Thursday, 3 May 2012

In Yemen: The coming regime:  a civil or religious state?

Source: Bitterlemons-International,

 By Nasser Arrabyee,03/05/2012

Yemen now faces a new political reality, but one not yet better than before. Yemenis' long-wished-for dream of establishing a civil state where liberties and rights are guaranteed to every citizen has not yet been realized. 

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh is now gone from power, but his party still holds 50 percent of the ministerial seats in the unity government and a majority of the parliament. President Hadi himself is still secretary general of Saleh's party. And Saleh remains the head of that party (even though he is trying to be solely "honorary"--busy with sports, socializing with normal people, and writing his memoirs). He is now writing his life story about the 33 years he spent "dancing on the heads of snakes" (which was how he always used to refer to ruling Yemen).

This means that the parties that conflicted during the political crisis are those same parties that will establish the civil state--if they remain balanced through regional and international support. Maintaining Saleh's semi-secular party is at the heart of this balance and prevents Islamist-extremist dominance.

On November 23 last year, Saleh and his opponents signed in Riyadh a deal sponsored by Saudi Arabia and strongly supported by the United States for a peaceful, smooth, orderly and constitutional transfer of power by Saleh. The United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 2014 to support the deal's implementation and sent special envoy Jamal Bin Omar to help end the crisis. 

Both Saudi Arabia and the US did not want al-Qaeda (which mainly threatens both of them) to exploit ongoing chaos to expand and recruit. They were and remain the key supporters of this political solution for Yemen's crisis. 

The deal, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, or GCC Initiative, calls for a step-by-step plan over two years and gives immunity from future prosecution to Saleh and all key conflicting players in Saleh's regime. A unity government was then formed between Saleh's party and the opposition coalition behind the anti-Saleh protests. Early elections were held on February 21, 2012, about two years before the true end of Saleh's term. 

Now elected President Hadi has to complete three more major steps before the end of the transitional period in February 2014. The most important of these is a comprehensive national dialogue including even those who did not sign the GCC initiative, such as the Houthis in the north and separatist groups in the south. 

The army is to be reformed under one leadership and a new constitution drafted before the 2014 presidential elections. These elections must be truly free and fair and open to all, not like the elections this year, which had only one consensus candidate--Hadi, Saleh's deputy for 18 years--crowned by the exhausted political parties. 

Without sincere cooperation from all political parties and influential tribal, religious, and military figures, President Hadi will not be able to finish implementation of the GCC initiative. Only completion of all steps of the deal will rescue Yemen from a slide into civil war and utter chaos. 

As such, Yemen faces three possible scenarios from now until February 2014. The best and most desirable to the majority, especially the modern forces, is the establishment of a civil state with real constitutional guarantees. All problems facing President Hadi can be solved if he can contain the military defectors under leadership of General Ali Muhsen and the tribal defectors under leadership of Hamid Al-Ahmar and his family. 

These two leaders were the main pillars in Saleh's regime before they hijacked the "change revolution" to replace Saleh and exclude his son. Saleh's son, Ahmed, remains the commander of most of the army and the highly-trained republican guards and special forces. 

As such, this scenario will not come easily. It faces almost the same big "snakes" that prevented former President Saleh from establishing the real institutions of a civil state. Tribal, religious, and military figures continue to wait to reap the spoils of this "civil state" to their advantage or that of their relatives. (With the exception of the terrorist al-Qaeda, almost all parties advocate for the civil state--but with different visions.)

The worst scenario would be the failure of the GCC political settlement, resulting in an uncontrollable civil war. This failure, if it happens, will be a victory for the enemies of the civil state and those who want to establish a religious state, or the "Islamic Caliphate" called for by cleric Abdul Majid al-Zandani, an influential religious leader who also publicly rejects the civil state. Al-Zandani is also a key leader of the country's largest Islamist party, Islah, which dominates among the six main parties that share in the current government with Saleh's party.

Al-Qaeda will take the lead in establishing this purported caliphate by expanding and recruiting as it did in the absence of the state during the 2011 protests. Al-Qaeda will use its sympathizers more than its operatives to achieve its goals, which is more dangerous than recruiting direct affiliates. A sympathizer with al-Qaeda is not necessarily ideologically supportive, but supportive as a result of social and economic problems. 

The third scenario lies between the best and worst, and is the most likely to happen. The conflicting parties may maintain the current balance until 2014 and even beyond--not in order to establish the civil state but to reproduce themselves as "snakes" creeping under and around a new dancing president who will either do their bidding or impose himself on them as Saleh did in the past. This scenario is more plausible, being easier, less costly and more familiar to the traditional forces (tribal, religious, and military) trying to reproduce themselves under the banner of the "civil state".-Published 3/5/2012 ©

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