x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Yemen's struggle between old and new threatens success of national dialogue

Planning for the talks, aimed at resolving the country's political, economic and security challenges, is underway with Mr Hadi expected to name members of a committee to set the agenda and the participants by the end of the month.

SANAA // A power struggle between Yemen's new and old guard for control of the country's army and security forces is raising questions about the success of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi's planned national dialogue.

Planning for the talks, aimed at resolving the country's political, economic and security challenges, is underway with Mr Hadi expected to name members of a committee to set the agenda and the participants by the end of the month.

The national dialogue is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council-backed transition deal that removed Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's longtime president, from office in February after a year-long uprising.

But critics are sceptical that the talks will be productive, given the difficulties Mr Hadi has encountered in restructuring the military mostly controlled by loyalists of the former president, appeasing the southern secessionist movement and suppressing militants in the country's south.

"The Gulf initiative fault is that it wanted the removal of Saleh but the stay of his regime, which is impossible," said Abdulbari Taher, an independent analyst in Sanaa.

"Saleh did not build a state but a gang that is still controlling the army and security forces which make it impossible for change to take place; the deal granted him immunity from prosecution and released his hand to spoil the transition", he said.

In April, Mr Hadi removed Mr Saleh's relatives and loyalists from key army posts as part of a massive restructuring.

But Philip Holzapfel, deputy head of mission at the German embassy in Sanaa, said that supporters of the former regime continue to "undermine the transition process".

"The best solution that would bring a national dialogue process forward would be a coordinated retreat of certain heads of security forces and militias from the political scene. This solution was suggested more than year ago but was not implemented. It is the solution that the majority of Yemenis would agree with," said Mr Holzapfel.

The country's transition envisions the completion of a constitution in late 2013, allowing general elections to take place in February 2014.

At a news conference on Saturday, the eight-member liaison committee setting the groundwork for the talks said it was making progress in bringing together Yemen's disparate groups. Rebels in Sadaa province, a stronghold of the Shiite Houthis who fought an intermittent war against the government for about six years, have agreed to take part. Later this month, the committee will meet leaders of a secessionist movement in southern Yemen, formerly a separate state whose 1990 union with the north collapsed into civil war four years later.

Nadia Al Sakkaf, liaison committee spokesman, said it was proving difficult to find representatives of certain groups to take part in the talks.

"It was easy to speak with the Houthis as they have a single leadership. But, it is difficult to speak with the Hirak or southern movement, women, and youths at protest squares as they do not have a single leadership", she said.

Abdulkarim Al Iryani, committee chairman, said it does not set conditions for participating in the dialogue.

"The dialogue is open to all forces that believe in peaceful political practice and any one that has conditions must put them on the table of the discussions. There is no ceiling or red line for the engagement in the dialogue," said Mr Al Iryani.

But Mr Taher said the talks will be successful only if Mr Hadi has full control over the army and security forces.

"I do not know what kind of dialogue we will have while the president is toothless and his decisions are not implemented. Most of the towns are occupied by divided troops and this has intensified the deterioration of the security situation and delayed the crackdown on Al Qaeda militants in Abyan," he said.

"Army troops should be unified first and pushed outside the cities so that the door is opened for political talks and solutions," said Mr Taher.

In his briefing to the UN Security Council last week, Jamal Benomar, the UN special envoy to Yemen, said the success or failure of the national dialogue is likely to make or break Yemen's transition to democracy. The Security Council is expected to vote May 29 on a resolution that supports efforts by Yemen's president to advance the country's transition to democracy and threatens non-military sanctions against those trying to undermine the country's national unity government.

malqadhi@thenational.ae

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