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Unifying Governance in Post-War Yemen

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States — 

Panel: Unifying Governance in Post-War Yemen

Organizer: Gulf International Forum

Moderator: Ambassador Patrick Theros, Strategic Advisor at Gulf International Forum. 

Panelists: 

H.E. Amb. Amat Al-Alim Alsoswa – Former Minister of Human Rights of Yemen

H.E. Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi – Former Minister of Foreign Affairs 

Ambassador (Ret.) Matthew Tueller – Former United States Ambassador to Yemen 

Abdulghani Al-Iryani – Senior Researcher at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies

In this panel, the speakers discussed how unity affects the potential for peace in Yemen and whether the drive for unity will exacerbate this potential by bringing people together into the government and if it will aid the peace process. 

In his opening remarks Amb. Theros applauded the efforts to bring the region’s voices to Washington, D.C. He noted that despite the many panels and discussions in the United States about the future of countries like Yemen, most conversations lack voices from Yemen and the region. 

In her remarks, H.E. Amat Al-Alim Alsoswa concentrated on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, stating that using military force is not the solution. H.E. emphasized that the future and prosperity of Yemen require a healthy population of well-educated children and youth. In addition, the PLC and the Houthis must urgently address and repair the health infrastructure to alleviate the suffering of the people in areas under their control before resolving their political conflict. Finally, Alsoswa noted a few of the U.N. Special Envoy’s recent statements on ending this tragedy: 

  1. Stabilizing the currency exchange rates across Yemen
  2. Appropriate use of public revenues and financing of public service salaries
  3. Ending restrictions on freedom of movement and double taxation 
  4. Joint planning for post-conflict reconstruction and challenges faced by the private sector, especially the commercial banking sector and its ability to engage international and support currency rates 
  5. Resolve Yemen’s severe gender gap

Alsoswa stressed that peace-building forums must address the gender gap index. She referenced UNSCR 2216, an outcome of the National Dialogue Conference, NDC, on April 2nd, 2015. The agreement outlined the role of women from now on; however, she added that although the Yemeni government committed to women’s rights as full citizens, women’s participation in the NDC has not been followed by further, more critical steps. Alsoswa called for an Inter-Yemeni dialogue and agreement that must not be limited to a national level because peace-building and economic recovery must occur at local levels before expanding to larger areas. On improving food security, she mentioned the vital role of women in raising livestock in rural areas with sufficient natural vegetation and the need to revitalize the local fishing industry along the coasts of Yemen, diminished by the war and economic restrictions. She concluded that war would not benefit the people of Yemen or the region. Alsoswa ended with how it all goes back to good governance and functions of the State, the question of citizenship, and the implementation of the rule of law. The reduction of economic growth in achieving justice, solving corruption, and Yemen’s dependence on external support should be seriously evaluated to alleviate the conditions that became a reason for political, economic, and social failures for a long time. 

H.E. Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi insisted that saving Yemen from this disastrous situation requires a unified effort. Al-Qirbi said that although the ceasefire reduced tensions and suffering, it did not provide real solutions or deliver the promises of starting political solutions for a settlement. He stressed that continuing on the track of the Stockholm Agreement and a ceasefire without a clear map to an end goal will impede political negotiations. 

Al-Qirbi hoped the PLC would deliver on the promises it was created for and underlined the need for a clear mandate of its responsibilities to protect its constitutionality and affirm its unity to establish peace. Nevertheless, on the contrary, the de facto military groups are now taking control of resolving the conflict in Yemen. He added that the solution to the conflict is not entirely in the hands of the Yemenis, with the influence of sponsors of the various groups in Yemen. The positions of the sponsors must be considered, ponder innovative solutions for this conflict, end the blame game, focus on solutions for Yemen, and abandon hostilities and uncertainties about each other. Al-Qirbi concluded that the Houthis must realize that their survival in Yemen depends on Yemenis acceptance of their role and responsibilities in leadership. Governance and unity of government are essential for a prosperous post-war Yemen. Al-Qirbi highlighted the significance of an agreement that provides justice to all parties involved and parties accepting their accountabilities in reconstructing Yemen, including the sponsors. In conclusion, Al-Qirbi noted that the challenge is to move forward without using force and, instead, build trust by understanding the concerns of the various political parties and the guarantees they want when a political settlement is reached. 

