Long-awaited National Dialogue talks began in Yemen on Monday, bringing together the country’s divergent political factions in a series of negotiations to be held over the coming months. The Dialogue is aimed at drafting a new constitution and electoral law in preparation for the presidential elections in 2014.
The most important stage of Yemen’s political transition, maybe the UN-backed meetings were initially scheduled for July 2012, however it proved challenging to go forward as planned due to different interests. Delegates who met at the Friends of Yemen meeting in London earlier this month welcomed the election roadmap set out by Yemen’s current government, offering international support to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The UK has pledged £11.4million to aid the National Dialogue and Yemen’s elections.
The 565 representatives designated by UN envoy Jamal Benomar and Yemen’s government may include “all [groups] and political actors, including youth, the Southern Movement, the Houthis, other political parties, civil society representatives and women,” in line with the preconditions of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which brokered the dialogue. “Women must be represented in all participating groups,” emphasised the GCC’s agreement.
The key to the Dialogue’s success lies in the commitment of all sides to participate. Engaging Al Harak, a southern separatist movement, is a particular challenge. South Yemen departed in 1994, sparking a civil challenge, before being taken back by northern troops.
The exiled leader of Al Harak and former Vice-President of South Yemen, Ali Salem Al-Baid, has stood firm instead of joining the meetings, demanding the withdrawal of northern troops and their replacement with UN peacekeepers. A Shiite insurgent group known as the Houthis agreed to join the dialogue with ten conditions to their participation. These included impartiality of state media and a guarantee of no foreign interference.
The National Dialogue has opposition. Activists in the South began rallies on Sunday evening in protest against the talks, with banners reading “[silence] under occupation; independence is our choice.”
“The dialogue is the best and only opportunity for Yemenis of all sides to come together, resolve their political differences peacefully, and participate in creating a new future for their country,” stated a UK Foreign Office spokesperson on Friday. “The dialogue will require the broadest possible participation.”
“We urge all sides to engage seriously with open minds and without pre-conditions,” continued the FCO’s spokesperson.
The US Department of State lauded the commencement of the talks as a “key element of Yemen’s political transition” and reiterated calls for “inclusive, transparent and constructive Dialogue”.
How does this balanced engagement from both sides improve world situations?