Weekly News Update 4 April 2014

Highlights:
After Dialogue, a Daunting Challenge for Yemen
Asharq Al-Awsat — 3 April 2014
Despite the grim economic outlook, pervasive insecurity and political instability, prominent figures of the NDC remain moderately optimistic about the future. Ahmed Abu Bakr Bazara, the chair of the dialogue’s Comprehensive Development Working Group, told Asharq Al-Awsat that there is little doubt the recommendations made in the group’s final report “will have a positive impact” on the efforts to address Yemen’s economic problems, although he adds, “Of course, this will take time.” Those recommendations, some of which will be part of the new Yemeni constitution, include an emphasis on freedom of economic activity, social justice, the plurality of ownership in the different sectors of the economy (including through the avoidance of monopolies), and public–private sector partnerships. The decisions of the NDC’s Good Governance Working Group are also expected to contribute to a more favorable business environment, as its vice-chair, Dr. Ahmed Al-Asbahi, explained to Asharq Al-Awsat. The group’s “305 decisions and recommendations” focus on “accountability, transparency and responsiveness, justice, efficiency and effectiveness, the supremacy of law, and the fight against corruption,” Asbahi said.

Yemen aid work ever more risky
IRIN — 2 April 2014
The 25 March kidnapping and release of two UN workers has underlined the risks aid workers in Yemen face. Humanitarians can find themselves caught up in outbreaks of violence by Zaydi Shia Houthi militants in the north, southern separatists, al-Qaeda-inspired groups, tribal groups, or common criminals, and the new UN sanctions regime could make matters worse for them.

Internet Cafes Close Down Amid Ongoing Energy Crisis
Yemen Times — 3 April 2014
The main power station and electricity infrastructure in Marib governorate sustained over 400 attacks and acts of sabotage from 2010 until June of last year, according to Al-Absi. He said that the power plant in Marib is a major electricity supplier to the rest of the country, with the capacity to generate 400 megawatts. Majed Al-Bashiri, a supervisor at the Hizaiz substation in Sana’a, which generates 40 megawatts, said there are several substations in Sana’a which together contribute 146 megawatts, but these stations only generate half of the capital city’s electricity requirements. The six major power plants across the country are only operating at 70 percent capacity at best due to technical difficulties and attacks, added Al-Bashiri. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 28 March 2014

Highlights:
Taiz’s Freedom Square: past its expiration date?
Yemen Times — 27 March 2014
Taiz’s Freedom Square was an epicenter of the 2011 revolution and a fount of national change. But, following the success of the National Dialogue Conference, there have been calls to evict protesters from the square, as has happened in other governorates. Abdulrahman Mohammed Ali, a welder at a workshop near Freedom Square, said, “I have been working here for 15 years but I lost most of my customers following the 2011 revolution. I owe the landlord YR800,000 ($3,720) as well as YR200,000 ($930) for electricity and water bills. I had to lay off six employees because we don’t have enough work.” “I wonder why this square hasn’t been evacuated yet like other squares across the country. What is the benefit of [the protesters] staying here?” asked Ali.

Where Yemen is at: Donor pledges vs. government action
Yemen Times — 25 March 2014
In 2012, Yemen requested assistance from the donor community to cover a deficit of $11.7 billion to fund the Transitional Program for Stability and Development (TPSD) for the years 2012-2014. The same year donors pledged $7.9 billion for the years 2012-2015, more than half coming from GCC countries, to help cover this funding gap. By Jan. 30, 2014 more than 90 percent of these pledges have been allocated, which means they have been reserved by the donors to specific projects in the TPSD. However, it goes downhill from there. Less than 60 percent of the pledged money has been approved by donors to begin the implementation of projects, and only around 35 percent has actually been disbursed.

