Reforms do not come easily in Yemen. Hundreds of Republican Guard officers protested in front of the Ministry of Defense in Sana’a on Friday because the transitional government is seeking to reduce the powers of their commander, Ahmed Saleh, the son of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
At least the news from Yemen is not the doomsday headlines of Syria. Fresh from the tumult of its own Arab Spring, Yemen avoided much of the bloodshed of Syria’s emerging civil war by pushing President Saleh out of the presidency he tenaciously held for 33 years, and creating a transitional government headed by his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi.
Reforms are being instituted and Yemen may yet benefit from what is now called the “Yemen Plan.”
Khaled Fattah is a guest lecturer at the University of Lund’s Middle East Studies Center in Sweden and a lead consultant for the European Union in Yemen. He was recently in Yemen conducting research on the role of Middle East tribalism in the Arab Spring.
Here is what Fattah thinks:
After the Arab Spring uprising, tensions have been eased
“I think the biggest achievement is psychological in nature. The absence of the man who ruled the country for almost three decades – I mean the official absence – somehow defused the psychological tension among the people. However, Yemen’s problems are mountainous, so it will take time.… Currently there is a discussion of restructuring the military which is one of the most important steps to be taken. A few days ago the new president, President Hadi, was about to take a very important step, which is reducing the power of the former president’s son who is in charge of the Republican Guards, the elite of the Yemen military. “
Saleh is not that far away
“It was a formal departure from the political arena. However, he remains in Yemen. His son, cousins and others are still in the key positions. So it’s a change of the president, not yet a change of the regime.…For the time being, it is the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative which is being implemented with U.N. intervention.…There is a genuine effort to rewrite the constitution, which is one of the most difficult parts of the transformation…taking into consideration the southern problem. There is a strong call for secession of the southern part and currently there is an attempt to rewrite the constitution in such a way that can provide a federal opportunity for the southerners to discuss a federal system currently.”
A new constitution with a federalist clause
“What is complicating the situation, as you know, is the al-Qaida threat in the eastern and the southern part, but in general the political arena of Yemen is better…than six months ago. The economic consequences of the uprising in Yemen have been really severe. Mind you, we are talking about one of the least-developed countries in the world, not only in the Middle East.… Yemen before the uprising has been suffering economically to a high degree so the uprising and the disturbance of the governance and the security problems have really seriously pushed the economy further back.”
Listen to more of Khaled Fattah’s views:
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.