x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Yemen's tradition of half-solving problems continues to haunt it

Yemen political accomplishments are only half-finished, argues an Arabic-language columnist. Also, the restraint of Palestinians in Syria, and a new UN-Arab League envoy for Syria.

"Yemen seems to be doomed to making historic, yet unfinished, accomplishments, which eventually lead to grave consequences," wrote Ahmed Youssef Ahmed, director of the Cairo-based Institute of Arab Research and Studies, in yesterday's edition of the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad.

During the unification of Yemen in the late 1980s and early 1990s, everything seemed to be going smoothly, the writer said. "A compromise was reached that tempted both sides of the equation, the northerners and the southerners, into unification."

The idea was to make the southerners, who were fewer in number, feel just as empowered as the northerners in government halls, but with a key twist. While the parliamentary speaker position and the premiership went to the southerners, the presidency remained a northern privilege.

Also, the then-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, chaired a five-member "presidential council". Two members were from the south (one of them the vice president), and two from the north, concentrating the reins of power in the hands of the fifth member, the president.

"But these developments at the government level did not extend to the military institution," the writer noted. "The armed forces in the south and the north did not merge."

The only change that happened was that these forces were redeployed, with some southern units stationed in the north and northern units moved to the south.

"Yet, whenever you had a defence minister from the south and a chief of staff from the north, you knew you were basically dealing with two armies: one taking orders from the minister, the other from the chief of staff," the writer pointed out.

This was a perilous way of running the military. When the northern and southern political elites fell out, and all attempts to reconcile them failed, the army situation made it easy for political confrontation to quickly spiral into a full-blown military conflict. This is now known as the 1994 secession war, or the civil war.

Sure, the central government army (the north) prevailed, but the problem was not solved. Many southern army officers were forced into retirement. This led to further resentment among the southerners and, eventually, turned the ignition on what came to be known as "the Southern Movement". The latter now hits out at the core of the very unity for which Yemen has paid dearly in recent decades.

The same mistake was made when, earlier this year, the youth protests in Yemen culminated in President Saleh stepping down. The revolution was not consummated. Mr Saleh still leads the General People's Congress party, the majority holder in parliament, and so can still influence parliamentary and presidential elections, the writer said.

Indeed, Yemen's is a tragic story of unfinished business.

Syria's Palestinians did not fall into a trap

The Palestinian residents in the Yarmouk camp, near the Syrian capital Damascus, have shown great "political and ethical wisdom" after 24 of them were killed and many more injured following a mortar attack that targeted them in Ramadan, according to Ali Bdwan, a Palestinian contributor to the opinion pages of the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.

The Palestinians did not fall for the trap, he said in an article yesterday. With their stoicism and restraint, they spoiled it for those who wanted to drag them into the raging Syrian crisis, the writer said, without specifying who "those" might be.

After the shelling of the Yarmouk camp earlier this month, both the rebel Free Syrian Army and the government forces denied involvement.

"Palestinian residents in Syria held their position, which is positive and genuine neutrality, one that is predicated on solidarity with Syria and its people," the writer said.

"The Yarmouk tragedy hurt a great deal. Innocent blood was spilt; young men, older men and children bled," he added. But the camp's elders refrained from taking retaliatory action, electing instead to spare lives and preserve social stability.

All they did was bury their dead honourably, as quickly as possible, aware that the attack on their camp was more of a "deceitful" provocation meant to scramble the cards in the Syrian conflict.

Lakhdar Brahimi gets off on the wrong foot

The newly appointed United Nations-Arab League peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is expected to travel to New York this week to officially take office, succeeding Kofi Annan, who gave up such a "difficult, if not impossible mission" in disgust, the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi stated in its lead editorial yesterday.

Mr Brahimi, a seasoned diplomat from Algeria, suggested in a statement to the media that it was still too early to comment on whether President Bashar Al Assad should step down.

"His words, uttered spontaneously, have angered both the rulers and the opposition in Syria," the paper said. "And this anger goes to show that the new envoy has already started making his way though the minefield."

The National Syrian Council demanded that Mr Brahimi apologise for his comments "which seem to give President Al Assad … a licence to kill tens of thousands more".

The Syrian regime also denounced Mr Brahimi's comments as interference in Syria's internal affairs.

If diplomacy is the art of saying the right thing at the right time - which Mr Brahimi, 78, certainly knows - that art might not be so easy to pull off, given the complexity of the Syrian crisis, the paper concluded.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi

aelbahi@thenational.ae