Districts prefer to join Tehama region
Yemen Times — 25 March 2014
Three districts in Dhammar, 100 km south of the capital, Sana’a, have held several marches to protest their inclusion in the Azal district as decided by the Regions Defining Committee on Feb. 10. The three districts are Ottoma, Wesab Al-Ali, and Wesab Al-Safel. The latter two districts are of called Wesabain, or “two Wesabs”. The Regions Defining Committee created a federal state of six regions, four in the north and two in the south. The demonstrations have been held in Sana’a and Hodeida city. Because there are no direct routes to Dhammar city from any of the three districts, which are in a heavily mountainous area of the country, residents who need legal or other services from the governorate must first travel through Hodeida to get to Dhammar city. Some residents must travel through Hodeida and Ibb governorates, before making it back to Dhammar. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 20 March 2014

Yemen Times

Yemen Times

Highlights:
Yemen’s quiet president
Al-Jazeera — 2 March 2014
A few days after one of the worst terrorist attacks in their country’s history, Yemenis tuned in to the state broadcaster for reassurance from their president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.  Hadi appeared onscreen – in a framed photograph, mounted on the wall behind a spokesman who read out the president’s comments. Sharp-eyed viewers noticed that Hadi, in the picture, and his spokesman, in real life, were wearing identical outfits: a dark blue suit, a crisp white shirt and a thickly knotted silver-blue tie.  For many, the TV no-show summed up Hadi’s presidency to date. Nearly invisible in his previous role as vice president, Hadi has continued to shun the public eye since becoming president two years ago, preferring by and large to let others do the talking instead.

The Popular Committees of Abyan, Yemen: A Necessary Evil or an Opportunity for Security Reform?
Middle East Journal — 5 March 2014
The government needs to take urgent measures to bring the PCs under the purview of the Ministry of Interior and into the police forces. Not only will that prevent the PCs from becoming a problem, but it might also bring about much needed security reforms in a country where a weak central government has often relied on informal structures to face crises and security threats. “There is a great potential for the PCs. They want to be integrated into local police forces, and they will be the best at it. They know their communities, they know the people and the strangers who come in and out in their areas,” said Ahmed Alfadhli, a local tribal and civic leader who was the deputy chief of police in Abyan in the 1960s. “But this has to happen soon. A year from now it might be too late, and things will get out of control.”

Yemen’s National Dialogue
Middle East Institute — 10 March 2014
The difficulties in completing the transitional plan of the Gulf initiative stem in part from the nature of the initiative itself. The Gulf initiative was an agreement between the competing elite factions of the old Saleh regime that had split into warring sides during the “Arab Spring.” The street protests in Yemen were the final straw rather than the force that brought down the Saleh regime. As such, Yemen’s Arab Spring was more an internecine fight between regime elites than a popular revolt that deposed a dictator. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 21 February 2014

Highlights:
Bomb maker still at large after Yemen prison break is sign of al Qaida’s strength
McClatchy via Sacramento Bee — 20 February 2014
A week after suspected al Qaida militants blew a hole in the wall of Sanaa’s central prison, Shawish remains at large, one of 19 al Qaida suspects among the 29 prisoners who managed to escape during the mayhem. Only one has been recaptured, and none of the al Qaida members. Their crimes, according to a statement from the Yemeni Ministry of the Interior, ranged from attempting to assassinate the country’s current president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to fighting with al Qaida-affiliated insurgents in southern Abyan province. Their sentences ranged from six years to death. Of the group, Shawish stands apart, say Yemeni officials, who call him the most dangerous of last week’s escapees and another example of why Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula continues to grow, despite concerted efforts by the government and a persistent U.S. drone campaign that strikes alleged militants on a regular basis. By his own admission, Shawish had a significant role in attacks on military checkpoints, army bases and oil installations in the provinces of Marib and Hadramawt, his home province and the place where he was caught.

A new source of anger
Economist — 19 February 2014
IN 2011, Tawakol Karman led street protests calling for the ouster of then-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Ever since, the prominent Yemeni activist, joint winner of the Nobel peace prize in 2011, has shifted her attention to foreign companies that Yemenis believe benefited from corrupt deals made by the former president. Popular pressure helped to force the current government to cancel a controversial Saleh-era concession that gave Dubai Ports World, an Emirati port operator, control of the southern Yemeni port of Aden. Now, activists have shifted their focus to a 2005 deal that they believe allowed a handful of foreign oil and gas companies to purchase Yemen’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) at rates below market value.

