x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Yemen's path towards stability a year after Saleh not smooth

A year after a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council saved Yemen from a civil war, the fear of a political collapse remains.

SANAA // A year after a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council saved Yemen from a civil war, the country's interim president is promising that parliamentary elections will go ahead in February next year as set out in the transition agreement.

In a ceremony earlier this week marking the anniversary, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi called on political factions in Yemen to overcome their differences and demonstrate the "cohesion and understanding" necessary for the national dialogue set out in the agreement that ended 11 months of deadly violence.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was in Yemen for the first time on Monday, and extended the UN's continued assistance in restoring stability to the country.

"It may be too early only to rejoice; there is still a long way to go," said Mr Ban at a news conference with Mr Hadi.

Under the deal signed by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh that paved the way for Mr Hadi's succession, major reforms must be put in place during a two-year interim period to ensure a transition to democracy.

Mr Hadi said that a preparatory committee for the national dialogue, which will have the job of drawing up a new constitution and electoral law, had completed 95 per cent of its work.

"The remaining five per cent will be completed in the coming few weeks," he said at the news conference.

The dialogue sessions have been delayed as various groups refused to participate. Among those are southern Hirak movement that is seeking an independent state, the pro-Shia Houthis who are seeking a greater role in government, and youth activists.

"No one said it was going to be easy but we are better today than we were months back," said Mohammed Abulahoum, a member of the committee and president of the political opposition Justice and Building party. "It's either dialogue or chaos."

Another obstacle to the country's unity is the continuing popularity of the former president. He was granted immunity for his actions during 30-years of rule but not barred from political activity and continues to lead his The General People's Congress, the country's largest party. Mr Saleh's son Ahmed, and other relatives, still hold key military and security posts.

Activists say that dialogue is useless if the Saleh family remains in positions of power in the country's military.

Islah, the country's leading opposition party, insists that restructuring the army and uniting it under one leader is critical to further political progress. Its influence on Mr Hadi, through its tribal, religious and military presence, may have been reflected in the president's statement on Monday.

"All factions must understand that those standing in the way of change will face the power of the people. Restructuring within the army will take place very soon," Mr Hadi said.

While Yemen is in a more stable position that it was a year ago, the fear of a political collapse remains.

"Everyone has their fingers crossed. We know the situation could fall apart at any given time," said Ahmed Al Bahri, who heads the political department in the Sanaa-based opposition Haq party.

"But there is hope, no one thought the transition deal would last more than a month and it has been a year now."


* With additional reports from Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press