Yemen has a fabulous past, but a troubled future. What’s currently on offer doesn’t change that. Unless the West acts firmly for Change, the situation will continue to degrade.
The Gulf Co-operation Council deal – even if accepted in anything like its original form – merely removes some of the current corrupt politicians from the equation (it is unclear as to how many, how far, or for how long), and replaces them with others.
Yemen is currently run by the General People’s Congress – which does exactly what it says on the tin; in other words, it’s a vehicle for Ali Abdullah Saleh to administer his fiefdom. Over thirty years, he has developed this organisation so that it – like the Ba’ath Party of his mentor Saddam Hussein – is intertwined with the functions of the state.
The Opposition (the Joint Meeting Parties or JMP) in many respects tends to loyalty, rather than opposition. Mostly, this is due to the President’s ability to compromise and corrupt, such that Opposition politicians’ ability to challenge him can be reined in at anytime. Many of those now loudly trumpeting their opposition have profited handsomely from their long association with Ali Abdullah, and probably just want to replace him at the head of the feeding chain.
This Opposition is troubled partly by its incoherence: the JMP is a collection of 7 smaller parties with one common cause: to get rid of Ali Abdullah Saleh; beyond that they are divided over the direction of the country, nature of government, and even their own internal political identity.
As a result of the serial failures of the governing GPC and the opposition JMP, the People have revolted, from the far north to the tip of the south. In the main cities of Yemen, the revolt has been by thousands and hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators from all walks and classes of Yemeni life. Yemenis inside and outside the country have united against the kleptocracy, putting aside any tribal or political differences, and organised. They have articulated their demands – rather more coherently than the Opposition – drafted manifestos, lobbied foreign governments, and addressed the underlying issues in a far more rational way than the “professional” politicians.
The GCC deal is being portrayed as a solution to Yemen’s problems. It is no such thing. It is flawed in origin and delivery, but powerful interests work against a genuine solution to the problem, which will therefore leave Yemen in the worst case scenario – potentially adding a second failed state across the already pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.
The GCC deal is predominately a selection of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s declarations cobbled together, and then passed to the GCC for implementation. With such an origin, it is unlikely to address the root cause of the problem: Ali Abdullah Saleh’s kleptocracy. Given the threat that the Arab Spring poses to their own comfortable existence, it is unlikely that any of the monarchies which comprise the GCC will wish to see either a strong and effective democracy take hold in Yemen. Yet Western politicians have entrusted self-serving monarchs with just such a role.
The JMP have grudgingly welcomed the GCC deal. They hoped to gain much from it, with the exception of the telegenic Tawwakul Karman – a member of one of the JMP parties – the People’s voice has gone largely unheard by Western audiences. Yet they represent the future, for their issues – employment, water, food security – are the pressing issues that Yemeni leaders must tackle, not squabble over who should tell whom how to rearrange which political deckchairs on the Titanic.
Despite the limited communications within Yemen, the Youth have organised, and generated coalitions in the many countries of the Yemeni Diaspora, united by the political enablers of Facebook and Twitter. The need for justice and accountability are universal urges, they are however particularly prevalent in Western societies. While a few Yemenis in the Diaspora have rejected Western values and held on to traditional identities, far more have embraced the political freedoms and intellectual opportunity of the West. They seek to return these ideas to Yemen, to allow a Yemeni democracy to flourish.
Democracy is less far-fetched than it might seem. While Yemen is infamous for having the second highest number of guns per capita globally, this is not reflected in the overall level of societal violence, or in the relatively free press (albeit with some strict red lines), or indeed in the proud knowledge that the revolt and the protestors have been entirely peaceful and unarmed. Unlike at home, the West seems to see the solution to Yemen’s problems as “more of the same”: Mr Cameron should remember his own words, and support the Youth:
A country is at its best when the bonds between people are strong and when the sense of national purpose is clear. Today the challenges facing [Yemen] are immense. Our economy is overwhelmed by debt, our social fabric is frayed and our political system has betrayed the people. But these problems can be overcome if we pull together and work together. If we remember that we are all in this together.
Some politicians say: ‘give us your vote and we will sort out all your problems’. We say: real change comes not from government alone. Real change comes when the people are inspired and mobilised, when millions of us are fired up to play a part in the nation’s future.
Yes this is ambitious. Yes it is optimistic. But in the end all the Acts of Parliament, all the new measures, all the new policy initiatives, are just politicians’ words without you and your involvement.
How will we deal with the debt crisis unless we understand that we are all in this together? How will we raise responsible children unless every adult plays their part? How will we revitalise communities unless people stop asking ‘who will fix this?’ and start asking ‘what can I do?’ [Yemen] will change for the better when we all elect to take part, to take responsibility – if we all come together. Collective strength will overpower our problems.
Only together can we can get rid of this government and, eventually, its debt. Only together can we get the economy moving. Only together can we protect the NHS. Improve our schools. Mend our broken society. Together we can even make politics and politicians work better. And if we can do that, we can do anything. Yes, together. (http://www.conservatives.com/Policy/Manifesto.aspx)
The British Yemeni Coalition Supporting the Peaceful Youth Revolution