Women’s Challenges, and Opportunities, in Yemen
Council on Foreign Relations — 19 February 2014
The NDC’s recommendation to set the age of marriage for boys and girls at eighteen will also be challenging to make a reality. Yemen has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world – an estimated 52 percent of girls in Yemen are married before the age of eighteen, and 14 percent before age fifteen. Islah, the influential Islamist party, has opposed setting a legal age for marriage in the past (in 1999, Islah was instrumental in abolishing the existing age of marriage – which was then fifteen – on the grounds that it contravened Sharia). But after the conclusion of the NDC, Islah members acknowledged the recommendation on setting the age of marriage at eighteen and stated that the party would not oppose such legislation. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 14 February 2014

Highlights:
Money up in the air? Corruption in Yemen’s gas sector
Transparency International — 13 February 2014
Hundreds of Yemenis protested on the streets of Sanaa against the government’s ongoing negotiations with French oil company Total about the pricing of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is one of the main sources of the country’s wealth. Protestors claimed that Yemenis have lost hundreds of millions of dollars of potential earnings from the country’s resource wealth, which could have been injected into the state’s budget to provide basic services. Current gas market prices hover around US$14 per million metric British thermal units (MMBtu), yet Total, as part of an international consortium that has a 39.6 per cent stake in the US$4.5 billion LNG plant located on the strategic Gulf of Aden, has been buying LNG at the much lower rate of US$1.50/MMBtu. The 20-year sales contracts with Total, Kogas and GDF Suez were signed in 2005 under the leadership of deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh at prices below the global standards.

West grows wary of Yemen’s Houthis as Shia group’s profile increases
Financial Times — 13 February 2014
Washington and Sana’a are convinced the Houthis are backed by Iran. Ali al-Bokhaiti, a spokesman for the group, pointed out that the nature of Zaydi Shia, which is in many ways closer to Sunni than the Twelver Shia practised in Iran, make the Houthis and Iranians natural rivals. According to Mr Bokhaiti, the Houthis are defending themselves against militias backed by rival tribes, which are exploiting sectarian divisions, and Islah, Yemen’s main Sunni Islamist party, both of which formed an integral part of Mr Saleh’s former power base before splitting from the regime in 2011. “The traditional powers fear the spread of Houthi ideology,” said Mr Bokhaiti, countering that the group’s Sunni rivals are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many analysts in Yemen agree. Domestic tensions, “including the post-uprising political power struggle between Houthis and their various adversaries” are behind the fighting, said April Longley Alley, an analyst at International Crisis Group. Part of the Houthis’ success has been their ability to take advantage of longstanding divisions between neglected tribes, she added.

Process Lessons Learned in Yemen’s National Dialogue
United States Institute of Peace — 7 February 2014
While the extension of the transition process presents some risks, it was likely the best course available. Forcing a constitutional referendum and new round of elections with so many critical issues left unresolved would have been a recipe for renewed conflict. The ability of the Yemeni actors to adjust the timeline and process but largely stay on track has so far been the major strength of the Yemeni transition process. In fact, though the focus of comparative discussions has been on the NDC, the more patient timeline of the Yemeni transition may be the aspect worth modeling. Whereas other countries (such as Egypt and Tunisia) moved rapidly into elections, a new regular government, and constitution, this rapid progress was soon undone as the results became contested, in some cases violently. The slower, more deliberative model in Yemen might be a better way to work through the complex political and structural conflicts inherent in transition. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 7 February 2014

Highlights:
Power Struggle in Yemen’s North
Foreign Policy — 5 February 2014
The Houthis’ ability to take on scores of powerful tribal leaders in their own home turf isn’t simply a sign of their rising strength: It’s also a result of longstanding tensions within Yemen’s tribal system. During his three decades in power, Saleh actively aimed to coopt the power of tribal notables, incorporating them into a vast patronage system. As sheikhs grew wealthy and spent increasing amounts of time in Sanaa, their grasp over their constituency — traditionally cemented by face to face interaction through mediating or arbitrating disputes — waned. Many Yemenis complain that tribal sheikhs have increasingly maintained their positions of leadership through their ties to the government, rather than through keeping the respect of the tribes, focusing on their own interests, rather than the interests of those they theoretically represent. Weakened loyalties granted the Houthis an opening. The group has managed to gain the backing of a number of traditionally less influential, but locally based, tribal leaders in areas across northern Yemen; to an even greater extent, they’ve reaped the benefits as many tribesmen have proven reluctant to fight to defend their theoretical leaders who have come to blows with the group. Notably, the Houthis’ invocations of the Zaidi doctrine of khuruj — the right and duty to revolt against an unjust ruler — have targeted tribal leaders with ties to Sanaa in addition to the government itself.

