x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Yemen's youth are the key to lasting stability

If Yemen's opposition was a united front, the political crisis that has engulfed the Arab world's poorest country may have ended at the weekend. Instead, it appears to have only deepened.

If Yemen's opposition was a united front, the political crisis that has engulfed the Arab world's poorest country may have ended at the weekend. Instead, it appears to have only deepened.

"The opposition talks as if they own the street," Farea al Muslimi, a Yemeni youth activist, told the Financial Times. "We might have to overthrow them, too."

Protesters have for months demanded changes at the top of Yemen's power structure. On Saturday they might have got it, with a plan crafted by the GCC and approved by the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yet while the measure was endorsed by leading opposition parities, one key group was unmoved: Yemeni youth.

"The Gulf initiative addresses the problem as if it was a political crisis between two parties," one youth leader said Saturday. "We have taken to the streets in a revolution that is demanding a comprehensive change."

Splits within the opposition, and increased isolation of the country's powerful youth movement, could have a devastating impact on Yemen's stability. Men and women under 25 make up nearly three quarters of the population; youth unemployment hovers at 50 per cent.

Despite these figures - and with no clear plan to address them - western and regional allies appear desperate for a solution, even a less than perfect one. Within hours of the plan's unveiling the United States trumpeted the agreement, suggesting that the Yemeni people will now be able to "realise the security, unity, and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve".

No close observer of Yemen's troubled past expects calm overnight. The nation remains deeply divided along tribal and political lines. But unless the nation's unemployed and disenfranchised youngsters are brought into the country's transition, chaos and unrest will continue.

Senior members of Yemen's opposition predicted the current stalemate, some as early as February, warning that without a political strategy the youth movement could lead the country into civil war. Today this seems like an increasingly dangerous possibility.

Yet there are ways to avoid it. Most importantly, all sides - from opposition groups like the Joint Meeting Parties, to university students camped out at the renamed Change Square in the capital - must commit fully to a political solution. Imposed plans may speed the process, but only Yemenis themselves can produce a lasting solution.