonged fighting in Libya and Yemen.” In general, coups have been much more likely to lead to a return to elected government since the Cold War. Thyne and Powell argue this is in line with the incentives juntas face after taking power. …

The authors don’t go as far as to suggest supporting coups against authoritarian governments, but they say the U.S. and other foreign powers should focus more on “precoup levels of democracy when deciding how to respond to coup attempts.”

In general though, it would probably be wise for the U.S. to maintain a general bias against supporting coups,” Keating suggests. “And even when coups lead back to democracy, countries tend not to have just one. As we saw in Turkey and Thailand throughout the 20th century and Egypt more recently, countries can become trapped in coup cycles.”

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Lack of accountability key obstacle to ‘Arab Spring’ transitions

yemenOne of the key obstacles to democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa is a failure to ensure accountability for the abuses that sparked the “Arab Spring” in the first place, argues David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice.

What, then, has gone awry with regard to accountability efforts in the Middle East and North Africa? Are there any lessons that can be learned just a few short years after these transformative uprisings unnerved long-standing regimes? Are there structural obstacles preventing transitional justice initiatives from taking root in this part of the world? he writes for The Huffington Post:

Transitional justice measures are also operationally complex and require extensive human and financial resources, usually at a time when those very resources are at their scarcest. When those resources are not secured and the goals and priorities are not clearly established during the conceptual phase of the process, the result is, more often than not, ad-hoc measures that inevitably lead to stakeholder fatigue and the inability to meet operational demands or popular expectations.

Stakeholders in the newly constituted governments and in civil society have undertaken a multitude of initiatives with the stated goal of instituting accountability and ending impunity. Yet few, if any, of these efforts have discernibly contributed to those objectives.

The passage of Tunisia’s transitional justice law presents a major breakthrough in a region where transitional justice victories have been scarce, he notes, but….

The historical, political, and social particularities of each country in question mean that a one-size-fits-all approach to transitional justice is unrealistic and undesirable. However, there are two factors in particular that can be discerned in the failed approach to transitional justice in Egypt, Yemen, and Libya: a lack of political will by powerful elements that have much to lose and little to gain from addressing past violations; and the arbitrary nature of the few reforms that have been proposed or implemented and the absence of an integrated vision for those reforms and what they are designed to achieve in the medium- and long-term.

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New structure supports next phase of Yemen’s transition

yemenThe ‘Friends of Yemen’ group has endorsed a new structure designed to align support for Yemen with the priorities set at the conclusion of the National Dialogue. A senior level Steering Committee was established, along with three working groups focused on the key economic, political and security reforms needed to complete the country’s democratic transition, The World Bank reports:

The Economic Working group will monitor progress on economic reforms and the delivery of donor pledges, while ensuring that international support is coordinated around the reform agenda. There was broad consensus among participants at the Friends of Yemen meeting that robust reforms were needed to address the country’s worsening fiscal deficit. The meeting called on the government to make improving the business environment, addressing the economic burden of fuel subsidies and the removal of ‘ghost workers’ and ‘double dippers’ from the public payroll an urgent priority. 

The Friends of Yemen also acknowledged the allocation to specific projects of 97 percent of the around US$7.9 billion pledged at past meetings in Riyadh and New York. Over the past two years, 63 percent of the projects have been approved, and 36 percent of the funds disbursed; including a US$1 billion deposit at the Central Bank of Yemen by Saudi Arabia. In recognition of the importance of ongoing international support during the current phase of Yemen’s transition, donors were encouraged to accelerate disbursements, and to direct aid toward effective vehicles such as social safety nets and labor intensive public works.

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What can Libya learn from Yemen’s dialogue?

Credit: ACUS

Libya’s transitional debates are on a trajectory From Discordant Discourse to National Dialogue, according to a new MENASource analysis by Lara Talverdian and Katherina Pruegel of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

The center’s acting director, Danya Greenfield, considers What Libya Can Learn From Yemen, drawing on the troubled state’s own national dialogue. She has also expressed reasons for concern as well as Cautious Celebration for Yemen’s National Dialogue, especially regarding the dialogue’s lack of transparency, insufficient attention to lack of Southern buy-in, and ongoing resistance to state authority in the north and Hadramawt, factors that should serve as a warning signal for Libyans’ own dialogue process.