Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Yemen's opposition parties divided and  cancel each other out, says former US ambassador to Yemen 

Source: The daily Princetonian, 

By REGINA WANG,12/10/2011


Wilson School lecturer and former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine discussed development in Yemen over the past three decades and the country’s future possibilities in a lecture in Robertson Hall on Tuesday night.

Bodine started her lecture by discussing the popular media phrase for the current revolution, “Yemen at the crossroads,” which she described as catchy and appropriate but not exactly new.

Thirty years ago, Bodine said, the phrase was in use and referred to the struggles between North and South Yemen and the rise of “an obscure junior officer, a transitional president at best.”

That obscure junior officer, Bodine said, was Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is currently serving as Yemen’s president more than 30 years later. While the problems facing the country are similar to those in existence at the time the phrase was coined, Bodine explained, they have also evolved.

“Yemen has not been stagnant, and these are not the same crossroads,” she said.

Bodine also explained the effects that the “Arab Spring” — which she described as misnamed — have had on Yemen, comparing Yemeni experiences to those in neighboring countries. The revolutionary waves in all the countries stand out for sharing the same threads of demographics, technology, economy and democracy, Bodine said, but Yemen’s movements have some traits that have made them unique.  

For example, she noted, while all the revolutions during the Arab Spring involved a young demographic, with more than 50 percent of relevant populations under the age of 25, Yemen’s populace is especially youthful. More than 50 percent of Yemen’s citizens are under 15, she explained, bringing to unrest an especial passion and impatience of youth.

Technology has also made youth more aware of the promises leaders have made and failed to keep, as social media and satellite TV have contributed both to feelings of empowerment and marginalization, she said.

Regarding the economy, Bodine described a “battle of generational succession,” with the youth employment rate of 60 percent revealing a disconnect between the education provided in the nation and the jobs available. These problems are compounded by Yemen’s dwindling natural resources, she said.

While Yemen was never a democratic paradise, Bodine explained, the country was far ahead of its neighbors until five years ago. Yet one of the major differences between Yemen and its neighbors, she said, is the lack of coordination among the opposition movements.

As an example, Bodine described the Joint Meeting Party, an organization of diverse legal parties that are united to have a “critical mass that would lead to a coherent opposition to drive reforms.” Unfortunately, the parties involved instead “cancelled each other out,” she said.

“It’s not a lack of leaders, but too many,” Bodine explained. “Besides overthrowing Saleh, they have no common agendas.”

Along with the lack of a clear agenda among opposition members and the lack of a united military opposition, as exists in countries like Egypt, Yemen also has a shrewd leader in Saleh, who has managed to juggle the nation’s politics for longer than three decades.

However, Bodine added, Saleh knows that he currently is in a negotiation stage before eventually transitioning out. Yemen’s future ultimately lies in its ability to overcome its declining natural resources by increasing its investment in Aden Port, she said.

“The only way you can really start the basics of a self-sustaining economy is through Aden Port,” Bodine explained. “Yemen has two natural resources: its people and Aden Port.”

Bodine, who also serves as director of the Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative, was the first speaker in the Princeton Institute for International Regional Studies’ 2011-12 Arab Political Development lecture series.

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