Former Ambassador of the United States to Yemen, Matthew Tueller, spoke on the negative impact the conflict has had on broader U.S. interests since 2011. Tueller said that the U.S. interest in seeing Yemen as a unified and stable state with solid institutions is necessary to prevent the propagation of violent extremist groups in Yemen, such as Al-Qaeda. Tueller said that U.S. interest in Yemen is also due to its geographic location, as U.S. and world commercial trade routes that pass through Yemen, Bab Al Mandab must remain secure and stable and not affected by internal conflicts. He added that the U.S. is interested in preventing the ongoing humanitarian crisis. However, Tueller is discouraged by the superficiality of the discussion on the humanitarian conflict, indicating that the Saudi intervention and boycott of the ports and airports exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. Tueller suggested that building strong state institutions will resolve the various complexities of the underlying problem. On Iran’s role in the conflict, Tueller denoted Iran’s role as opportunistic, and its deep ties to the Houthis must be further explored to reduce Iran’s influence. Otherwise, it will be challenging to observe a political settlement in Yemen. Tueller stated that the U.S. could not get behind solutions leading to enmity between Yemen and its most critical Arab partners. He remarked that the GCC made a strategic miscalculation by excluding Yemen from the network they built to develop security, political, and economic structures on the Arabian peninsula. Therefore, it is in the U.S. interest to integrate Yemen into the GCC, which can help Yemen build those institutions. Tueller concluded that neither military nor economic pressure would work on the Houthis. On the contrary, many of them now want to be part of state-building and wish to compete for power through the mechanisms of political parties. This presents an opportunity for the U.N., U.S., and the GCC to continue strengthening those elements of all political factions committed to state building and state institutions. 

On the solutions that can come out of the peace process and whether a divided, federal, or united Yemen would be viable, Abdulghani Al-Iryani, Senior Researcher at the Sana’a Center, began by noting that the trajectory of the economic collapse was clear since the political democratization of Yemen after the 1994 civil war. Due to power concentration and corruption and no significant political or economic reforms. Al-Iryani proposed a path to restore the Yemeni State using the following principles:

  1. The State is a long historical process of institutional building.
  2. Yemeni state institutions are weak and underdeveloped despite being over two centuries old. If lost, they will take generations to restore or could result in several states in their place.

Al-Iryani also identified three components that still exist and are essential in the rebuilding process:

  1. Central institutions in Sana’a are still national, regardless of the disruptions; giving them up and attempting to rebuild them is harming the chances of the Yemeni State.
  2. Institutions of local gov among the least divided state institutions in Yemen, Building the capacities of local gov and formalizing their competencies which they now practice on an ad-hoc basis, will improve the chances of revitalizing the Yemeni State.
  3. Yemen must not lose international recognition – having a seat at the general assembly at the U.N., and the international consensus on maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of the Yemeni State have been the insurance policy that prevented the region from breaking Yemen apart.

Al-Iryani further stressed the need to collectively recognize the habit of repeating old mistakes and expecting the same result, to name a few:

  1. Power concentration and marginalization of most Yemenis, especially the south
  2. Over centralization and reversing past attempts to build the capacity of local government
  3. Reliance on rent income and ignoring economic development at the local level
  4. Costly over militarization

He further advised that agreeing on political, fiscal, and security sector decentralization is necessary. In addition, local autonomy at the local level is now a prerequisite to restoring the Yemeni State. In conclusion, Al-Iryani pointed out that the Houthis became more powerful and militant because of sanctions and wrong moves by the coalition and the recognized government. Therefore, interacting with GBC and the pragmatists of Ansar Allah, whom the central government marginalized, removes the reasons that empowered the militants against everyone else, can change the city’s dynamic, and can bring Houthis to the negotiating table. 

The Washington Center for Yemeni Studies launched the WCYS 1st Annual Conference 2022 – Yemen Under the Scope in Washington, D.C., on September 29th. Since then, Yemeni-led in-depth conversations have brought together various political, economic, and civil society actors by offering an inclusive platform for diverse voices in Yemeni affairs to share insights and advance solutions for overarching issues and struggles in ending the crisis.

-Unifying Governance in Post-War Yemen- Panel organized by Gulf International Forum at the 1st WCYS Annual Conference 2022 – Yemen Under the Scope. 

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