Will Decentralization in Yemen Marginalize Citizens?
Atlantic Council — 29 January 2014
The NDC succeeded in creating the basis for a decentralized state in Yemen and redistributing powers away from the center. Yet, the closest administrative units to the citizen with any constitutional authority now lies with the states, creating a fourth level of government (the district-level) whose authorities and responsibilities will be determined by regional laws. A four-level system is more complex and costly than a three-level system. Nonetheless, due to the political realities on the ground, Yemen will now have to adapt to a four-level system. The question that the constitution-drafting committee will have to address is whether to include a fourth-level of government in the constitution and grant this fourth-level constitutional authority and power, or whether to leave it up to each region to decide on the structure, authorities, and responsibilities of its fourth-level of government. The end result will have significant impact on defining the relationship between the new federal Yemen and its citizens.

Yemen faces fresh challenges as National Dialogue ends
BBC News — 28 January 2014
Despite ongoing security problems plaguing the country, Yemenis should be proud that they managed a genuinely inclusive dialogue process with 565 delegates representing established political parties, newly emergent political movements, youth activists, women leaders, and civil society organisations. The culmination of the National Dialogue was a final report with approximately 1,400 recommendations; now Yemen’s leaders must start the even more difficult process of translating it into meaningful action and incorporating the principles into a new constitution. Continue reading

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Weekly News Update 17 January 2014

Highlights:
The United States’ bloody messes in Yemen
Washington Post — 14 January 2014
Our president may reassure the United States of his support for drone strikes but the reality is that no leader can legitimately approve the extrajudicial killing of his own citizens. Moreover, he does so in the face of Yemeni consensus. This August, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference — which President Obama has praised — decided by a 90 percent majority that the use of drones in Yemen should be criminalised. Yemeni legislators are aware that the drone war is deeply unpopular. Since the Dec,. 12 strike, our parliament has unanimously voted to ban drone flights in Yemeni airspace, declaring them a “grave breach” of the country’s sovereignty. For a country so often divided, this unanimity from Yemen’s most representative bodies testifies to the strength of opinion against drones. But their calls have thus far met only with more bombings from the skies. How can the people of Yemen build trust in their fledgling democracy when our collective will is ignored by democracy’s greatest exponent?

Violence in Yemen overshadows National Dialogue
Al-Monitor — 13 January 2014
To many, the proposed solution’s most dangerous element is that it is officially acknowledged that there is one unified southern identity versus a northern one — something that isn’t completely true. Some southern provinces — al-Dhale, for example — are as tribal as provinces in the north. By contrast, the “northern” city of Taiz is far less tribally oriented than most of the south. Furthermore, the proposal divides legislative and executive powers evenly between the south and north — something that many northerners see as inherently undemocratic and contradicting justice, since the north has 75% of Yemen’s population. The president and international community are aiming to bring the Conference of National Dialogue to a belated end through the proposal, but there are many hurdles to arriving at a concrete solution.

Critics say 2014 budget not in line with country’s trajectory
Yemen Times — 16 January 2014
Yemen’s Parliament this week approved a budget of YR2.88 trillion ($13.4 billion) for 2014, about a four percent increase from the 2013’s budget plan, according to the Ministry of Finance. The new budget plan projected an estimated income, from oil revenues and taxes, at around YR2.2 trillion ($10.2 billion), along with a deficit of around YR6.8 billion ($3.16 billion). Other highlights of the budget include the government’s plan to pay YR 2.4 billion ($11.3 million) to the Tribes’ Affairs Authority (monthly salaries for tribal leaders) in 2014. In comparison, the budget projected for Yemen’s Coast Guard Authority is YR 1.6 billion ($7.2 million). Some of are highly critical of the budget seemingly overlooking an institution like the Coast Guard.  Yemen has around 2,000 km. of coastline and often serves as a transit country for smugglers bringing migrants, drugs and weapons into the region. Continue reading

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