Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Dialogue or war?

On 15 November, all Yemeni groups are supposed to sit for national dialogue about their new future, after two years of violent conflicts, says Nasser Arrabyee

If successful, the dialogue will result in a new order and state in which all rights and freedoms are guaranteed for everyone. But if dialogue fails, a civil war is the most likely alternative according to many indicators.

As there are a number of challenges that might lead to failure of this dialogue, there are also a number of opportunities that might lead to its success.

Among others, the first and foremost challenge is the issue of the south, locally known as Hirak, the southern separatist movement. The rebellious movement of Shia Houthi in the north is the second challenge of the coming dialogue. The allegations that Al-Houthi is receiving support from Iran makes it even more difficult to convince this group. Al-Qaeda activity and its continuous attempts to thwart any political success and return the country back to insecurity and chaos are also among the challenges.

However, almost all parties and politicians in Yemen say if the south issue, Hirak, is solved, all other issues can be solved easily.

"It's impossible to have a successful dialogue without the participation of Hirak," said Abdel-Karim Al-Eryani, head of the technical committee for preparing for the dialogue.

Al-Eryani was talking in an event organised and financed by the American National Democratic Institute (NDI) in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Tuesday. The event is called the Council of the City, the first of many similar events that aim to help Yemenis to react with the coming dialogue.

Al-Eryani is the deputy chairman of the People's General Congress Party (PGC)that was ruling before and during the protests of 2011. And now 50 per cent of the ministers of the national unity government are from PGC, presided over by the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On his part, Mohamed Qahtan, prominent member of the Islamist party Islah, said, "To bring the dialogue to success, the problems of the south should be solved."

Qahtan's party is dominating the political coalition that led the protests against Saleh and his party PGC last year. The coalition, locally known as Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs), includes the Socialist party that was ruling the south before unity in 1990, Arab nationalists (Nasserites), the Baath Party, and two small Islamist parties.

The majority of southerners have been complaining about being politically and socially marginalised since after the civil war of 1994 that erupted less than four years after the unity between south and north.

"To have a successful dialogue, the president should issue decrees to solve the problems of the land and retirees," said Qahtan referring to the land in the south that was unfairly taken by northern officials, and to southern officials who were forced to retire after the war of 1994.

The activist Afra Al-Hariri, from the south, however, said that the problems of the south remained unchanged even after the new president came to power. The new President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi is from the south. Al-Hariri, who was participating in the Council of City, said nothing changed at all after Hadi came to power.

"Insecurity, exclusion, marginalisation, absence of equal citizenship, and the same faces are still there," Al-Hariri said.

To make the dialogue successful, the south should be fairly represented and to do that there should be immediate steps for solving the problems of the south. Al-Hariri said two things at least should happen before the dialogue.

"The tribal speeches against the south should stop, and fatwas (religious decrees), should stop," said Al-Hariri, referring to two main things that abused and angered the southerners the most.

The first thing was a fatwa from a religious leader from the northern Islamist party Islah during the war of 1994, which said that socialist southerners are kafirs (infidels). The second thing took place earlier this month when a tribal leader also from the north said he would lead a war against southerners who would not participate in the dialogue. Both statements were widely condemned by the majority of people in the south and north.

For opportunities of success of the dialogue, the most important one is the international and regional support for the dialogue. The security and stability of Yemen is important not only for Yemen but also for the region and the international community. The most dangerous branch of Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is still taking advantage of the chaos and unrest that Yemen is still witnessing.

Last week in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, two masked gun men from Al-Qaeda riding a motorcycle shot dead a Yemeni officer working at the American embassy in Yemen as a security coordinator between the Americans and the government. The victim Kasem Aklan was investigating who was behind the violence against the US embassy on 13 September, in protests against the recent American film abusive to Islam.

Later in the week, three headless bodies of security soldiers were found near a check point at the entrance of Mareb city in eastern of Yemen. Local sources said that Al-Qaeda operatives kidnapped three soldiers from the check point and returned them hours later after cutting off their heads. In the same city of Mareb in the same week, Al-Qaeda beheaded three men and threw their bodies in three different streets of the city. Al-Qaeda said the three men were spying for Yemeni intelligence and posing as Jihadists with Al-Qaeda.

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