REPUBLIC OF YEMEN TOWARDS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Russian Institute for Strategic Studies
The situation in Yemen draws attention, as recently this country became perceived by the world community as a base for international terrorism. Difficult economic situation in the country allows extremists to spread their influence in the widest possible manner.
Socio-economic problems of modern Yemen mainly arise from demographic situation. This is the main reason why the Yemeni governments attempts to solve socio-economic problems regardless of who is at the top of the government are brought to naught.
Young population of Yemen tripled as a result of rapid growth in the second half of the XX and early XXI century. Because of the scarcity of jobs in the country, mass unemployment increases with population growth as well. Social stratification continues.
For the majority of Yemen’s population, living conditions can be described as unacceptable for the modern man. Electricity is intermittent. Many Yemenis have no access to pure drinking water and sanitary facilities, which is accompanied by epidemics. Public health service level is low.
Despite provided humanitarian and financial assistance from abroad, means to feed and create satisfactory living conditions for a large part of the population are not enough.
Problems caused by complex demographic situation exacerbated “Arab Spring” events that led to armed clashes in many country’s governorates. Refugees and displaced persons appeared. Political instability in the country has extremely negative impact on production and supply of oil affecting state budget filling.
In addition, national characteristics of the population influence (the use of narcotic plant khat) and political traditions of state power (tribalism, nepotism, corruption).
On the background of socio-economic problems, extremely bitter political struggle erupted in the country. Yemen’s political landscape is very variegated – from the Muslim Brotherhood to socialists. Incumbent President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was able to become one because his candidacy was endorsed by the opposition from anti-Saleh coalition “Likaa Mushtarak” (“General Meeting”), that is, he was supported by the leading political forces in the country – the party of “Islah” (“Reform”) and the Yemen socialist Party.
Saleh party “General People’s Congress” is currently not a united political force, as unrest began in its ranks in “zero” years, and it tended to split because of personal ambitions and interests of some of its members. However, Saleh had and still has numerous supporters. These are, above all, the representatives of power structures that personally owe him their nomination.
Political situation is complicated by bursts of separatism in some regions. For example, in South Yemen, the leading political force is combined groups pressing for separation of the southern governorates from North.
Seeking creation of a theocratic state, North Yemen rebels-Houthists (named after the leader – Al-Houthi) are fighting against the central government since June 2004.
Note also that students of Yemen behaves more decisively and consistently than in any other Arab country, so we can talk about it as about an independent political force.
Despite the deep contradictions, an understanding is maintained in Yemeni society of the need to establish internal political dialogue. On March 18, a conference “National Dialogue” started in Sana, which was attended by 565 people representing major political parties and forces including non-governmental organizations, women’s and youth associations. The agenda of the conference included the most important socio-economic and political issues of Yemeni society requiring collective decisions, including adoption of a new constitution, reforming the state structure (presidential or parliamentary republic, federal or unitary state), the army and security forces, as well as issues of economic development of the country.
On December 24, 2013, the Conference participants have signed an agreement defining the direction out of the crisis. The final document called the “Road Map” was signed by the President Hadi, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General in Yemen Jamal Benomar, as well as the representatives of separatist movements of the South. The main thesis of the document drawn up and proposed by Benomar, is formation of a federal state consisting of several regions, which should pave the way for formation of the centralized state based on the principles of federalism. The Agreement provides for the implementation of the “Road Map” in two stages during the period from nine months to two years. The document suggests adoption of a new constitution and federal laws, electoral reform, holding a referendum and general elections.
On January 25, 2014, the Conference completed its work. Its main outcome was an agreement to create a federal state “Union Republic of Yemen”. To implement this agreement, the President Hadi ordered to form a committee on demarcation of the new administrative boundaries.
On February 10, the Committee approved the project under which Yemen will consist of six territorial units: Azal, Aden, Saba, Tihama, Hadramaut, Al Janad. According to the current administrative-territorial division, Yemen consists of 20 Muhafazahs and the metropolitan district.
During the Conference, the participants agreed that Yemen shall be secular democracy state, equality and rights of its people will be provided by the new federative state system. The latter aspect is of particular importance with regard to the need to find a consensus solution to the problem of the South. Results of the Conference of the National Dialogue will be used in the process of drafting a new constitution, and also will assist in organization of the elections scheduled for 2014. The Yemeni government has decided to extend the term of the President Hadi for one year.
* * *
In recent years, Yemen’s foreign policy trends towards strengthening of relations with the U.S. and major European states, where the country receives substantial financial and economic aid, as well as with powerful Asian countries – India, China, South Korea and Japan acting as principal investors in its economy and being consumers of its hydrocarbons.
In March 2013, London hosted the 5th meeting of the “Friends of Yemen” group discussing the measures to encourage Yemen to overcome political problems. During the meeting, the participants discussed the process of preparing the country for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014 and considered the issue of providing assistance in the amount of $7.8 billion pledged by the Group to Yemen in 2012 to improve the lives of the population.
Foreign policy is no less difficult field for the current leadership of Yemen. This is primarily due to the fact that in the current political situation in Yemen, conducting foreign policy can not be separated from the fight against terrorism in the country and the region where the United States played a major role. The United States is a major donor of Yemen and the actual guarantor of its maintenance as a state being interested in a reliable suppression of hotbeds of terrorism in this country. These hotbeds pose a threat to the United States as well.
U.S. allocates significant funds for arming and training Yemeni army and special forces to combat terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in Yemen by Yemenis. Nevertheless, the U.S. regularly conduct operations in Yemen to eliminate terrorists using unmanned aerial vehicles. Despite these efforts, taking advantage of weakening of the central government, Al-Qaeda began increasing its presence in Yemen.
At the same time Yemeni will always proceed from the fact that relations with Russia, China and the European Union will allow Arab states to build balanced system of their international relations.
Yemen is trying to strengthen its regional and positions. One of the priorities of the Yemeni leadership is the convergence with Member States of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf – Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia – to join the organization as a full member. However, this seems unlikely, considering the huge gap in the level of economic and technological development of Yemen and these countries. Note, however, that the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf has played a major role in the process of peaceful transition of power in Yemen in 2011.
Major role in Yemeni affairs plays the nearest neighbor of the countries of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf – Iran. As expected, this state supports Houthists and South Yemeni separatists since the collapse of Yemen in spite the Americans is probably beneficial to them. Iran itself, however, rejects allegations of such activities. In addition, cooperation with independent South Yemen in case of restoration of its nationhood, will significantly strengthen Iran’s position in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea where are the most important international naval communications. In the long term this can strengthen the Iranian- Sudanese military cooperation against Israel and stimulate supply of the Palestinians with Iranian weapons whose overland route to the Gaza Strip begins in Sudan.
* * *
Modern Yemen is a country with lots of problems of which this state suffers more than one decade. Taking into account the worsening socio-economic situation as a result of the “Arab Spring”, in the foreseeable future these problems can not be solved by any leader of the state, no matter his deserts to the country and his authority among the people. Thus, despite the efforts made, Yemen remains a source of threats of international terrorism.